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Top of Santa Barbara Street to the Freeway
updated: Mar 12, 2011, 9:30 AM

By Santa Barbara Urban Hikers Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright

We urban hikers continue 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, we hit the streets and took a "specialty hike" that involved hiking down the up and up the down.

Specifically, we hiked down Santa Barbara Street from Constance Avenue to the freeway and then up Anacapa Street back to Constance Avenue. Today, we chronicle the first half of our thrilling trek.

We begin by making a little confession, and a couple of promises. The confession is that yes, we urban hikers are a teeny tiny bit partial to the Upper East/Downtown neighborhoods of our town. We've both spent a lot of time living in, working in and exploring in these areas, and we especially love the history, memories and lore of these parts of town. We've taken a bunch of photos and have done a little research into some of the places and things we saw along the way. In an effort to avoid overwhelming you, we have split our hike into two weeks worth of articles. Today we bring you "Down the Up, from the top of Santa Barbara Street to the Freeway". Next week we will tell you about our return trip up Anacapa Street. Lastly, the following week, we will dedicate our report to telling you about15 religious institutions that are clustered within an area of the Upper East/Downtown. Without further ado, we bring you Santa Barbara Street North of the 101.

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At the start of our urban hike we were surprised to actually find a little bit of wild life in the yard of an Upper East home.

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As we got to the corner of SB and Pueblo Streets we looked down and noticed that the person who poured the cement must have suffered from dyslexia long before it was identified and treated...or maybe it's just that a B is easily inverted...we'll be sure to check all the streets with B's in them from now on.

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The building that most recently has served as the Fielding Institute is a bit further down the street, and appears to once again be on the market. Designed by renowned architect Winsor Soule and built in 1921 for $44,000, the Mediterranean style house was owned and occupied by Walter & Caroline Hodges until they sold it to Leo and Frances Sanders in 1943. Leo, the owner/operator of Stearns' Wharf Company and his large family lived there for about 8 years, after which they sold the property to B'nai B'rith. The building served as a synagogue until 1969, when it was sold to the Church Universal & Triumphant, a new age church. We remember this era because the building was painted in some pretty far out colors...In 1983, the Fielding Institute bought the property, and thankfully, restored it to a color more reminiscent of days gone by.

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At Mission Street, Santa Barbara Street becomes one-way, and stays that way until it gets to Haley Street. It's hard to believe that people go the wrong way on one-way streets as often as they do, especially when you realize how well-marked they are. We have a theory that tourists relying on their GPS's are responsible for an increase in the one-way mishaps, but this theory is not backed with empirical evidence. It's just an idea that we came up with during of our hikes about town.

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The next landmark we encountered is the McCormick House, which is now owned and operated by the Museum of Art. As children, we both took art classes offered by the museum, but in those days they were held in the basement of the museum itself. These days, children - these urban hikers' included - take classes at this location. The McCormicks, he being heir to International Harvester (and the subject of the colorful T.C. Boyle novel, Riven Rock), and she being one of the original supporters of the suffragette movement, Planned Parenthood and "the pill", were quite interesting citizens back in the day... Since we were on foot and going "backwards", we took a photo of the back yard of this unique place.

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The next little gem that we encounter is Alice Keck Park Park - the Edhat staffers just call it "Park Park". It was named for Alice Park, who donated the property to the City of SB in the 60's or 70's for the purpose of preserving it as a park. In days gone by, the El Mirasol Hotel occupied that corner, but a fire destroyed the place in the mid 60's. Luckily the two orange trees that graced the entrance of the hotel survived the fire and remain to this day. They are located opposite to Kid's World.

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Alameda Park is so big that it sits on both sides of Santa Barbara Street. On the east side of the street families come to enjoy the playground at Kid's World and buy treats from the street vendors who are almost always around hawking their goods. Across the street is the area of the park that has the historic bandstand and is home to some of the finest revelry in town, come every June 21st or thereabouts.

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The University Club sits at the corner of Santa Barbara and Sola Streets, and has been a private club since1923, when 11 men, graduates of 11 different universities, purchased what was called the old "Lacy House" or "Calkin's Castle". Photos of the original home show an ornate Victorian / Gothic looking mansion that frankly looks pretty darn scary. After purchasing the property, the good gentlemen of the University Club remodeled it into the Mediterranean manner that soon defined Santa Barbara's style. Good solid construction saved this building during the great Santa Barbara earthquake of 1925.

The club also survived the Great Depression, Prohibition and World War II, events that were responsible for the demise of many private clubs and organizations. During Prohibition, the legal use of liquor was available only through a medical prescription, a little like marijuana is today. So, the ingenious men of the club consulted with their member-doctors and coincidentally, there was an outbreak of sudden, acute illnesses that sprang up amongst the otherwise healthy members during that time. Luckily, there was always a member-doctor on hand for a prescription - and we all know it's important to follow doctor's orders. Although rumors of "bootlegging" here were whispered about town, none were ever proven.

