While preparing El Presidio de Santa Barbara SHP for reopening on July 15, 2021, Michael H. Imwalle noticed that the halyard to the Presidio flagpole had been vandalized.
Someone cut the rope leaving it dangling from one clip and the halyard would need to be repaired before we could raise the flags again at the park. After briefly searching for a local company that could repair flagpoles, Imwalle contacted Brad Houchin of Brad’s Flagpole Repair, a steeplejack by trade.
Steeplejacks are people that climb buildings, towers, steeples, poles, etc. to make repairs. Houchin graciously came up from the Ventura the next day to climb the pole and restring a new halyard so that we were able to fly the flags for the park opening.
Houchin asked if we had ever considered painting the flagpole. The existing 27-foot tall flagpole consisted of recycled oil field pipe with a stationary pulley attached to a threaded steel cap. In the spirit of the park reopening, we asked Houchin for a proposal to paint the pole white, install a decorative finial, and install a new pulley on a rotating truck. The rotating pulley prevents the flag from wrapping around the pole when the wind changes directions. After checking with California State Parks for administrative approval, we accepted their proposal and scheduled the work for the following week.
Monday July 19th, Houchin returned to the Presidio to begin sanding and priming the bare metal flagpole. He began sanding at the top, wiping the sanded pole, then applying a coat of white primer.
The following day he installed the new bronze finial, new rotating pulley, and painted the final coat on his way back down the pole for the last time. July 22nd the park was open for the first time with a freshly painted flagpole flying new flags.
Michael H. Imwalle is the Associate Executive Director of Cultural Resources for SBTHP. All images are his own.
A new self-guided tour brochure presents updated information about the park, with a clear path of travel and an upgraded map. New signage complements the park with beautiful imagery and interpretive content.
El Presidio SHP contains several exposed archaeological sites dating to the construction of the fort in the late-eighteenth century. The sites have all been enhanced with new protective rope and pole barriers.
SBTHP has implemented Covid-19 public health protocols according to public health guidelines designed to protect the safety of our visitors and staff. New features include touchless hand-sanitizing stations throughout the park, plexiglass barriers in the Visitor Center, and an electrostatic sanitizing sprayer to disinfect commonly used areas, including park bathrooms.
We are grateful for the support of the Union Pacific Foundation and California Humanities for their support of these important enhancements for public access to El Presidio SHP. With this support we ensured not only that we could reopen the park safely after an unprecedented public health crisis, but also that we could offer an improved visitor experience when we did reopen.
To plan your visit to El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park please click here.
National History Day (NHD) is a nonprofit organization committed to encouraging the study and practice of history by high school students in the United States. They provide curriculum materials and support to schools to help students develop the skills to conduct historical research and writing. National History Day is most well-known for its annual National History Day Contest, when over 600,000 students across the United States compete locally and regionally, with the top candidates advancing to the national competition at University of Maryland College Park.
In order to support and prepare students for the contest, National History Day provides teachers with a wealth of resources. One of these tools is a videos series called “Ask an Expert,” in which historians working in a variety of fields offer advice and suggestions to students about different aspects of historical work. I was pleased to be invited this year to create a video with NHD staff on the importance of looking at multiple perspectives in historical research.
Many people assume that historians work in universities and write academic publications. This video allows SBTHP to help broaden students’ knowledge about where historians work and what they do by featuring our historical work at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. The video explores not only our preservation work, but also how students can explore history through the study of a place, including their own community, using its maps, architecture, and social history. We hope the video will also be helpful to local schools and will be incorporated into our future school programs.
Plaza de la Guerra is once again at the forefront of community conversations about Santa Barbara’s downtown revitalization. On December 18, 2020 the City’s De la Guerra Plaza Revitalization Advisory Committee recommended that City Council move a newly-designed concept plan out of the Committee and into the City’s Development Application process. The concept plan had been in the works for over one year. You can read more about the origins of this recent work here and sign up for project updates here.
The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) is an active stakeholder in this revitalization process. We held a seat on the recent Advisory Committee at the invitation of City Council, but that reflects only our most recent engagement. In 1999, SBTHP worked with the City to create and exhibition about the history of the Plaza as well as an accompanying catalog of the exhibit, Plaza de la Guerra Reconsidered, which was published in 2002.
On June 12, 1999, SBTHP hosted a related symposium titled “Plaza de la Guerra Reconsidered: Past is Prologue” which was held in City Council chambers. The symposium was introduced by SBTHP Executive Director Jarrell jackman and moderated by Chief Curator Patrick O’Dowd. Speakers included:
Dora P. Crouch, Professor Emeritus, School of Architecture, Renessalaer Polytechnic Institute, New York
Wayne Donaldson, FAIA, Milford Wayne Donaldson Architects (and later CA State Historic Preservation Officer and Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation)
Dave Davis, Community Development Director, City of Santa Barbara
Carroll William Westfall, Chair, School of Architecture, University of Notre Dame, South Bend
Robert Winter, Professor Emeritus, History Department, Occidental College, Los Angeles
With the City’s recent renewed interest in making improvements to the Plaza, we believe the symposium would be of interest to the community and the presentations still hold great relevance. We are grateful that Tony Ruggieri of Santa Barbara City TV was able to transfer the contents of a VHS tape in the Presidio Research Center collection and upload them to the City of Santa Barbara’s YouTube Channel, which you can view below or by clicking here!
