“Santa Barbara Then and Now” – Book Signings

Santa Barbara Then and Now - Book Signings

My new book, “Santa Barbara Then and Now” can be purchased at Chaucer’s Books, Santa Barbara Arts, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, the Santa Barbara Art Museum Bookstore and Tecolote Books. It will soon be available online at http://www.elbarbareno.com

Book Release Party & Signing
Saturday, February 9th, 1:00pm to 3:00pm
Petrini’s in Goleta, 5711 Calle Real, Meet the designer, photographers, sponsors and have them all sign your book.

Book Signings
Sunday, February 10, 11:00am to 3:00pm
Santa Barbara Arts, La Arcada Court, 1114 State; Wednesday, February 13, 7:00pm to 9:00pm
Chaucer’s Books, Loreto Plaza, 3321 State
Saturday, February 16, 11:00am to 3:00pm
Santa Barbara Arts, La Arcada Court, 1114 State

Lecture and Book Signing
Wednesday, March 6, 11:00am to 1:00pm
Santa Barbara Historical Museum, 136 E. de la Guerra
Call 966-1601 for reservations and info.

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Just an Old Photo…

Just an Old Photo…
By Neal Graffy XNGH
November 1, 2009

It was just an old photograph of a Santa Barbara house and I probably could have left it at that. But for me, there’s a thousand words behind each photograph – you just have to find them…

The photo had no dates or names but it has a lot to say. First, it wasn’t just a snapshot. The studio logo on the reverse told us the camera was in the hands of N. H. Reed, a professional Santa Barbara photographer. The house is large with a good size front yard and close inspection reveals a carriage entrance and possible barn in the rear. But with that much room, where are the people? There’s no one on the upper or lower porches, sitting in the windows or gathered in the yard. Usually we’ve got the family, and even neighbors and friends all getting into the act. All we have are two women; one standing by her carriage and the other in the yard with her parasol over her shoulder. For these two women it was an important moment frozen in time

Location, location, location. Where was the house? I knew I’d seen that wonderfully angled siding along the front windows but just couldn’t place it. So we start with what we know – a) it’s on a corner, b) it’s faint, but between the homes is the unmistakable profile of the Santa Ynez mountains, therefore it must be on a northeast corner, c) streetcar tracks run past the front of the house and up the street alongside. The tracks narrow it down to seven possible corners. Now we turn to what is missing to give two possible locations and the date range. Santa Barbara’s trolleys were mule powered from 1875 to 1897 and electric beginning in 1896. The absence of power poles tells us we’re in mule days and that route, different than the electric trolley route, would lead us past Victoria and de la Vina and Micheltorena and Bath.

Of course we all know what’s on those two corners and there certainly isn’t a big Victorian on either of them. But I knew that house. Had it had been moved? Not wanting to get out of my chair yet, I engaged Google Earth and cruised the neighborhoods. Of course, there it was, just where it had always been, at the corner of Victoria and de la Vina. What was missing was the front yard.

Changes, changes, changes. The home’s original address of 134 West Victoria became 138 around 1910 and by that time it was a boarding house with “furnished rooms.” In the 1920s owner Allen D. Smith sub-divided the 57′ x 207′ lot, keeping the back yard which became 1308 and 1310 de la Vina. The new owner for the house, Charles A Judd, built the 4-unit La Paz Apartments in the front yard which became 136 W. Victoria. The old Victorian, the “La Paz Annex,” was readdressed to 1304 de la Vina and had nine apartments. At some point, an “internal sub-division” of the corner structure doubled the apartments from four to eight. In the mid-1980s “La Paz” was renamed “De La Victoria Apartments.”

Getting back to the photo, who were these women? Since N. H. Reed came here in October, 1887 and the mule cars ran until 1897 we now have a 10 year range for the dates. Still not wanting to get out of my chair, I turned to on-line census records to help. With most of the 1890 census destroyed in a fire, the 1900 census would be the starting point. Santa Barbara was divided into seven wards back then so I began with each ward, viewed a few pages to see the area being covered and moved on until I hit Ward 6. On the 14th of 20 pages, 134 West Victoria came to light.

