In November 2019, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) invited friends and partners for an insider tour of the 1871 Cota-Knox House. This City Landmark is SBTHP’s next restoration project, and our work will ensure that the building is not only restored to its original appearance, but also receives seismic and accessibility upgrades that will bring it into compliance with current needs.
We made the interior of the building available to the attendees at our event so they could appreciate some of the special details in the sala. Inside, historians Mary Louise Days and Fermina Murray and SBTHP Associate Executive Director Michael Imwalle shared the architectural and social history of the building, as well as a display of medical artifacts from Dr. Knox’s practice, which were excavated on site.
Architect Anthony Grumbine, Structural Engineer Jeff Haight, and Contractor Joe Handerhan led tours of the exterior. The team of building experts helped the guests understand the challenges of restoring historic buildings, including how to treat the delicate aging mortar between bricks, and the scarcity of similar materials to replace the originals.
In addition to the process of the upcoming restoration work and the history of the building, we focused on the significance of this project to El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, the downtown and the wider community. Restoration of this small brick home matters, for a surprising number of reasons:
It helps us tell the story of Santa Barbara’s somewhat destructive transition from a pueblo to an American town. María Olivera Cota’s Adobe home was demolished when Salisbury Haley’s new street grid was implemented, and her new house was built by her son-in-law José Lobero, across the street from his theatre.
It helps us interpret the medical history of our community. After María Cota’s death, the house was occupied by of of Santa Barbara’s first surgeons, a Civil War veteran from Philadelphia, who made significant modifications to the building
It is an unusual piece of vernacular architecture, with an early 19th-century symmetrical façade combined with later-period Victorian elements.
This small building is also a City Landmark, and a historic resource in El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park. It is surrounded by other City Landmarks and is the last landmark on the block to receive the care and attention it deserves. In a time when our community is focusing on the revitalization of our downtown, the restoration of this landmark, as artist Thomas Van Stein said, “will have a big impact in the Neighborhood.”
This building is also important because of its use today. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has produced research studies that show that smaller, older buildings in cities like ours often serve as incubators for local and innovative small businesses and innovation. And the Cota-Knox House is evidence of that. Tenants Eric Watts and Betsy Cramer (representing the Citizens Planning Association) attended the event and graciously allowed us access to the building.
And it matters because our historic buildings ground us. As Professor of Historic Preservation Tom Mayes has argued, historic buildings help us define who we are through “memory, continuity, and identity,” and remind us about what makes our community special.
We hope you too will get involved in the campaign to restore the Cota-Knox House. For more information about the project and how you can help, click here.
Anne Petersen is the Executive Director at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation
The History and Relevancy Project is a collaborative effort by California State Parks, UC Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) to bring specialized educational programming exploring the universal themes of migration and immigration to CA State Historic Parks. As a part of this pilot project, we plan to offer a customized field trip to all of Santa Barbara Junior High School’s 400 seventh graders on September 26 and 27, 2019 at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. In preparation, we invited two of SBJHS’s seventh grade teachers for a tour of the Presidio in early August. Here is seventh grade history teacher Kristin Martinez-Pettit’s reflection on the process thus far:
All students should know that their story is relevant and part of Santa Barbara’s history. Through a series of meetings with representatives of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, UC Santa Barbara and CA State Parks, seventh grade English and Social Studies teachers at SBJHS, with the help of our teacher librarian and community liaison, are planning and facilitating a project to help students connect their stories to the city of Santa Barbara. The project will include class visits from CA State Parks and UCSB staff and a field trip for all of our seventh graders to visit the El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park in late September, organized by the SBTHP Programs Department. Our goal through this project is to build a sense of community amongst our students as well as stoke their interest in the human story while cultivating their own.
