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Way Back When – June 1914
updated: Jun 21, 2014, 11:00 AM

By Betsy J. Green

Direct from the pages of Santa Barbara's "Morning Press" and "Daily News & Independent" of June 1914, here's the up-to-the minute report about what happened in our fair city 100 years ago this month.

Sex at the Arlington Hotel! No, that lady, er, that woman, was not what the story was about, dear readers. With neither fanfare nor smart-alecky comment, a local paper noted that one of the guests staying at the Arlington Hotel, the top hotel on Santa Barbara's State Street in 1914, was "James P. Sex, a well- known San Jose attorney." Thinking this MUST surely be a typo, I did a little digging, and found that, yes, Virginia, there was a lawyer named James P. Sex. He was an attorney who lived on Park Avenue in San Jose. (Photo - E.J. Bellocq)

The 1913 edition of "Who's Who on the Pacific Coast," lists James Patrick Sex, born in San Jose in 1875, as a criminal lawyer there. His family tree on Ancestry.com shows that his father, Peter Sex, was born in Ireland. Whither Sex, you may ask? According to "Irish Roots Magazine," Sex may be a variant spelling of a surname that can be spelled Sisk, Seix, or Seys. James P. Sex died in 1926.

A Seal of Approval was given to Santa Barbara's sea lions according to numerous articles in 1914. "The sea lion industry at Santa Barbara has developed quite a lively activity. This morning Captain Vasquez brought in five splendid specimens, and yesterday, Captain Ira K. Eaton delivered several. … Between Captain Vasquez and Captain Eaton, the demand for sea lions is being supplied steadily. Shipments are made to all parts of the country and to Europe, and prove quite an advertisement to the anta Barbara islands." (Photo - Gary R. Osgood)

The sea lions of 1914 were shipped off to zoos. They were more fortunate than their ancestors. The Channel Islands sea lions of the 1800s were captured and killed for their pelts and blubber. According to Marla Daily of the Santa Cruz Island Foundation, "Sealing as an industry developed around the Channel Islands as whaling declined." But by 1910, killing seals was no longer permitted. Marla is hard at work constructing "Islapedia," an online encyclopedia with everything you wanted to know about the California Channel Islands. "Keeping island history alive and bringing the dead to life." Check it out at: islapedia.com

Forbidden Fruits for Sale on State Street! The Diehl Grocery at 827 State Street (Phone 44) declared that June 1 to June 7 was "Fresh Currant" week at their establishment. Currents are not as common as other berries today and here's why: Currants (Ribes sp.) weren't forbidden fruits back in 1914, but for many years, it was illegal to grow them in certain counties in California and in numerous other areas elsewhere in the United States. (In my misspent youth, I was a staff editor at World Book Encyclopedia and one of the articles I worked on - and still remember - was the currant article.) So anyway, what's the problem with currants? The currant plant is a host for the white pine blister rust, a fungus which kills pine trees. In areas where the lumber industry is important to the economy, it is illegal to sell or plant currant bushes.

Bellosguardo Before the "Empty Mansions" Clarks moved in, belonged to the William Miller Graham family. The society column noted that Mrs. Graham gave an "al fresco affair" in June 1914. (When you live in a mansion, dear readers, you don't have "picnics," you have "al fresco affairs." Remember that when your ship comes in and you move into a mansion. And I hope you'll remember to invite me to your "al fresco affair." I'll bring the kale chips.)

And you MUST remember to give your mansion a fancy name that most people cannot pronounce properly. ("Maid of Plywood" or "The Loan Ranger" will NOT cut it as mansion monikers.) Bellosguardo is pronounced BELL-os-GWAR-doe, according to author Bill Dedman who penned the recent best-seller "Empty Mansions." In the book, he notes that the Grahams are the ones who built the original 25,000-square-foot Italian villa here in 1903. The Clarks did a major teardown/rebuild after the 1925 quake.

Historical humor was always missing in any history class I ever had, so it's always a hoot to come across it in the Santa Barbara papers in 1914. Our city was cracking down on contractors hauling away sand from the beach to use on construction sites, and this inspired a satirical response from the "Daily News."

"It is the plain duty of the city council to pass an ordinance to forbid the people taking water out of the ocean. Bathers should be compelled to wring their suits dry before leaving the surf. There's great danger of drying up the ocean. Also the wasteful practice of children playing in the sand, shoveling sand into buckets and otherwise needlessly handling it, should be discouraged. They wear out the sand by thus handling it. We must conserve ‘our' ocean and ‘our' sand."

It's interesting that the attitude in 1914 seemed to be that nature is limitless, in spite of the fact that in that year the last passenger pigeon, Martha, was nearing the end of her days - and her species - in a zoo in Cincinnati. And California sea otters were close to extinction as well.

So how about a joke that had ‘em rolling in the aisles 100 years ago?

"Employee: Sir, I would respectfully ask you for an increase of salary. I have got married lately.

Manager: Very sorry … I can be of no assistance to you. The company is not responsible for any accidents that happen to its employees when off duty."

