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Way Back When in Santa Barbara – January 1914
updated: Jan 18, 2014, 1:00 PM

By Betsy J. Green

Hot off the presses of Santa Barbara's very own Morning Press and Daily News & Independent from January 1914, here's the latest news in our fair city 100 years ago.

Dirty Dancing. On New Year's Eve in Santa Barbara, as partygoers bid adieu to 1913, a controversial dance appeared on the scene. "No social season is complete without a fad, and this year the fad is the tango," gushed one society columnist. The tango was clearly the hot dance a century ago.

"What do you mean WAS?" asked Marcos Christodoulou, a local booster of the tango. "On New Year's Eve this year, as on every other one in recent memory, Santa Barbara tango aficionados danced the year away in high heels, warm embraces, and dreamy trances. This dance, it turns out, which had its golden age almost a century ago, is alive and well in Santa Barbara and practically every other community on every continent of this otherwise unromantic world. Nearly 100 strong (if you count their fanatic brethren in the corridor that runs from San Luis Obispo to Ventura), they have several opportunities to dance weekly, both less formally during weeknight get-togethers, and in larger, dressier events on weekends." Edhat readers wishing to learn more about the tango of today, can visit tango mango.org

Tango Warnings! Not everyone was taking to the tango back in 1914. In Rome, the pope declared that the tango "outrages modesty," and added, "The people must be made to see the grave offense to God and the irreparable harm to society by participating in spectacles which incite looseness of morals." If that weren't enough to make you sit out this fad, the Journal of the American Medical Association declared that "elderly [tango] dancers were in danger of putting too great a strain on a dilated heart or an arteriosclerotic artery."

Anything Goes! First the tango, then a glimpse of stocking. An article about Paris fashions opined, "Instead of being discreetly draped, the ankles will now be freely displayed." (What would they say if they knew of all the other body parts that would be freely displayed 100 years later?)

A Peak Experience. While some people celebrated the new year by dancing the tango, others celebrated by taking to the trails. 1914 was the year that hiking earned its place as a fashionable activity in Santa Barbara. This new surge in hiking's popularity originated with a group known as "The Hikers" who almost single-handedly propelled the sport to new heights. I talked to Dave Everett, author of the forthcoming book "Rediscovering the Trails of Mission Canyon." He told me, "La Cumbre, above all others, was the peak which all trail users aspired to ascend. Atop this peak stood a large rock, referred to then as ‘La Cumbre Rock,' which graced many a hiker's photograph. This rock became synonymous with the peak itself and would be immortalized over the years with a 30-foot flagpole placed in a ceremony in 1904, and a Masonic Square and Compass carved into the rock during another ceremony in 1909."

"Good luck finding this rock today," continued Everett. "Most of the top of La Cumbre Rock was blasted away in 1923 when forest rangers used it as the foundation for the city's first fire lookout, leaving only a survey marker and the flagpole intact. The remainder of this rock, however, can still be found behind a communication building and chain-link fence, standing guard over the city and pocked with plenty of reminders of its colorful past." Learn more about Everett's book at daveeverett.com

(Vintage photo courtesy of Nancy J. McCreary. Modern photo by Dave Everett.)

No Affluenza Defense. Two "juvenile burglars" who broke into a home in Goleta and stole jewelry, clothes, and blank checks were apprehended and taken to court. Since they had prior offenses, both youngsters were given five-year sentences - one in Folsom Prison and the other in San Quentin State Prison! The newspaper applauded the judge who, it said, "served notice on other would-be criminals throughout the state that the man who breaks the law in Santa Barbara County will henceforth be made to bear the punishment."

Alley Oops! Drinking alcohol just wasn't as much fun in 1914 as it had been in 1913. Two new laws went into effect in January and tripped up a number of local tipplers. In downtown Santa Barbara, starting on January 9, swilling alcoholic beverages on the streets and alleys was no longer permitted. One paper wrote, "If the boys want to take a little sociable nip together, they'll have to hire a hall or find some secluded place, where policemen never trod. Up to this time, they have used the alleys." Apparently, some saloons in town sold booze at the back door for those who preferred to drink their alcohol al fresco. Perpetrators were fined $10 to $100, or sentenced to one to 10 days in jail.

A beer distributor, possibly alarmed at how this new legislation could give alcohol a bad name, ran an ad in a local paper for Rainier Beer that advised, "Don't shy at beer as a beverage because some people misuse it. There is more genuine merit as a tonic, as a blood maker in a good beer than you may have supposed. One trial of a good beer will convince you." (The Rainier Brewing Company started in Seattle in 1884, but is no longer around.)