We asked Claudia for more information about her project and her passion for painting. Below are portions of that interview, edited for length.
Q: How did this project begin? Have you always painted? Or is this something that began with the pandemic?
A: My sister and my husband both had the idea simultaneously to give me art supplies. So, without having even asked for them, I received canvases, watercolor paints, acrylics and watercolor paper. Quarantine and Covid had begun to inch its way into all of our lives. So, I started painting. I had hardly painted since I was 20 and in college. I only took one art class in my 20s. It was figure drawing.
Q: Tell us about your process.
A: All through my 300 paintings from 4/4/2020 to 11/4/2020, I painted when I awoke. Early, around 6 am, I make my coffee, turn on the news, or sometimes just music, watch the light come through the windows where we live near the ocean bluffs on the Mesa, and I paint. It usually takes me 2-3 hours per painting and somedays I do 2 a day.
Q: How would you describe the meaning of this project for you during this time?
A: This was something of a gift. It was a gift to me because I learned that in the 43 years that I had not painted, now I was flourishing and happy as a painter. It was therapeutic during a stressful time of this awful societal illness and political upheaval. But, equally satisfying was the reaction I received from many friends on social media. People started praising my work and finally, 2 weeks after posting daily, someone asked me if that day’s work was for sale. Within 3 months I had sold 60 paintings. They were going everywhere: NY, Texas, Poland, Utah, etc.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
A: I taught English Skills at SBCC [Santa Barbara City College] for 32 years. I also have had three novels published and four plays produced, some shown at the Alhecama [Theatre in El Presidio SHP]! I have optioned a television pilot and written screenplays. We raised three children into adulthood who are all very caring, smart, artistic and musical. My husband is a talented musician. Moving on to painting seems only natural in how my life has progressed. It happened so organically. I feel so fortunate in every way. I am thrilled and humbled to share my art with your wonderful organization.
You can find Claudia’s Santa Barbara Presidio series notecards here. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our Gift Shop sales are online only, and we offer both shipping and curbside pickup.
The white, wooden building at 914 Santa Barbara Street in El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park (SHP) has had quite a life. Its multiple adaptive reuses have ensured that it not only survived, but that it continued to be valued by the community and to contribute to the character of Santa Barbara’s Downtown.
The structure was originally two residences, built sometime during the early twentieth century. At that time the 900 block of Santa Barbara Street was residential, with small wooden houses dotting the curb. Until the 1925 earthquake, the much older second commandant’s quarters of the Presidio, or Flores Adobe, anchored the center of the block.
In 1926, the new Santa Barbara School of the Arts, operated by the Community Arts Association, joined the two structures to be used as offices. The offices were intended to be temporary, while the School built its impressive Spanish Colonial Revival campus on the same site. Due to the Great Depression, however, that dream was never realized. The conjoined residences remained in use as offices for the Community Arts Association, and later the School District’s Adult Education Program and Santa Barbara Junior College.
In 1982 the entire Santa Barbara School of the Arts campus was added to El Presidio de Santa Barbara SHP because the site of the Presidio’s northeast corner is located in the parcel. As park operators, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) are both lucky and proud to have a family-run local business occupying the building and allowing continued community access to this special place.
La Playa Azul originally opened in 1977 at 902 Santa Barbara St. and operated there until it moved to 914 Santa Barbara Street in 1988. The site of 902 Santa Barbara Street is now the location of the reconstructed Northeast corner of the Presidio. Playa Azul owners Delia and Ignacio Elias operate this locals favorite. Their beautiful outdoor patio, seafood dishes and happy hour win praise from anyone who visits! SBTHP is proud of this long-term relationship with one of our best local businesses.
Historic buildings age, like any organic object, and require ongoing care to survive through the generations. This summer, SBTHP replaced the roof and gutters on 914 Santa Barbara St. and repaired some of the adjacent woodwork. We are proud to partner with Delia and Ignacio Elias to care for this piece of Santa Barbara’s history, in what has evolved to be a long-term and treasured collaboration.
In Fall of 2019 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation began repair work on a 1928 commercial building at 131-137 East De la Guerra Street. This modest Spanish Colonial Revival building holds four businesses and one residence. It is included within El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park because if its proximity to the front gate of the original fort. Built with interior gutters, the structure had leaked internally for years without our notice. And once we became aware, precious time passed as we worked on plans, estimates, permits and hired a contractor for the work.
