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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1 Response to Just an Old Photo…

  1. David Petry says:

    Nicely sleuthed, Neal. Sorry you had to leave your chair…

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