By Anne Petersen and Mike Imwalle
If you have traversed the intersection of East De La Guerra and Santa Barbara Streets in the last few weeks, you will likely have noticed the reemergence of a painted sign on 131-37 East De la Guerra Street, on the Santa Barbara Street side (currently occupied by Beads). This Spanish Colonial Revival-style structure is part of El Presidio de Sánta Barbara State Historic Park, which is operated by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Three weeks ago, SBTHP’s property management company, Meridian, sent painter Tony Monarco to patch the walls of the building. As Tony scraped away the loose paint, he uncovered this sign, which appears to be an advertisement for Ghirardelli Chocolate.
It was common for property owners to rent space for painted advertisements on the exterior of their buildings to garner a little extra income. The space at 137 De La Guerra Street was occupied by various tenants over the years, including the J.N. Sheridan Real Estate office (1927), United Produce Company (1932-34), and was vacant from 1935-1941. In 1942, Horner’s, a linoleum and flooring company, moved in and remained well into the 1950s. From the layers of paint visible on the building, this sign was painted and repainted many times. It may have endured the occupancy of multiple tenants over the years.
We were all surprised to see a painted sign on this particular property, however. The Spanish Colonial Revival style, known for its smooth white walls and red tile roofs, was popularized as a uniform architectural style for downtown Santa Barbara by our organization’s founder, Pearl Chase, and others, following the 1925 earthquake. Pearl Chase held a particular dislike for large signs and billboards of any kind, which were at odds with her vision for a beautiful downtown. She campaigned throughout her life to remove them throughout Santa Barbara County, with great success. The discovery of this sign therefore presents a bit of a mystery for us at SBTHP. Between the 1920s and 1960s, Pearl Chase held offices at multiple locations in the Presidio neighborhood from which she conducted her work with the Plans and Planting Committee of the Community Arts Association. We can only speculate about what she thought of this brightly colored advertisement gracing the façade of a nearby building.
If you have not yet seen the painted sign, hurry on by. It will soon be painted over, perhaps to be rediscovered again by a future generation.
Anne Petersen is associate director for historical resources and Mike Imwalle is the archaeologist at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation