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.
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.
On Sunday May 31, the Santa Barbara Chapter of Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth Santa Barbara issued a list of demands for action that included in part:
We demand protection and preservation of Black landmarks.
The demands identified specific buildings to be designated as historic resources including St. Paul’s AME Church at 502 Olive Street. Why is this request and this building so important?
The way a community decides to designate places as historic can affect its long-term historical memory. In addition to recognizing those who built it, designating a building and thereby assisting with its preservation helps define who we are as a community. Historic buildings remind us of our moments of triumph, help us remember and grieve our tragedies, and help document the daily life of our diverse residents and the institutions they built.
There had been an African Methodist Episcopal church on the site of 502 Olive Street since 1906, when it was the only structure on the entire block, and Olive Street was known as Canal Street. It was built by the local African American congregation to serve as a house of worship for its members.
By 1930, the Church, possibly a newer building constructed after the 1925 earthquake, had taken on the form we recognize today—a larger and more substantial building with an attached dwelling.
In 1990, St. Paul’s AME Church was added to the City’s list of potential Historical Resources and assigned the note: “potential Landmark status.” A City landmark is the highest level of designation offered by the City. Today, in response to the demands of local activists, we sent a letter to the Historic Landmarks Commission requesting that this building be added to the agenda of the next Designation Subcommittee for consideration for landmark status. This important African American resource has held its ground and served its community for over 100 years, and deserves recognition for the history it represents, in addition to its beautiful architecture. The time to designate it is now.
Is this the only building deserving of recognition? Not by a long shot. We have much more work to do. The field of historic preservation and museums have not always been at the forefront of diversity, equity and inclusion. We need to improve, and we begin by looking inward. Our organizational values include “Promote the diversity of cultures that comprise(d) the Presidio Neighborhood.” Today we extend those values outward into our City, County and beyond. We stand with those who are striving, fighting, and praying for equity and justice in our country in the face of persistent racism. As an organization we will continue improve our service to the community of Santa Barbara and to lift up its complex, sometimes disheartening, and often heroic stories until all the voices, past and present, are able to be heard.
Our colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture have created a new digital resource, Talking about Race. We will use this resource internally, and we share it here as it may be of interest to you as well.
Saturday September 14th SBTHP staff hosted the United Way Day of Caring volunteers at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. Maintenance Supervisor Eduardo Vallin, Executive Director Anne Petersen, Librarian Chris Ervin and I supervised approximately 32 volunteers doing numerous projects around the park. This year volunteers included several families, staff from Exxon/Mobil, and the Santa Barbara School of Squash. Eduardo supervised a group that whitewashed the Northwest Corner Defense Wall, tilled the soil beneath the Cañedo Orchard fruit trees, and cleaned and waxed the statue of King Carlos.
Anne directed a group of volunteers that took on the daunting task of cleaning and organizing of the Old Research Center library space. Chris oversaw the cleanup of the Presidio Research Center landscaping. Trees and shrubs were pruned all the way around the building to provide space for the HVAC equipment and to expose existing signage. I worked with a group of volunteers from Exxon/Mobil to complete the annual maintenance of our garden areas. Volunteers weeded, tilled, hauled mulch, pruned, and planted in the Presidio Heritage Gardens at the Northwest and Northeast Corners.
Thanks to the help of the generous United Way Day of Caring volunteers, SBTHP was able to accomplish critical maintenance projects to prepare the site for winter. We look forward to continuing this successful partnership between SBTHP and the United Way Santa Barbara volunteer community again next year.
Emma John is a second-year PhD student in History at UC Santa Barbara interested in public history and nineteenth-century U.S. history with a particular focus on women. As an IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellow, John recently completed an internship at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, and has been working with the Casa de la Guerra, a historic house museum maintained by the Trust and former residence of José de la Guerra, the fifth comandante of the Presidio.
As a Public Humanities Graduate Fellow you are interning this summer at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP). What work are you doing in the internship?
This summer I have tackled a few projects. I started the summer designing new programming activities for Casa de la Guerra. These programs are meant to foster new types of engagement with the space—either moving through it differently or, for school groups, connecting the de la Guerra story to what students are learning about in Social Studies classes. At the moment I am helping design a brochure for Casa de la Guerra. This has involved consultation with museum employees, research, and selecting appropriate images from the Presidio Research Center to best represent the museum and the de la Guerra family. When finished, the brochure will provide a brief but informative introduction to the site.
What has your investigation into the history of the De la Guerra family revealed about the historical and continuing significance of the Casa de la Guerra site for the Santa Barbara community?
Learning about the de la Guerra family has been key to answering the larger questions I had about the history of Santa Barbara. Coming from the East Coast, I knew very little about the history of California. Casa de la Guerra is not only significant to Santa Barbara’s history, but to California’s history. When they were first building Casa de la Guerra, Spain ruled Santa Barbara. By the home’s completion, Santa Barbara was part of Mexico. Jose died in 1858 as a citizen of the United States. Casa de la Guerra is representative of the significant cultural changes that have impacted Santa Barbara from the town’s inception.
Additionally, Casa de la Guerra has historically served as a town center. Jose de la Guerra was held in high esteem by Santa Barbara and his home often served as a site of social and civic functions such as weddings or settling legal disputes. Plaza de la Guerra was specifically built where it is and named in honor of the family in 1853. Given that Plaza de la Guerra is back in the news, it is interesting to consider the site’s historical roots and significance.
Your research is helping to shape new interpretive programming at Casa de la Guerra. What might this programming look like?
Something great about the de la Guerra family is that several researchers have already documented their lives. I am utilizing that work to create programming that helps visitors imagine Casa de la Guerra as it existed in the nineteenth century—a bustling hub of activity. For students I am trying to create programming in line with California curriculum standards. This might mean imagining the de la Guerra family in the context of Westward expansion, or considering the civic issues of Plaza de la Guerra.
There are ongoing discussions about revitalizing De La Guerra Plaza, just opposite Casa de la Guerra. Is your work at SBTHP informing any of those discussions?
I have been considering ways of incorporating Plaza de la Guerra into museum programming. While it is important for museums to consider contemporary issues, it is also important to consider the longevity of programming versus current events. The goal is to incorporate contemporary issues such as talks of revitalizing Plaza de la Guerra while also making sure there are other programming ideas that will be relevant even after town discussions have shifted elsewhere.
Your research interests are in New England house museums; has this internship aligned with some of that work and/or pushed you in new directions?
Again, growing up in the Northeast has led to some, *ahem* strong regional biases. However, I have been overcoming those biases while learning about Santa Barbara’s history and the history of California in general. It has been great to get out of my historical comfort zone and imagine how my research interests make sense in California.
What has been the most exciting or rewarding part of the internship so far?
I love learning about local history wherever I am, and this internship has provided an unmatched opportunity to do just that. The trust does so much cool working interpreting and teaching Santa Barbara’s history and I’m thankful to be a small part of it.
How has your work so far in the Public Humanities Graduate Fellows program influenced your understanding of the role of public humanists in their local communities?
We had such a wide variety of guest speakers [in the Skills for the Public Sphere course] and internship opportunities this past spring—things that I had not even considered would fall under the umbrella of public humanities. So I certainly have a greater understanding of what is possible as a public humanist. Additionally, I’ve been learning about the importance of teamwork and collaboration. Historians are really good at solo pursuits such as archival work and writing. We tend to joke about the amount time we spend reading and thinking about dead people (one of my friends once baked a birthday cake for a nineteenth century missionary whose diary she was reading). However, public humanities requires good relationships with the living. As someone who is pursuing public history and humanities I’ve appreciated the opportunity to develop those skills of creating history with others.
Click here to learn more about IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellows Internships. This article was originally published on the IHC website.
In recent years, two covers of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation’s (SBTHP) membership publication, La Campana, have exhibited beautiful postcard images from Santa Barbara’s past. These mass-produced scenes of gorgeous settings with exaggerated colors represent Santa Barbara’s longtime appeal to visitors. Tourists and locals purchased these inexpensive images of local Santa Barbara sights they may or may not have visited, wrote short messages of news or inquiry on the back, addressed them to loved ones, stuck on a stamp, and put them in a mailbox. Or, they didn’t write on the postcard or send it at all, but instead collected the attractive pictures as personal mementos of their visit to the American Riviera.
Years later, after postcard recipients and collectors aged and passed away, their children were left with the task of figuring out what to do with these souvenirs of their parents’ lives. Some were given away, some ended up in antique stores, some in the trash. Some of them were donated to local cultural heritage institutions. This last possibility is likely how many old-time postcards ended up in the possession of SBTHP. Slowly over time, card by card, the Presidio Research Center (PRC) has built up a modest collection of 300 postcards, mostly from undocumented sources.
For the new Archivist, the PRC’s collection of unprocessed postcards presented an opportunity to improve access. About the same time I came on board as a “lone arranger,” Ambi Harsha, a member of our Asian American History Committee, volunteered to help out in the PRC. As a longtime Santa Barbara resident and former UCSB Lecturer, Ambi was well-equipped to arrange our assortment of postcards.
Postcards are typically organized by location or by topic. We decided that location made the most sense for our collection, so we imagined El Presidio de Santa Bárbara, the birthplace of our city, as the center of the universe and then worked our way out geographically from there. To execute this approach, the postcards have been arranged starting with the Presidio Neighborhood, then expanding to capture the architecture and sights of the city of Santa Barbara, and subsequently the California Missions and locations outside of our state.
“Historic postcards constitute a rich visual resource. Buildings and landmarks long-gone can be viewed again. Postcards can be a treasure trove of information.” This significant characteristic of older postcards—the history they contain—is especially true for Santa Barbara. The 1925 earthquake destroyed the historic center of the city, causing an estimated $111 million in damage in today’s dollars. In the business district, an area of about 36 blocks, only a few structures were not substantially damaged, and many had to be completely demolished and rebuilt. This included the Greek Revival county courthouse built in the Victorian era of the 1870s and seen in the above postcard. Its destruction made way for today’s beautiful Spanish Colonial-style courthouse completed in 1929.
In the early days of postcard design, the postal service required messages to be squeezed in along with the photo or artwork. Only the address was allowed on the stamped side of the card. This postcard of Casa de la Guerra from the PRC collection is a good example of such a card. The white section on the right side and just under the label was the area set aside for writing personal messages. The downside of this requirement was that there was less room for the image to be printed. Starting March 1, 1907, Federal legislation permitted senders to include a message on a portion of the back of a postcard. This was the start of the “divided back” on postcards.
Another interesting phase of postcard evolution was the real photo postcard. Beginning in 1902, Kodak offered a preprinted card back that enabled postcards to be made directly from negatives. This technology allowed photographers to travel from town to town and easily document life in the places they visited. These postcards documented buildings, important events, parades, fires, and floods. The PRC postcard collection contains many of the well-known real photo disaster postcards from the 1925 earthquake. Here is an example showing the damage inflicted by the quake on the Santa Barbara Mission. Captions were usually written onto the negative in black ink and became part of the image. Because the words had to be placed on the emulsion side of the film, the person writing the caption had to write the letters from right to left and backwards so they would read correctly when printed.
Because the Presidio Research Center postcard collection is small in comparison to most, gaps in the set are obvious. For example, other than pictures of El Cuartel and Casa de la Guerra, there are very few of our city’s adobes. Perhaps the most glaring hole in the PRC collection is the lack of images of Santa Barbara’s Chinatown and Japan town. Cards illustrating the daily life and people of Chinatowns in North American cities are not uncommon in other collections. With the SBTHP’s focus on interpreting the Presidio neighborhood’s evolution, images of its Asian past would be a priority for future postcard acquisitions, if any such postcards exist.
