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Way Back When – August 1914
updated: Aug 09, 2014, 12:00 PM

By Betsy J. Green

Direct from Santa Barbara’s “Morning Press” and “Daily News & Independent” of August 1914 to your electronic thingamajig of choice, here’s the latest on the doings (and undoings) in our fair city 100 years ago this month.

Photo: Library of Congress

Was there life before Fiesta? Well, we just celebrated/survived the 90th anniversary of Fiesta. That means that 100 years ago – August 1914 – we were Fiesta-free. Was there life in Santa Barbara before Fiesta? Before we had Fiesta, we had … um, well … not much, actually. There were chess and checker games at the new Y.M.C.A. on Carrillo and Chapala streets. If you didn't know how to play, you could always watch, right? Now doesn't that sound like fun?

The Women’s Auxiliary of the G.A.R. (a veterans’ group) held a “dime social” at the home of one of their members. Santa Barbara historian Kathi Brewster told me that dime socials were potlucks at which guests paid 10 cents for each spoonful that they took from the buffet table. Or how about a “thimble party”? Ladies who sewed (remember sewing?) could bring their sewing projects to the party and sew stuff together. Okay, who remembers what a thimble is? And over at the Baptist Church, there was a watermelon social, where you could, I guess, eat watermelon together. Well, you know how some things ALWAYS taste better when you’re with friends, eh?

So, that’s what life was like here in August in 1914. No wonder Fiesta sounded like a good idea in 1924!

Photo: New York Public Library

Nuts to Panama! According to local paper, “In the first cargo to go through the Panama Canal will be walnuts from Goleta. These nuts have already been delivered here and the sacks are objects of much interest at the wharf because of the fact that they go on this initial voyage, which signals the opening of the canal to freight steamers.” Now that’s something Goleta folks can brag about.

Beach Crowds Enjoy Weird Spectacle. No, it wasn’t a cardboard kayak race or bathing suits that ended above the knee – it was an eerie green glow in the water described as “a spectacle beautiful in the extreme. … Large crowds of people gather on the wharves and along the seashore nightly to wonder at and enjoy the fascinating sight. … The agitation of the water from any cause – moving fishes or boats, dipping oars or anything else that stirs the water – causes a showing of the most exquisite emerald color that could be imagined.”

I asked a number of Santa Barbarans if they’d ever seen this, but none had. So, I contacted Milton Love, research biologist at UCSB, and author of Certainly More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast to get his expert explanation. He told me, “This probably happens every year to a greater or lesser degree. The bioluminescence that we see in the water is caused by dinoflagellates, very small organisms that form much of the plankton. When one of these tiny organisms is disturbed, by being pushed about in the water for instance, it flashes a tiny bit of blue-green light. Why these organisms do that is not completely understood.” He added that lightning bugs are another kind of bioluminescent creature.

Perhaps way back when in 1914, when there was less ambient light, this phenomenon was more noticeable than it is today. There were several articles in the local papers marveling about this amazing nocturnal display: “Last night, fishes of all kinds could be seen outlined in the glow of this weirdly beautiful light – sharks, skate, bass, smelt and other finny creatures – and pebbles thrown into the water helped to give variety to the pictures visible to all spectators.”

Photo from Neal Graffy’s latest book “Santa Barbara, Then and Now”

My Dears! Have You Been to the New El Mirasol Hotel? It is simply la crème de la crème, if you catch my drift. It was the newest place to see and be seen when it opened on August 18, 1914. “A rare artistic treat awaits those who have been asked to attend the formal opening,” opined one society columnist. However, due to disturbed conditions resulting from the war in Europe,” (Silly old war! That can’t last long, can it, darling?) only the restaurant and tearoom were available. Accommodations for overnight guests were not open until November. According to a local paper, “No more beautiful setting for social affairs could possibly be desired than this wonderful new hostelry.”

