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Way Back When

Way Back When – Santa Barbara in April 1914
updated: Apr 12, 2014, 11:00 AM

By Betsy J. Green

Straight from the pages of Santa Barbara's "Morning Press" and "Daily News & Independent," here's the late-breaking news from April 1914.

A Tree Grows in Santa Barbara. Just one tree, and just one house were pictured on the Riviera in 1914. Anybody know which house this is? (Extra "Betsy points" if you know which tree this is.) (Photo: Daily News & Independent, 4-28-1914)

‘Tis the Season. Easter fell on April 12 back in 1914. Then, as now, ‘twas the season for a religious movie. This year, it's Russell Crowe in "Noah." In 1914, the Palace Theater (motto: "The House of Wholesome Films") was showing a one-reeler called "The Coming of the Padres" produced by the local Flying A film studio. This family feature had to compete with a host of other films in Santa Barbara with such titillating titles as "The Girl Who Dared," "His Favorite Pastime," and "Cruel, Cruel Love." (Photo: Neal Graffy)

Now that the Flying A film company had established itself here on Mission Street between State and Chapala streets, other motion picture concerns started to focus on our fair city. The Major Film Manufacturing Company bought several acres on the west side of Santa Barbara between Carrillo and Cañon Perdido streets. And the Diamond Film Company was also looking for property in our area.

I had never heard of these other companies, so I asked Santa Barbara Historian Neal Graffy about it. "Everyone seemed to be in a rush to have a studio in Santa Barbara," he said. "The Diamond Film Company leased property on Ortega … The Santa Barbara Motion Picture Co had their studio at 1425 Chapala. … They made at least a half-dozen films." Dana Driskel, studio professor of Film & Media Studies at UCSB, added that one of the films of this last company was recently discovered in New Zealand.

"The Revolution Will Not be Televised," a beat poet once wrote, but it WAS shown on the big screen over at the Mission Theater, where the main feature was billed as "Mexican War Pictures … Actual photographs of the present war, the pictures taken on the battle line. Biggest and best pictures ever shown of the great Mexican rebellion."

The Mexican general Pancho Villa had signed a movie contract with the Mutual Film Company in January, 1914, and battle scenes were seen on Main Streets (and State Streets) everywhere in the United States. According to an article in "Smithsonian Magazine," "the Mexican Revolution was an early example of a 20th-century ‘media war': a conflict in which opposing generals duked it out not only on the battlefield, but also in the newspapers and in cinema ‘scenarios.'" (Photo: Library of Congress)

A Youtube video contains footage of Pancho Villa on the battlefield, and may well contain scenes that audiences in Santa Barbara watched 100 years ago.

Troop Trains Passed Through Santa Barbara on their way to Mexico. Am I the only doofus who was unaware that the United States very nearly declared war on Mexico in 1914? Maybe you California- bred folks learned about this in fourth grade. (BTW, dear readers, I'll have you know that I was actually born in California. But I was kidnapped as an infant, and raised by a pack of wolves in New Jersey, and it just took a while for my homing instincts to kick in, that's all. And, no, I can't prove any of this. But on nights when the moon is full, I get this urge to … Oh, never mind.)

Our local newspapers carried headlines such as: "Army Regulars Pass Through on Way to Mexico," and "More Soldiers Pass Through on Way to Border." When two warships cruised down the channel at top speed, scores of enthusiastic Santa Barbarans flocked to the wharf, and "the air echoed with cheers as some of the throngs were carried away with patriotism." Even songwriter Irving Berlin jumped on the bandwagon and wrote "They're on Their Way to Mexico."

Cavalry at the Ready! Quadrupeds, as well as bipeds, were also being whipped into a patriotic frenzy. Sherman H. Stowe, a local horseman, sent a telegram to the White House stating, "We are ready to organize and offer to the service of the United States a regiment of California rangers, mounted and equipped." The Santa Barbara County Clerk drew up a list of 4,758 men able to serve in the military, and the local naval reserves were reported to be "drilling diligently."

Four Legs Good - but not if you were a ground squirrel. Mexico was not the only battleground in April 1914. "Supervisors Start Active Campaign Against Squirrels," ran the headline of an article that discussed waging war in the county to wipe out members of the Spermophilus beecheyi batallion. "The board proposes to continue the campaign just as long as a squirrel is seen." Official "Squirrel Inspectors" combed the county searching for bipeds harboring enemy squirrels. (Extermination campaigns such as these are why we have driven the ground squirrels to near extinction. Whoops! Wait a minute! It's bees, not squirrels, that are disappearing.)

Adopt-an-Elk? No, this was not a member of the fraternal organization being discussed in the newspapers here in April 1914. It was the four-legged variety of Cervus canadensis. (This is the second scientific animal name in my column this month. I hope you're taking notes in preparation for the "Way Back When" trivia contest in January!) Miller and Lux, ranchers in Ventura, Kern, and Los Angeles counties apparently had an abundance of the antlered animals and were looking for communities that wanted to foster elk (elks?). Where in Santa Barbara, you ask? There was talk of putting these animals in Oak Park. (Neal Graffy's comment on hearing this - Hey, then they could have called it "Elk Park.")

There WERE elk on Santa Rosa Island dating back to 1879, according to Marla Daily, president of the Santa Cruz Island Foundation. The majestic herd still existing into the 21st century was slaughtered. She noted, "In my opinion, a poor decision by the Park Service, because they were non-native. Who doesn't love seeing the majestic animals?"

