by Michael Orth
Today, I would like to discuss a part of the project that involves cataloging the buildings that occupied the site prior to the post office’s construction in 1936. Through decades of research, we have a general idea of what portions of the Presidio Neighborhood used to look like. However, there are still gaps in what we know about certain properties that researchers are still trying to fill. So what was on the property prior to the post office? At many different points between 1886 and 1931 there were various billiard halls, small stores, a café, barbershop, and individual residences.
You might be wondering how we know this? One invaluable tool researchers at SBTHP use to survey the Presidio Neighborhood are fire insurance maps created by the Sanborn Map Company. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Daniel Sanborn, founded a mapmaking company in Massachusetts that produced detailed maps of cities across the United States. These maps were bound in books, updated every few years, and used by insurance companies to assess the liability of fire damage. SBTHP houses a number of Santa Barbara’s oldest Sanborn maps and uses them to gain insight about the history of local properties.
First, it is necessary to compile the information in a spreadsheet because the building addresses changed over time. What is now 830 Anacapa Street once had street numbers that ranged from 842 to 828. Once all of the information is recorded, we then cross-reference those addresses with the Santa Barbara city directory. City directories often yield business listings that can offer specifics for buildings and merchants lost to history. For example, 842 Anacapa Street used to be the address for Ugo Segundo Billiards, while 830 ½ Anacapa was the Ming Hing Co. oriental goods shop. Residence listings are a bit trickier, as property holders may have not been the same people who resided in a particular building. Also, some property listings are abbreviated with “furn rms,” which appear to have been rooms rented out.
Next time you are in front of Santa Barbara’s historic post office, take a moment to think about the variety of businesses and residences that were once there, which are now being rediscovered.
Michael Orth is a recent graduate of Cal Poly, SLO with an M.A. in History and the 2012 Jim and Sue Higman Intern at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.