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Urban Hike: Upper West Side
updated: Feb 12, 2011, 9:30 AM

By Stacey Wright and Peter Hartmann

What do incorrectly spelled street names, an abandoned Elmo, graffiti at the train tracks, a Sapote tree, barnyard animals, unique and historical homes, an extraordinary birdhouse and a hoarder's condemned home have in common? The Upper West Side of course.

We urban hikers continued our quest of walking each and every street within the city limits of Santa Barbara. All 256 "centerline miles" of them to be exact. And so, with the thoroughness of a window washer, the inquisitiveness of a 5-year old, and the dedication of an Edhat staffer, this week we hit the streets and once again headed into the West Side.

This neighborhood's motto must be "The Upper West Side - Where History and Reality TV and Collide".

We hiked parts of the following streets: Modoc, Mission, San Andres, Pedregosa, Gillespie, Robbins, Pampas, Oak, Eucalyptus and Islay. We decided to walk these streets so that we could make more progress on the Westside. Sundays on the Westside are always very pleasant.

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The weather the morning of this hike was about 65 degrees and sunny. The walk was flat and easy.

We started our urban hike by walking past the 1872 farm house sitting on the corner of Modoc and Mission. There we spotted a giant Sapote tree which was laden with fruit. As luck would have it, the owners were outside whitewashing the fence...very Tom Sawyer. When we asked about the tree we were told that although it's quite productive, the inhabitants of the property haven't yet figured out what to do with the interesting fruit the tree bears.

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We also noticed an interesting variety of farm animals, including a horse, chickens and turkeys.

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Continuing along our route, we found our way onto the railroad tracks at the end of Oak Street. There, much to our horror, we found Elmo, lying supine along the tracks. Peter rescued him by placing him upright in a safer place.Also along the tracks, we saw a variety of graffiti, some of which Stacey thought looked quite artistic. At the risk of showcasing turf war images or gang banger garbage, Stacey has decided to share the photo she took. We don't appreciate graffiti on the streets of Santa Barbara, nor do we think it's appropriate to glorify gangs, but in this case Stacey believes this to be an artistic expression, much like the graffiti on the walls at Butterfly and Summerland Beaches. Peter is unrepentant in his belief that graffiti is as artistic as litter. He's not interested in any mural, unless it's a mosaic...more of that on another hike.

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We found a lot of interesting things in this charming residential neighborhood. In keeping with the theme of history meets the bizarre, we stumbled upon a house that has obviously been the home of a serious hoarder, long, long before hoarding became fashionable.

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When we got to the corner of Pedregosa and Gillespie, Peter started consulting his map. In boredom, Stacey looked down and noticed an unusual spelling of the street name. After pointing it out to Peter, he immediately noticed that not only was one street misspelled, but the cross street was too! This was an Urban Hikers first. Really exciting for these hikers!

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At the same corner, we found the stamp of the contractor who apparently poured the cement. We suppose his name is Wicks, but it could be Wickes, Wiks, or even Wacks. A few blocks away, we spotted a very official and well spelled concrete stamp. We were very impressed that this sidewalk, despite being well used over many decades looks to be in perfect condition.

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On the way back to our...gasp...car, we passed a few more really remarkable houses. One appeared to us to be a quaint, sun-lit farmhouse and down the street a perfectly unique bird house.

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The last of the interesting houses that we stopped to check out was a stone encrusted house, which looked to be a combination of Wild West meets Mexican Marvelous.

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We spoke to Angel, the owner of the stone house, and he explained that he had taken what was an ordinary wood house and modified it to look like the houses in his hometown of Jalisco, Mexico. A house painter by trade, he set to work about 2 years ago embellishing the house in his spare time. His reverence for his parents and hometown motivated him to create this unique abode…unfortunately, Angel's parents, too old and frail to travel to Santa Barbara, have only been able to enjoy the house through photos he has sent them. We loved the individuality of this home and were especially fascinated by the cactus gardens, complete with miniature dinosaurs and plenty of reptiles.

We came to the Upper West Side to continue what we'd already started, and left feeling like we'd just taken a twisted stroll down Mayberry RFD. As usual, we encountered many surprises on this hike. So, as always, we encourage you to go out into the world, hike the streets of our town and above all expect the unexpected.

