by Madison Lowery
Charles Johnson, Director of the Research Library at the Museum of Ventura County, joined us at Casa de la Guerra on Thursday evening, March 12, to share the intriguing tale of an historic bookstore in Santa Barbara that, despite boasting a collection of some of the finest rare books, remains unknown to most: George M. Millard Books. Johnson offered a glimpse into the past, recounting the story of Alice Parsons Millard, a woman whose passion for books, fierce attention to aesthetics, and shrewd business sense gave birth to a collection of some of the world’s most finely crafted books. He came across her while conducting research on what he thought was a different business, the Tecolote Bookshop, formerly housed in El Paseo de la Guerra (currently located in Montecito).
Mrs. Millard was a woman of exquisite taste, and her marriage to revered book dealer George Madison Millard afforded her the ability to interact directly with prominent artists and citizen collectors. The couple worked with renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to build two custom homes, one in Oak Park, Illinois and the other in Pasadena, California. After her husband died in 1918, Alice continued to work in the world of rare books and became respected as a book dealer, travelling across the United States and Europe to assemble her inventory. As a woman book dealer, her mark in historical records is somewhat circumstantial, so Johnson walked audiences through the steps of his detective work, backtracking through rare book catalogues and cross-referencing listings in phone books. In so doing, he managed to trace the origin of the Tecolote Bookshop to the Mrs. Millard’s inventory through that of her late husband’s business partner.
Throughout the lecture, Johnson engaged the audience with historic maps, showing the location of Mrs. George M. Millard Books and the shops of prominent Santa Barbarans who worked in what is now El Paseo. Guests were pleased to learn that they were sitting very close to the one of the locations of the bookshop, as they made their way through the patios of El Paseo to the wine reception, hosted by Margerum Winery. Special thanks go out to Rani McLean of Margerum Winery and our guest speaker, Charles Johnson, for creating an exceptional evening of intellectual curiosity.
Madison Lowery was awarded SBTHP’s Sue Higman Internship and is working in SBTHP’s education department this spring.