INSERT 8-1914 mirasol wall today graffy

The stone wall around Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens is a reminder of the El Mirasol Hotel. Photo also from Neal Graffy’s “Santa Barbara, Then and Now”

Hattie Beresford, Santa Barbara historian, has written that the hotel was originally the private home of Mary Miles Herter, which had been built only a few years before. In the late 1960s, the hotel was torn down and eventually morphed into Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens. The sandstone wall of the Herter home still rims the property.

A Bungalow with Staying Power. It’s STILL here! Unlike the Mirasol Hotel, which is long gone, there was a bungalow built in 1914 that is still here. When I look through the 1914 papers each month for this column, I often see references to new homes being built, but when I check the address to see if it’s still around, it’s often gone. So, I was happy to find one featured in the paper in August 1914 that’s still around and still looks much the same as it did 100 years ago. Happy anniversary, 2029 Castillo Street house! (Please do not disturb the current residents.)

The home was built for Valentine Hall, who shared the home with his mother and later his wife Eva and two children. Hall was a telegraph operator for the Southern Pacific Railroad. His mother was the manager of the postal telegraph office here in Santa Barbara. I wonder if they planted the tree.

“Oh, Cheer Up!” Such was the headline of an editorial about the beginning of World War I in a local paper. “After a good scrap or two,” the editorial continued, “the Europeans will come to their senses. Why, bless you, they can’t keep the thing up long.” (Okay, that was my double entendre for this month for all my readers who seem to be expecting one.)

Originally, I was going to end that paragraph with the words “wink, wink” since I assumed that emoticons such as ;) or :-D had not been invented yet, but when I did a little research, I discovered that people were creating emoticons on typewriters as far back as the 1800s.

But despite the :-D tone of the local editorial, Santa Barbarans were beginning to feel :{ about the growing conflict “across the pond” by the beginning of August. Residents with friends or relatives traveling in Europe worried about their safety and wondered when they could return home. (Steamship companies had cancelled service indefinitely.) “With no present prospect of trans-Atlantic travel, and with practically all communications with other countries cut off, the whereabouts and condition of Santa Barbarans on the continent will cause serious apprehension here until reassuring news is heard from them,” noted one local paper.

Fortunately, among the Santa Barbarans stranded on the other side of the Atlantic was Sarah Redington, a writer for our “Morning Press.” She rose to the occasion and wrote several long articles for the paper about her predicament. “Things have happened with such astounding suddenness … Friday morning, we were tourists; Friday night, we were refugees; today, I am not quite sure what we ought to call ourselves.” She and her traveling companions were forced to leave their luggage in Paris, and make a mad dash for one of the last boats crossing the channel to England. [Spoiler alert -- Sarah eventually returned to Santa Barbara. Perhaps in a future column, I will be able to tell you how and when she got back.]


Smarty Cat! Are cats more intelligent than dogs? Last month, I wrote about Peter the movie dog who ruined a shot when he rescued someone who was not supposed to be rescued. My animal story this month is about a cat who did not seem to merit a name, but did earn a fairly lengthy story in a local paper. The tabby cat lived with the Kellogg family at 1715 Anacapa Street (the home is no longer there – you can see why I got excited about the bungalow a couple of paragraphs above). One night, after the family had gone to bed, the cat sat under the bedroom window and meowed. Mr. Kellogg went to the door to let the cat in. Instead of heading in, the cat ran back and forth on the porch. Mr. Kellogg returned to bed, probably mumbling some unkind words about felines. A short time later, he heard another noise outside and he got up to investigate. When he looked outside, he discovered a horse that he had sold to someone else a few months before. The horse had wandered back home, and the cat – dare I say, a tattle tail – was trying to convey that message. I hope the cat got an extra helping of kitty love the next morning.


Photo: Metrónomo

Someday My Prints Will Come! In my “Way Back When” column for April 1914, I wrote about the Santa Barbara police acquiring what they called a “finger-marking system,” or what we would call fingerprinting equipment. In August, the new equipment was used to help the police avoid locking up an innocent man. The police in Long Beach had sent the police here a description of a man wanted for robbery, along with his photo and prints. “One of the force at the local police station, after a careful scrutiny of the photograph and general description, declared … that he had seen the man only half an hour before. The chief told the officer to ‘bring him in.’” The suspect strongly protested his innocence, so the police took an impression of his fingerprints and compared them to the prints from Long Beach. They were radically different. Whew! The muchly relieved prisoner was immediately released. Ya gotta love technology, eh?