P.S. We've had a couple of questions about having hikes open to people who follow our blogs. In response, we want you to know we plan on having at least one public hike in the future. Specifically, the last hike we make - a hike into De La Guerra Plaza - will be open to everyone who wants to join…perhaps that hike could even mark the beginning of another urban hiker's quest to walk the town…? But for now, these more solitary hikers relish the "alone" time we spend together, and swear by the therapeutic benefits the hikes provide.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 145260 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-12 10:26 AM

Lots of really cool homes on the upper westside. Also one of the best microclimates of SB. Not foggy and not hot like San Roque.


 COMMENT 145279P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-12 11:21 AM

I enjoy your walks. Thank you for sharing.


 COMMENT 145289 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-12 12:07 PM

loved this & all your previous ones. thanks so much for sharing your hikes in such an enjoyable way. i've always wanted to know the story behind that marvelous place at the corner of mission & modoc. i remember when they were renovating it, must have been almost 10 years ago. can anyone shed some light on its history?


 COMMENT 145311 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-12 02:14 PM

I really like the look of the brick and stone work at Angel's place, very nice.
Good job Angel and thanks for the article and pics.


 COMMENT 145315 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-12 02:49 PM

Thanks for sharing your stroll through our Bestside 'hood!


 COMMENT 145326 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-12 04:13 PM

This is a remarkable neighborhood of individual homes that has a very cozy and increasingly cared for feeling as more and more renovations take place. These people have the best of all worlds: close to downtown, close to the freeway and quiet and relatively isolated from busy thoroughfares. They are a little pocket unto themselves and must feel good about having chosen this unique part of town to live in.


 COMMENT 145339 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-12 05:16 PM

Love your columns. Thank you!


 COMMENT 145343 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-12 05:35 PM

While not my taste, I respect the sentiment behind Angel's recreation of his childhood home. It is certainly no less out of character for the neighborhood than the "modern" addition vetoed just a few blocks away by our busybody planners.


 COMMENT 145379 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-13 04:26 AM

This neighborhood is simply called "Westside" or, more specifically, Middle Westside, to distinguish from the true Upper Westside (above Mission Street) and Lower Westside (below Carrillo Street). Westside, of course, if different from West Downtown or Lower West Downtown, which newbies from KEYT simply lump all together as "Lower Westside".

Sometimes also peeps west of Harding School, up Valerio Canyon, call themselves "Upper Westside" as more of an elevational distinction rather than a latitudinal monikor (as skewed as our street latitudes are anyway).

Anyway, as the are featured this time is all within my usual dogwalking trails in the Middle Westside, indeed the 1920s-era sidewalk concrete contractor names and stamps are a quirky historic artifact, along with a few concrete obelisk pillars still remaining here and there as the street name posts.


 COMMENT 145386 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-13 07:02 AM

The wooden "birdhouse" looks like a Thai Spirit House. The Thai provide housing for the ancestral spirits. They give them their own wooden home outside of the regular house. They are traditionally given offering of food, flowers and incense to keep the spirits happy and occupied outside of the main house.


 COMMENT 145412 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-13 10:21 AM

Hattie, you asked for history of house at Mission and Modoc. My aunt lived half a block away around 60 years ago, I was a little girl. Grandma told me an old couple lived there; their son was in a mental institution and was going to be let out. The mother begged that he be kept because they were afraid of him. Well, he got out, came and stabbed his father to death (in that house). I don't know if that was while my aunt lived nearby or before. I remember that the house could hardly be seen from the street due to trees and other vegetation. I love that there is a horse now, like driving by. In the 50's there were lots of "backyard" horses on Modoc, and a stable of Arabian horses belonging to the Eblens.


 SBALAX agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-13 05:02 PM

I really enjoy your walks and your reports back to us from the field. One of our first houses was a little bungalow on San Pasqual, another street that has many spellings.

Angel's house looks great and it's clear that it represents a lot of pride and labor. I sure, though, he meant his home state of Jalisco. Guadalajara is its capital.


 COMMENT 146571 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-18 06:53 AM

Love the Mexican Marvelous house.....


 COMMENT 250835 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-01-22 04:36 PM

I've done this! But I was on the other side of town on State Street and the streets surrounding it. I had a great time seeing how the other half lives! Such beautiful houses and neighborhoods. Jealous of all the beautiful landscaping, it was hard going home and adjusting to my normalness. I always enjoy visiting friends who remained in Santa Barbara after graduation. I always stay at the Sandman Inn. In a great neighborhood worth exploring and super cheap!


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