A Walk into the Past: Touring the Presidio Neighborhood

by Stephanie Byrd

I recently took on a new position at SBTHP. During the week, I intern for Anne Petersen, Associate Director for Historic Resources, at the Presidio Research Center; now, my weekends are spent overseeing the Weekend Interpreters and giving tours of the Presidio neighborhood.

This overlay, showing the original Presidio boundary, also shows path of travel for the the newly offered Neighborhood Tour! Overlay created by Mike Imwalle, 1999.

The tour was initially developed by past intern Michael Orth under the direction of Anne and Karen Shultz Anderson, Director of Education (read about it here), and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to offer it regularly for the first time. Anne and I have been working together over the past several weeks to add additional stories, photographs, and stops along the tour to ensure that our visitors have the most enriching experience we can give them.

Each weekend at 2pm, guests embark on a journey into the past. Starting at the Presidio Visitor Center, together we trace the boundaries of the original Presidio quadrangle, searching for archaeological clues while incorporating the vitality of past residents and historical figures, from our founder Pearl Chase to José de la Guerra.

My favorite visitors have shared stories from their others travels. For instance, when discussing the Rochin Adobe and the idea of “recycling” adobe, one visitor told the group about his visit to Babylon and how you could literally see different pieces of buildings within one another, showing how Santa Barbara and its architectural practices can resonate on a global level – a perspective most tourists don’t get to experience.

On the tour, you’ll learn about what the Presidio was like during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, but you’ll also learn about the reconstruction efforts that SBTHP has undertaken. Courtesy of the Presidio Research Center.

From discussing everyday life of soldiers in the Presidio to the changing ethnic diversity of the Santa Barbara area, each visitor walks away with a different understanding of what the Presidio was, and what the Presidio neighborhood means to contemporary Santa Barbara. We would love for you to share your perspective with us and other visitors!

Starting in our Visitor Center and ending at the current Nihonmachi Revisited: Santa Barbara’s Japanese American Community in Transition exhibit, the tour is bookended with current Presidio exhibitions, expanding on the self-guided tour experience that most visitors take.

With groups ranging from 2-10, the neighborhood tour’s “beta test” gets this tour-giver’s stamp of approval, and I really hope more people take advantage of such a unique opportunity. Plus, since the tour is included in the unbelievably inexpensive Presidio Park admission (only $2.50 for AAA members, how can you beat that?), it’s one of the biggest bargains in town!

Stephanie Byrd is a graduate student at USC pursuing a Master’s in Planning, with an emphasis in Historic Preservation. She is the 2012 Jim and Sue Higman Intern at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, and on the weekends she’s a vivacious Presidio neighborhood tour guide in need of tour takers!

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