The residents were two sisters, Abby M and Frances A Holder. They were white, female, and their martial status revealed they weren’t divorced or widowed, but single – the proverbial “spinster sisters.” Their birthdates and ages are shown though these revelations can’t always be trusted. I’ve seen females actually get younger from census to census – ahhh those were the days! Not included in the clip above, the census also states the sisters and parents were all born in Massachusetts.

We can also see they had a servant, Julia Carter. This wasn’t too unusual. Lots of homes, even middle income homes, had a servant or two around. Though not yet proven I suspect the decline in servants (often younger females) is in direct proportion to a rise in divorce lawyers.

Names in hand, a check of the 1888, 1893 and 1895 City Directories showed the Holder sisters living at 134 West Victoria. The latter directory also listed Abby as a “private school teacher.” From this we can be fairly confident the two women in the photo are indeed Abby and Fanny. I could have just left it there, but I was only up to 700 words.

Census records and city directories for Lynn and Boston indicated Abby was a teacher, Frances at times a saleswoman, and both living with their mother until her death in 1883. Two years later the sisters came to Santa Barbara.

They left their Victoria Street home around 1908 and moved to Junipero Plaza. 305 was the given address but sometimes 305 East Padre was used. As the property in question once stretched along Garden to both streets, it’s possible they built the house still standing at the south-east corner of Junipero Plaza and Garden, but that’s another story.

I found no burial records for them so I finally got out of my chair and got their death dates – November 10, 1910 for Abby and February 3, 1923 for Frances – from the Santa Barbara Historical Museum Library.

One hundred and twenty-one years after it was taken, and in exactly 1,000 words, Abby and Fanny Holder’s simple photo has told us a delightful story of Santa Barbara history.

Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection

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Oliver Fountain

Oliver Fountain
By Neal Graffy XNGH
October 25, 2009

This week we return again to the intersection of Mountain Drive, Mission Canyon Road and technically, Los Olivos, to visit a large stack of sandstone boulders. These are usually observed as a blur of yellowish red as our in-a-hurry society flies by or perhaps missed altogether due to DWS (Dirty Windshield Syndrome). They sort of look as though they are part of the 1891 Mission Creek Bridge stonework, but they were a later addition and how they got here is a story that begins with “Once upon a time, many years ago, in a place halfway around the world from here.”

The place in question is the Azores Islands, about 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, 2,200 miles from the east coast of the United States and 4,700 miles from Santa Barbara. Members of the Dabney family, originally from Massachusetts, had been here since the early 1800s when John Bass Dabney was appointed the American Consul by President Thomas Jefferson. The family prospered through shipping and trading and upon John’s death, his son Charles become the Consul and following his death, his son Samuel was Consul.

George Stuart Johannot Oliver was brought into the family when he married Frances Alsop Dabney in 1867. Born in Boston in 1831, the Harvard educated 6’4″ Oliver was intellectually and physically a stand out in any crowd. Coincidentally and somewhat confusing (though thrilling to genealogists), George’s classmate at Harvard was Francis Oliver Dabney, the brother of Frances. The new Mrs. Oliver’s middle name, Alsop was her mother’s middle name and also the maiden name of George’s father’s first wife (George’s mother was the second wife). So I suspect the Olivers and Dabneys may have been related though in George’s case not by blood.

George worked in the Dabney family shipping and trading business. Keeping his in-laws company in political matters, tradition states he was served as American vice-Consul though records indicate he was “Consul for the German Empire” for the Azores.

Oliver retired around 1880, and being in somewhat poor health he sought a more suitable climate for his convalescence. He found it in Santa Barbara, a quiet, small town of 3,400 souls that was gaining a reputation as a health resort.