The building is not the oldest, most historically important, or architecturally unusual structure in the Park. Does that mean it is not significant? Not at all. This little building contributes to the qualities and atmosphere that help make up the character of the Presidio Neighborhood. Its low height, inviting display windows and smaller retail spaces give it a scale that makes it comfortable for pedestrians, and imminently usable for local small businesses. Its architectural details give it personality and connect it to the larger city-wide story of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture built after the 1925 earthquake.
The businesses inside are also special. They include Kurt and Leigh Legler’s Warbler Records, the last record shop downtown where you can also find refurbished turntables and other gifts. Mike Pico’s Mailboxes Express has been in the building for over twenty years and serves the entire Neighborhood with his PO Boxes and shipping services. During the holidays be prepared to queue up to mail holiday packages! Steven Soria at Make Smith Leather Co. is our newest tenant. His third-generation leatherworking enterprise just reached its second anniversary, with a workshop in the back and classroom and retail space in the front. Lee and Barbara Nelson at Beads have anchored the corner of the building for over thirty years. Their combination brick and mortar and online business selling a variety of beautiful beads, supplies and beaded jewelry, continues to draw artistic customers with a DIY ethic.
[In] a comprehensive, block-by-block study of the American urban landscape, areas of older, smaller buildings and mixed-age blocks boast 33 percent more new business jobs, 46 percent more small business jobs, and 60 percent more women- and minority-owned businesses.1
131- 137 E. De la Guerra Street is one of these buildings, and its tenants contribute to the vibrancy of our community by offering essential services and artistic enterprises that enhance the uniqueness of Santa Barbara’s downtown. Our mission at SBTHP is to steward the past and present of the Presidio Neighborhood and inspire preservation advocacy throughout the County in order to create a more vibrant community. In caring for this building, we are both fulfilling our stewardship mandate, as well as caring for the “present” of the neighborhood, those small, local businesses, and the community that supports them.
To repair 131 – 137 E. De la Guerra Street, we worked in two stages. The first involved pulling off the plaster, reframing the wall, replacing the gutters, restoring and reinstalling the retail windows, replastering and repainting the wall, installing new gutters, and reinstalling the awnings on the Santa Barbara Street side of the building. We completed this work in Fall 2019. Early in 2020 we began the same work on the De la Guerra Street side of the building. The outbreak of the COVID -19 pandemic slowed this work considerably and added exceptional stress to our retail tenants. We are pleased to announce that the work has been completed, and our thoughts are with our tenants and we try to support them through the compounding challenges of construction and pandemic-related closures.
That’s how many miles the bells at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara SHP have travelled since they were first cast in Mexico. From Zacatecas, Mexico, to San Blas, Mexico, to Santa Barbara, California, to Milton, Massachusetts, to Los Altos, California, and ultimately back to their home at the Presidio – these bells have had quite the journey since they were originally cast back in the late eighteenth century.
Both bells originate from Zacatecas, Mexico, where they were cast in 1781 and 1792, and each had quite a different journey before they were returned to SBTHP. The oldest, dedicated San Pascual Bailon, left El Presidio in 1855 when they were moved to Our Lady of Sorrows. In 1904, the bell was purchased by Spencer Borden of Massachusetts. Mr. Borden then left the bell to Milton Academy where it rang daily, calling students to class, until 1981.
The second bell, which reads “LA PURISIMA CONCEPCION ORA PRO NOBIS ANO DE 1792” translates to “THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION PRAY FOR US YEAR OF 1792,” also went to Our Lady of Sorrows and remained there until 1929. It was then installed at El Retiro San Inigo Jesuit Retreat House in Los Altos, California. In 1978, El Retiro returned the bell to SBTHP.
In 2001, the bells were installed in the newly rebuilt Presidio Chapel bell tower, where they still ring loudly over the Presidio Neighborhood.
A fun fact…
As designs were being finalized in 2001, research was being conducted by Michael H. Imwalle, Associate Executive Director for Cultural Resources at SBTHP, as to how the bells were rung at the Presidio. They would have been used to call the residents of the Presidio for mass, the rosary, rations, and to sound quarters for the watch at night. They also regulated work schedules, welcomed the arrival of prominent visitors, signaled alarms, and celebrated festivities.
During a visit to San Antonio Mission, Mike was shown a file that contained an inventory of seven Franciscan bell patterns from the last Indian bell ringer at San Luis Obispo Mission. Gregorio Silverio rang the bells for sixty-three years, beginning in 1889, and had been taught by the previous bell ringer Florentino Naja who had been ringing bells since 1820. Also on that inventory was a recording from 1947 or 1948 of Gregorio ringing the bells over the radio station KVEC. With the help of the San Luis Obispo Mission, they were able to locate a reel-to-reel recording and created a digital audio tape (DAT), which is now preserved at the Presidio Research Center.
To learn more about the travels of the Presidio Chapel Bells, please contact the gift shop to purchase La Campana, Spring 2017 where the article “Ups and Downs: The Well Travelled Bells of the Santa Barbara Presidio Chapel” by Michael H. Imwalle was originally published.
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