Another new-fangled piece of technology that was being introduced in our fair city in 1914 was a “canned” speech by a politician recorded on a dictaphone record that was delivered to women’s groups all over Southern California. “The home of Mrs. Frank Maguire [1721 Garden Street – still here! Whoopee! Found another one!] will be the scene of an interesting political meeting … when possibly for the first time in history, the dictaphone will be brought into service as a vehicle through which a typical campaign speech is to be made.” The candidate, Congressman Joseph R. Knowland, was running for the U.S. Senate. [Spoiler alert – he won the primary, but lost the election.] Dictaphones originally recorded onto wax cylinders, but by 1914, 12-inch discs were used. One side benefit was that the record could only hold a speech fewer than five minutes long!

Botanic Garden Bench & Library Lore. Just before I sat down at my writing desk on Sunday with quill and ink (well, actually it was my laptop on ye olde kitchen table), I went for a ramble through the shady groves of the Botanic Garden after the rain so that I could remember what wet plants looked like. I chose the Pritchett Trail because you are rewarded with a nice ocean view at the top, and usually a bit of breeze. Along the way, I noticed a bench with a thoughtful quotation written by a Mr. Pritchett, “The way of truth is along the path of intellectual sincerity.” I had no idea who he was at the time. After my walk, as I started to shuffle through my August 1914 clippings, his name popped out at me.

Back in 1914, Henry Smith Pritchett lived at 320 Junipero Plaza in Santa Barbara, and was president of the Carnegie Foundation. This organization donated money to build public libraries in towns all over the United States. There were almost 1,700 nationwide, including 142 in California. Only 85 of the 142 are still standing proudly, and ours is one. There was a Carnegie library in Santa Maria, but it was torn down in 1969. Lompoc’s Carnegie library is now home to the Lompoc Museum.

The Carnegie Foundation provided $50,000 for our library in 1914 – a move which was considered unusual by the local paper, “In granting Santa Barbara $50,000 for a library building, the Carnegie Foundation trustees have broken their long-established rule to give no more money to cities …” Perhaps, just perhaps, they broke the rule because Pritchett and another trustee of the Foundation were residents here. But anyway we got the money and the local paper cheered, “Santa Claus is coming our way in advance of Christmas.”


So back to the Botanic Garden. I contacted the garden’s director Steve Windhager who steered me to a history of the garden written by Mary Carroll. After Henry S. Pritchett died in 1939, his widow Eva donated money to create the trail and construct the bench with one of his sayings. Look for it the next time you visit the garden.

Attention-Getting Fashion at the Beach. Attention, ladies! Here’s how you would have wowed ‘em way back when: “A new bathing suit that will doubtless attract much attention when it first dips into the ocean is made of white embroidered taffeta. The embroidery is done in red, in the design of small sea urchins and shrimps, which form an appropriate but weird banding. Red and white shoes, hat, cape, and parasol go with it.” Taffeta? Really? What did it look like AFTER you came out of the water?

Guys were luckier – as always. Their bathing suits were simpler and looked like you could actually swim in them. And if they were really lucky, they owned their own swimsuits. The not-so-lucky guys rented swimsuits that God-knows-how-many-other-guys had worn. Ewww!

The White House, a Santa Barbara clothing store, asked in an ad: “You wouldn’t wear another man’s clothes at home, why should you at the shore? Our offerings this season are the latest color combinations in knit bathing suits. … Bathing Caps, Bathing Shoes, Bathing Hosiery, and Water Wings.” Bathing HOSIERY! Really?

Santa Barbara author Betsy J. Green, who makes it a point not to wear other people’s clothes – in or out of the water, writes a history column for “The Mesa Paper,” a garden column for the “Living-Mission Gazette,” and is working on a “MESApedia” about the history of the Mesa, and another book based on these 1914 Edhat columns. To see her previous Edhat columns, click here.



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