Raisin' Hell! April 30 is National Raisin Day, and has been for at least 100 years. Who knew? (National Raisin Day seems to have started around 1910 in Fresno.) The Arlington Grocery here ran an ad featuring 10 different kinds of raisin cakes, raisin pies, and raisin cookies for sale. (We would have to wait until the 1980s for the California Dancing Raisins to sing, "I Heard it on the Grapevine.")

Celebrity Sighting at the Circus. April's visiting celebrity was none other than Buffalo Bill Cody at the circus. The Sells-Floto Circus paraded up State Street with 450 horses, nine bands, lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! A team of horses stampeded and as the people stampeded to get out of the way, a woman from Carpinteria was trampled upon and ended up with a broken arm. A good time was had by all. Well, maybe not the lady from Carpinteria.

Twenty-five cents got you into the big tent for the show. And of course Buffalo Bill was the star of the show. One paper wrote in an editorial, "To see him ride into the ring, flourish his broad-brimmed Stetson and wave his gray locks is the wild west of song and story incarnated. For a moment, you live in the broad plains, hear the thunder of the hoofs of thousands of buffalo, see the emigrant trains, the soldier camps and hear the war whoops of the Indians. So long as Buffalo Bill continues to visit us, the romance of the west will live." It's not clear how many more times the famed gentleman made an appearance in Santa Barbara, because the hero of song and story passed into the great buffalo camp in the sky in 1917. (By modern standards, displays of Indians attacking stagecoaches would not be considered politically correct, but at least he used real Indians in his shows. Take that, Johnny Depp!) (Photo of Joe Black Fox - Sioux, actor in Buffalo Bill's show - Library of Congress.)

But where did they put such a huge assortment of animals and people in Santa Barbara?, I wondered to Historian Kathi Brewster. "Much of the lower eastside was similar to the marshy areas near the airport - slough-like," she told me. "The Spanish called it El Estero. At one point, there was a track for racing horses, and what we Midwesterners would call a ‘Fair or Show grounds.' There was an Agricultural Pavilion where annual exhibitions were held, with tents erected. This would have been south of Haley between Garden, Laguna, and Canal (Olive) Streets, bounded by present day Calle Cesar Chavez. The likely location of a circus."

Fingering the Baddies. April 1914 marked the beginning of our local constabulary using fingerprints to help track down criminals. "The local police station is now, for the first time, provided with the finger-marking system with which all the up-to-date police offices of the country are provided, and henceforth it will do its part in assisting in the identification of criminals by a process that has proved so very successful among the rogue catchers of the land."

I contacted Michael Ullemeyer, Senior Forensic Technician at the Santa Barbara Police Department, to find out when they stopped using ink and paper to make fingerprints. "The Santa Barbara community received an invaluable investigative tool when fingerprints became digitized," he told me. "The Santa Barbara Police Department installed its first Live Scan fingerprint system back in 1999. We were then able to add to, access and search the growing digital database of known criminal fingerprints both within the State of California and later countrywide via the FBI's IAFIS [Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System] … this technology gave investigators the ability to conduct fast computer searches in an attempt to identify unknown fingerprints obtained at crime scenes and from physical evidence.

"Forensic Science has come a long way in the past 100 years. The growth of digital fingerprint databases is helping solve more crimes than ever. Similarly, criminal DNA databases are making another big impact on Forensic Science's ability to solve crime and keep our community safe."

Get Rich Quick c. 1914 I asked Darlene Craviotto, Goleta resident and screenwriter what she thought about this ad. "I laughed so hard when I read this: ‘As it only requires a few hours to construct a complete play, you can readily see the immense possibilities in this work.' And this: ‘No literary ability is required, and women have as great an opportunity as men.' Subtext: Because, of course, women have no literary ability at all. I did a quick Google search to find out if it was legit, but I couldn't find any mention of the Photo-Play Association. This looked like a scam - similar to the ‘Earn Money at Home' schemes that have been posted throughout the years." (Photo: Daily News & Independent, 4-16-1914)

However, Craviotto did some deeper research, and lo and behold, this is what she found in "Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood" by Karen Ward Mahar: "The early, smaller films (under 1000 ft.) began with impromptu acting (no scripts needed). As films became longer, ‘scenarios' became standard and the director-producers wrote their own scenarios. Actors and actresses many times contributed scenarios. Studios also solicited story ideas from freelance writers, or stole them from other studios and recruited them from contests open to the public. The winners of these contests were frequently female (since they were interested in popular fiction and the movies). Unsolicited scenarios were accepted by many studios well into the mid 1910s. Contest winners usually made $5 to $15 a scenario - a sum that was considered extremely low (according to Moving Picture World in 1910)."

Looking Back and Back Again. Newspaper readers 100 years ago here were looking back at the past just as we are today - at least all of you who read this column. One paper interviewed an 81-year-old man about changes he had seen over the decades. "I remember Santa Barbara when the streets were deep in sand, and the sidewalks were merely a string of planks leading from one store to another … Santa Barbara sure has been growing since then."

The same paper also contained a "blast from the past" column which noted that on April 4, 1856, the "Santa Barbara Gazette" had reported, "The projected lighthouse on Santa Barbara point is about to be commenced. Mr. Nagle, the contractor, arrived on the Sea Bird and is already preparing the materials for its erection." The lighthouse was built on the Mesa and lasted nearly 70 years until the 1925 earthquake gave it the heave ho. You can learn more about the Mesa lighthouse and other local lighthouses in an exhibit at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum scheduled to open in July.

Here's something else to be nostalgic about - the rainfall for the 1913-14 season measured 30.63 inches! Sigh!

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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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