Summerland Man was #1. Unfortunately, this was not an honorable spot to be in. On New Year's Day in 1914, a Summerland driver was one of the first in the state to be arrested for drunk driving, under the new law that made it a misdemeanor for any person to drive an automobile while intoxicated. The man and three companions, in the early morning hours, passed another car near what is now the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, and managed to end up in the drink. The police arrived and determined that the driver was drunk. He was denied bail until he sobered up.

Religion by Rail. Continuing on the subject of transportation, the American Baptist Publication Society apparently decided that if people wouldn't go to church, the church would go to them. On January 4, Santa Barbara was visited by a Baptist "chapel car." (Perhaps the Baptists were hoping to save the souls of local citizens tangoing their way to hell.) A local paper announced that "a special service will be held in the chapel car located just west of the depot, … Chapel car evangelism is a distinctively Baptist enterprise." According to the article, these chapel cars began traveling around the U.S. in 1893.

Washday Terrors! The "terrors of wash day"? Really now! Boring, back-breaking, time-consuming drudgery, yes. But terrors? Maybe the ad was referring to mixing water and electricity back in the days before GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters). That would scare the heck out of me. Not to mention getting your you-know-what caught in the wringer!

Drug Smuggling - Then & Now. Today it's Mexican panga boats smuggling bales of marijuana onto our shores. Back in 1914, it was Chinese guys smuggling cans of opium. An immigration officer from Santa Barbara was part of a team of officials who captured a 70-foot-long powerboat carrying 16 illegal immigrants from China and 175 cans of opium. The boat was spotted in the Santa Barbara Channel and later apprehended in Monterey Bay.

Nifty Spring Hats read the caption of a photo showing bird feathers that, no doubt, contributed to the "niftiness" of the hats. The fashion for feathers continued in spite of 1913 legislation that prohibited the spring hunting and marketing of migratory birds and the importation of wild bird feathers.

Gail Osherenko, who has taught environmental law and policy at UCSB and is on the Board of the Environmental Defense Center, told me, "Certainly the 1913 law and the International Migratory Bird Treaty [of 1918] were early steps of a fledgling conservation movement. … The 1913 treaty was an important early conservation agreement and fundamental to intervention of the federal government in wildlife law which up until then was the purview of states and not the federal government."

Déjà Vu All Over Again? This photo may surprise the youth of 2014 who think they are being au courant by wearing their hats backward. (Good taste never goes out of style, eh?) Beachey was an aviation super star until his death in 1915.

Storm Survivors. January 1914 began with a tango and ended with a torrent that people talked about for years. Sunday afternoon and evening, January 25, the skies opened up and deluged our city with 9.41 inches of rain. "Houses Carried Away; Bridges Torn Out; Boulevards Wrecked. … Three bridges along Mission Creek were carried out by the flood and two bridges on the east side were destroyed. A number of houses along the creek were also floated away." Ocean waves swept over what is now Cabrillo Boulevard and carried away three sections of pavement 75 to 150 feet long. The beach was covered with sodden belongings, furniture, and even wagons that had been swept along by the wall of water that roared down Mission Creek. Witnesses said it sounded like a freight train.

But eventually the weather cleared. People started to clean up the debris, recount their experiences, and even laugh a little. The newspaper lauded the "telephone girls" - young women who worked the switchboards. "A few words of praise may be given to the 30 … telephone operators … who worked incessantly for hours, answering calls. Many of these girls, without hesitation, left their homes that were being flooded and worked until the rush was over …They did not take time to sit, but stood at the switchboard throughout the long and tedious grind."

Ever ready to take advantage of some free special effects, the folks at the Flying "A" Film Company hastily penned a script that featured a flood. In Oak Park, a cottonwood tree had fallen across the creek and the movie's heroine was filmed making her way across it, being chased by (who else?) a dastardly villain.

Other residents thought that the flooding was just "ducky." A man who raised chickens and ducks on Pueblo Street near Mission Creek lost many of his cluckers, but not his web-footed fowl. The morning after the flood, he discovered a passel of mud-spattered paddlers looking like they had thoroughly enjoyed themselves. And when workers were moving a house that had floated off its foundation near Bath and Ortega streets, they looked in the flooded foundation and saw "two handsome specimens of mountain trout, measuring seven and eight inches long."

Words to Live By. It's never too late to make a New Year's resolution. (Hey, it's still January!) So here's one that was in our paper 100 years ago this month, and is still a good way to start the year - "To live each day as seems best to us, and be tolerant of those who live their own days in their own best way." Happy New Year to all my Edhat readers!

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Santa Barbara author Betsy J. Green also writes a history column for The Mesa Paper, a garden column for the Living-Mission Gazette, and is working on a book about the history of the Mesa. To see her previous Edhat columns, click here.


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