The Guide to the Santa Barbara Presidio Postcards can be viewed at the Online Archive of California at https://bit.ly/2r9rUhe.
Chris Ervin is the new Presidio Research Center Archivist and Librarian. He succeeds longtime Librarian and Archivist, Laurie Hannah, who retired last September. Chris comes to us from the Mojave Desert Archives. He received his Master’s in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University in 2013 and his Certified Archivist credential in 2016.
 Postcards depicted on the covers of the Winter 2015 and Winter 2017 issues La Campana were from the personal collection of Mary Louise Days.
 A significant portion of U.S. institutions charged with the preservation of our cultural heritage are small repositories and one-person shops.
 Michael Redmon, “Postcards from Paradise,” Noticias XXXVIII (1992), 1.
 Robert Bogdan and Todd Weseloh, Real photo: postcard guide: The people’s photography (Syracuse (NY): Syracuse University Press, 2006).
 Postcards of the Chinese in North America – Chinatowns in San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia and British Columbia, Antipodean Books, Garrison, New York, https://bit.ly/2Qgoszo accessed November 25, 2018. Also see, Online Archive of California. 2006. Postcards of Chinatown, San Francisco, California 1901-1987, https://bit.ly/2zEAOrJ accessed November 28, 2018.
The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) is proud to announce the arrival of our new Collections website! The new site is fully revamped, more interactive, and easier to use so you can have better access to all of the online resources SBTHP has to offer. The website features online exhibits, collections, and a wide variety of digital resources that better illuminate the history of Santa Barbara and the Presidio Neighborhood. The website also showcases the breadth and variety of items in our collection and makes it easier to explore the hundreds of photographs, oral histories, and other artifacts that are available to the public.
Exhibits offer a more in-depth exploration of the Presidio’s past and present. For example, Archaeological Discoveries During the Casa de la Guerra Restoration lets you explore the archaeological excavation and restoration of Casa de la Guerra, which occurred between 1992 and 2006. The exhibit uses photographs taken on site, diagrams and field notes, and interviews with lead archaeologist Michael Imwalle to give you an inside look at the excavation and let you be part of the discovery process!
We hope you enjoy all the exciting features of our new Collections website—and, most importantly, we hope you share your discoveries! Each image or audio file includes a variety of social media links so you can get the word out. Let’s let the world know how wonderful Santa Barbara and its history are!
Four UCSB students took part in a spring quarter project to catalog the historic photographs in the Presidio Research Center. Seniors Johnny Fung, and Jordyn Napier were part of Dr. Randy Bergstrom’s public history class and chose this project as part of their coursework. Senior Sidney Ascher and Junior Julia Madden-Fulk also participated in this year’s Docent Training Program at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP). They were introduced to the Research Center collections during the training and wanted to get more experience in an archives setting. Sidney will continue her interest in collections at George Washington University’s graduate program in Museum Studies this fall. Jordyn will be working at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History this summer.
Librarian and Archivist Laurie Hannah gave each student an in-depth crash course in cataloging photographs according to best practices. Students learned the rationale behind the complex cataloging record we use, which provides access to the organization’s collection of over 20,000 images through description and subject headings, but also documents provenance and rights. The students were also challenged with determining copyright status to see if an image was protected by copyright or now in the public domain, and they learned the implications of owning images versus reproducing images.
Each student was responsible for a binder of their choice ranging from images of Mission La Purísima to El Paseo. Response was positive from the students about the project. Both Johnny and Sidney were able to apply new research skills and historical context to current history research projects they were working on, and Jordyn claimed this was her favorite internship at UCSB. In total, the students catalogued about 700 photos this quarter—a significant contribution to SBTHP.
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