“Our goal through this project is to build a sense of community amongst our students as well as stoke their interest in the human story while cultivating their own.“
In preparation for our trip, we met with SBTHP representatives, educators, and teachers to create the best learning experience for our students. After a series of meetings and our preview of the Presidio grounds and planned activities, teachers began planning the logistics of the trip. Every preparation meeting for our planned field trip has been insightful, informative, and helpful as we attempt to merge the history of Santa Barbara with learning in the classroom.
During the month of July 2019, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) hosted Stanford PhD Candidate Koji Lau-Ozawa at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park to conduct research on the previously excavated remains of the early 20th century Nihonmachi (Japantown) of Santa Barbara. I was lucky enough to assist as Koji’s assistant in this process. The goal of the project was to find as many pre-World War II Nihonmachi related artifacts as possible in order to compare them to findings from Gila River, one of ten official Japanese-American Incarceration Camps used during the war to unconstitutionally incarcerate nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans.
While Koji came into this project with a plan, having worked
in archaeology for 13 years, I, coming from a background in history, had no
idea what to expect. Very quickly I was thrown into the world of archaeology
with my main goal of the month being to re-catalog as many artifacts as
possible, most of which had not been looked at since the 1970s. I learned very
quickly what this entailed: picking a bag, finding its catalog number,
searching through the catalog, identifying and dividing artifacts by
material type, weighing, re-cataloging, and finally re-bagging the artifacts. I
went through this process almost 750 times. On day one I learned the difference
between “shard” and “sherd.” By week two I was attempting to identify different
types of ceramic sherds, and by week three I no longer needed to ask whether
something was porcelain, whiteware, or improved whiteware.
Over the course of the month we re-bagged and cataloged
thousands of artifacts and by the last week we began analyzing what we had
discovered. From various bottle bases with maker’s marks, to so-called
“geisha girl” porcelain, we had a lot to choose from. We decided to
narrow it down to specific pits identified on hand drawn 1970s maps of the
excavation site. I was determined to use as many identification marks as I
could to date these pits as accurately as possible. While many of the bottles
were harder to identify, two distinct foil milk bottle caps were clearly
labeled “Durbiano… Santa Barbara.” We were also able to find an “Old
Continental Whiskey” bottle in its entirety. Using this information and City
directories from Santa Barbara’s Public Library, we will be able to find
exactly when this dairy company existed and whether it corresponded with the
While my work in this project is coming to an end, I am grateful to Koji for the opportunity as a history major graduate to learn so much about archaeology. Thank you as well to Archaeologist Mike Imwalle and SBTHP for having us. We hope that this project can fill what we believe to be a void in our historical record, by providing a better understanding and perspective of the lives of pre-war Japanese American communities and how these lives were affected and changed by incarceration.
On Wednesday January 28th, 2015 Cate School teachers Marnie Woehr and Oscar Urizar arrived at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park with eighteen students to volunteer for the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Archaeologist Michael Imwalle and Associate Director for Historical Resources Anne Petersen provided the group with a brief introduction to the history of the Presidio and adobe construction. Students Henry Dawson, Elizabeth Douglas, Elli Park, Zac Towbes, Diara Pouye, Elliot Rosenthal, Andre Pincot, Katherine Scott, Valeria Ghersi, Darling Garcia, Gabby Teodoro, Isaac Lee, Yori Haller, Julia McCaw, Yvette, Vega, Cordelia Pryor, Summer Matthews, and Kiyomi Ran Dylan went to the Northwest Corner to meet with Maintenance Supervisor Eduardo Garcia.
After we had a brief safety meeting Eduardo gave them an introduction to “Whitewashing 101.” By the end of the day the teachers and students finished whitewashing the interior of the reconstructed western outer defense wall at the Presidio Northwest Corner. A second set of students helped Eduardo whitewash some patched areas of the defense wall at the Northeast Corner. A third group of volunteers helped knock down weeds behind the comandancia, tilled the soil beneath the trees in the Cañedo orchard, and fertilized all the roses around the site.
Thanks for your hard work and we look forward to working with you again next year! Mike Imwalle is the archaeologist at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation
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