------------------------------- TRIVIA QUESTION --------------------------------

Trivia Question of the Month: Anyone out there know what "pieplant" is? A recipe in the paper for "pieplant conserve" calls for cutting the pieplant in pieces and stewing it with sugar, orange rind, pineapple, and chopped almonds. What wouldn't taste good cooked like that, I ask you? (Pieplant's other name is revealed at the end of this column.)


Dandelions driving you crazy? Here's where the dandelions in your lawn may have originated: "Why not try raising some dandelion in the kitchen garden. The young growth makes an excellent salad and is quite delicious cooked as greens."

Why not stop complaining about weeds and start consuming them! The website EATTHEINVADERS.ORG encourages people to fight invasive plants by eating them. Their motto: "Fighting Invasive Species, One Bite at a Time." There's a recipe for Killer Fennel/Fennel Killer Molasses Cookies, among others. (Many "invasive plants/weeds" were brought here deliberately because they were useful in their countries of origin.) Check the Internet for recipes for dandelion leaves, roots, and flowers. Dandelion wine, anyone?

Too Too Precious! This is one that I will never bother to make! "Bird's Nest Salad. Add a very small quantity of sweet cream to Neufchatel cheese and color the same a light green with pistachio coloring. Form it into balls about the size of a bird's egg and place in nests of shredded cereal on crisp lettuce leaves." Awww! Too much trouble and too cutesy for my taste.

However, I must admit, I did once make a hairy eyeball cake when my daughter was in grade school. I used a round metal mixing bowl as a cake pan, inverted it when done, used blue icing to make the iris, and covered the whole thing with shredded coconut to make it hairy. It was a hit with the third graders. But Bird's Nest Salad! Really!

"Fire Threatens Chinese Quarter" was the headline of an article about a fire at the Kay Fong grocery store in our city's Chinatown. "The fire was extinguished before extensive damage had been done." According to the 1915-16 city directory at the Gledhill Library in the Historical Museum, Kay Fong & Co. was located at 11 East Cañon Perdido. It was one of 16 Chinese businesses located on East Cañon Perdido. The photo shows another of the many businesses in our thriving Chinatown. (Photo - courtesy of John C. Woodward)

Let There be Light - in Carpinteria! Apparently, the good folks in Carp were not on the grid yet. "Active work on the construction of the power line to Carpinteria is to begin at once, the Santa Barbara Gas & Electric Company agreeing to complete the line within 30 days, and it is expected that before the end of the present month, Carpinteria will be receiving electricity from the Santa Barbara plant." (Photo - Ulfbastel)

What Did People Do Before TV? Well, that was before my time. (And yours too, right?) But, judging from the ads in the 1914 newspapers here, they went to the movies. A LOT! The Mission Theatre ("We Lead, Others Follow") on State Street advertised that it was showing new movies every day. So, if you wanted to catch your favorite star (such as the sultry Leah Baird in the photo, who starred in "The Flaming Diagram"), you had to go to the movie theater on June 3, 1914, or forget about it. (Photo - Stars of Photoplay)

Don't try this at home! Sometimes I wonder how our grandparents ever survived. Two separate items in the local papers recommended using flammable liquids for routine cleaning. "Kerosene is the best thing for washing windows, glass over pictures, mirrors. And for cleaning the bathtub has no equal." And if leaning over the bathtub inhaling kerosene vapors did not do you in, you could try the next helpful hint: "To remove grease from rugs, make a paste of Fuller's earth and turpentine. Rub it well into the soiled places, and then allow them to dry thoroughly. When dried, beat the spots gently and then remove all traces of the powder with a soft brush." One hopes that people knew enough not to smoke while trying these nifty cleaning methods.

The winds of war were starting in Europe, but here in Santa Barbara, the headlines at the end of June were more concerned with the civil war in Mexico. The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was on the front page of the "Daily News" here, but clearly the implications of this event, which soon led to World War I, were not clear to citizens here. And we were not alone in this respect. A senior British lawyer quoted in the article said that the chances of peace in Europe were improved with the assassination since the Archduke's heir apparent leaned more toward peace than his dad who was killed. Oops! Got that one wrong! (Photo - Library of Congress)

Sorry, Mister Snake! An article about the Hikers group encountering the first rattlesnake of the season, which was promptly killed, led me to wonder when trail users began treating our snake population with a little more consideration. I asked Dave Everett, author of the forthcoming book "Rediscovering the Trails of Mission Canyon." He told me that "the unwritten policy in the late 1800s and early 1900s was, ‘the only good rattlesnake was a dead rattlesnake.' Trails users wouldn't think twice about killing a rattler upon first sight. When creating their bylaws the Hikers considered allowing members to carry firearms, but decided against it, citing the only reason it would be useful was when encountering a rattlesnake." Dave added that it wasn't until the 1960s, that most people started thinking about living with rattlers, instead of killing as many as possible.

------------------------------- TRIVIA ANSWER --------------------------------

Trivia question answer - rhubarb used to be called pieplant because it was often used as a pie filling. (Photo - RhubarbFarmer)


Santa Barbara author Betsy J. Green, a trivia lover herself, 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, and another based on these 1914 Edhat columns. To see her previous Edhat columns, click here.


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