The Oliver’s bought nine acres in Mission Canyon strewn with sandstone boulders and dotted with oak trees. They established a nice home with lovely gardens and pathways which soon became a popular stopping place for friends, family and even tourists. The Olivers were one of the five Mission Canyon residents that paid for the Mission Canon Bridge as mentioned in last weeks story.

George Oliver died in 1904 and six years after his death, his widow hired stone mason George Robson to build a memorial to her husband. Robson moved three large boulders from the Oliver property to the entrance to Mission Canyon.

One boulder was hallowed out to serve as a horse trough – although it made a great pollywog nursery when I was a kid.

To the left another boulder had a small bowl carved into it with a water spigot (long gone) in the center for two-legged critters and the overflow filled the bowl for the birds and other furry woodland creatures.

The third boulder was behind the horse trough and in the center of the rock face Mrs. Oliver placed this plaque: “In Memory of George Stuart Johannot Oliver – who loved this Canyon – 1910.”

Francis Dabney Oliver passed away in 1926 at the ripe old age of 92. Following her death a group of friends bought her property for $27,000 with the intention of donating it to the county as park. At the time, the papers referred to it as “Oliver Park,” but it ended up with the name that the Olivers gave the property back in 1882 when they bought it – “Rocky Nook.”

Strolling through Rocky Nook Park today you will find a boulder with a plaque “Rocky Nook given to the County by Friends of Frances Dabney Oliver who lived here from 1882 to 1927.” Nearly 70 years later, another plaque was installed to honor the formerly nameless “friends” – former County Supervisor Sam and Carol Stanwood.

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Mission Creek Bridge

Mission Creek Bridge
By Neal Graffy XNGH
October 18, 2009

This Thursday, October 22, marks the 118th anniversary of the Mission Creek Bridge.

In the years prior to the initial anniversary date, a stone aqueduct, part of the Mission waterworks, once framed the entrance to Mission Canyon, and past that, a wooden bridge spanned Mission Creek for the convenience of the many tourists and handful of canyon residents. (See picture at end of article)

Mission Creek Bridge


In April 1891, the local papers reported a new stone bridge was to replace the old wooden one. Credit for the bridge was given to Rowland Hazard, who lived directly behind the Mission in what is now St. Mary’s Retreat House. Mr. Hazard drew the plans and, along with four of his neighbors, contributed a little more than half of the $2,250 construction costs, with the county kicking in the final $1,000.

To build the bridge, Hazard hired stonemason Joseph Dover, whom he’d met while Dover was working on walls at the Mission. Dover was joined on the bridge project by Joseph Woods and their names – “Dover & Woods 1891” – were proudly carved into the keystone on the east side of the bridge. But you have to look hard to find the keystone, as various pipes now hang across it.

Dover also built the walls along Hazard’s property, including the “stegosaurus” wall that leads from the west side of the bridge and around the Museum of Natural History, as well as wall in many other Santa Barbara locations. Dover Road on the Riviera is named for him.

On opening day, the papers reported, “The new bridge over Mission Creek is completed and is certainly an ornamental as well as a substantial piece of work…the bridge is 140 feet long and twenty-two feet wide with a graceful arch of twenty-four feet through which the creek will flow. It is built of cut stone quarried out on the spot, and it is the only stone bridge in the county.”

After the Santa Barbara Woman’s Club completed their Mission Canyon clubhouse in 1928, they called for the bridge to be widened to 30 feet and flanked with pedestrian paths. This was not only for benefit of their members (over 1,000) who actually walked to the club from their homes and streetcar stops by the Mission, but also for the many visitors to the Museum of Natural History, and new Blaksley Botanic Garden. The pathway on the east side of the bridge may have been installed due to the Women’s Club’s efforts, and the bridge was eventually widened on the west side, possibly in the 1950s.

The bridge today is owned by the City (one wonders if they ever reimbursed the county for the $1,000) and is a City Landmark. In recent years, it has become a popular location to crash-test cars, leaving the impression that the next 118 years may not be so fortunate.

Archway in Aqueduct Wall


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