World War II took a toll on the membership numbers, so the men who were not in the service installed a slot machine to help make ends meet. So successful was the gambling at the club that not only did the bills get paid, but also a surplus was amassed that would later fund a major redecoration. Several years later, after being informed that gaming equipment was illegal, it was removed.

After the war, the club was able to expand by buying adjacent properties and adding a tennis court and upstairs apartments that the members could rent. It wasn't unusual for a newly divorced member to move into the club to be around his pals and live the bachelor lifestyle once again.

From 1923 until the 1980‘s, the men maintained their private meeting place to eat hearty food, enjoy a drink or two, smoke, swear, discuss news of the day, shoot billiards and play cards. But that changed in the 80‘s, when women were admitted; the decor changed along with the times and today, women make up at least half of the club's membership.

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The Magnolia Apartments are located further down Santa Barbara Street where a beautiful old magnolia tree shades a number of quaint rental apartments. We aren't certain of the history of this property, but rumor has it that a man first built a home for himself, and then, when his daughter got married, he built another home on the property for her and her husband. There was a third building added that was reportedly a kitchen which served both houses.

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On the northwest corner of Santa Barbara and Victoria sits the original 1920's Automobile Club. We've always liked the detail of this window, which is one of the last remaining clues about its history.

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We couldn't help ourselves...we just HAD to include Victor the Florist with its beautiful Mid-Century pink walls and it's lovely terrazzo floors.

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Did you know that the SB County jail was located within the Courthouse at one point in time? Yep, it was. The Courthouse, built in 1929, is of course one of Santa Barbara's most magnificent buildings. We especially love it at night when it is lit up and essentially vacant. This hasn't always been the case; we understand that in the early days, the jail, with a total of 7 floors of cells, housed all of the County's prisoners. We wonder why, with chronic jail overcrowding these days, some of the folks being held out on Calle Real can't be transferred to this already existing facility, which could be modernized...maybe somebody knows something we don't know about this issue. Anyway, the old jail quarters are shown in this photo at the upper right corner of the picture.

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Further down the street is a little building that once sat at the site of what is now the Paseo Nuevo Mall. When the mall was being developed in 1987, the business owners had the opportunity to buy the building for $1. They did, and moved it to its current location, across the street from the Courthouse.

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The Presidio is undoubtedly one of Santa Barbara's most historic sites. In a couple of weeks, we will tell you quite a bit about the humble beginnings of our little town, and the role that the Presidio played in establishing Santa Barbara. As a significant site on our wrong-way adventure, we provide you with two shots of this quintessentially California adobe.

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The buildings that are now Playa Azul and Ensemble Theatre have a long cultural history. Stacey has a certain level of nostalgia because she attended graduate school in what is now the restaurant, before Antioch moved into their more modern digs down the street. The Ensemble Theater was, back in the day, the Alhecama Theatre, and before that had been used in the 1920's and 30's when the Presidio Players produced plays in the Little Theatre. In 1937, the theater was renamed the Pueblo Playhouse.

In 1939, to prevent the theater from being razed, Alice Schott purchased the property, remodeled it, and named it Alhecama, for the four Schott daughters: Alice, Helen, Catherine and Mary. In 1945, she donated the property to the City Schools to be used as an adult education classroom and community theater. In 1981, through a series of trades, the site became part of the State Park system.

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The Rochin Adobe is a modest little building that sits at 820 Santa Barbara Street. We include it in our report because it's said to be among the oldest buildings in the city, and can be traced to 1848. It is rumored that Sr. Rochin paid $30 for his land, and used adobe bricks from ruins of the old presidio to build a three-room house. In 1895, the adobe was covered in clapboard, mainly because many in the growing Yankee population preferred the look of wood to adobe. We believe the house sat empty from 1916 until 1924, when the owners, heirs of the Rochins, returned from Los Angeles and turned the home into a museum of sorts. In 1996, after the owner's death (at 101 years old), the adobe was sold to the Trust for Historic Preservation. We have always heard that this building housed one of the city's earliest brothels, but our research failed to substantiate this rumor.

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Further down Santa Barbara Street is a plaque located on a boulder that can't be viewed during a drive-by. The plaque commemorates Anna Blake, who founded, on that site, the Santa Barbara Manual School, which became the State Teacher's College and eventually UCSB (these hikers' alma mater). The building now houses the Anacapa School...since it is located on Santa Barbara and not Anacapa, we wonder why it's not named, the Santa Barbara School.

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Another commemorative plaque that one cannot read from a car is the one that sits at the Santa Barbara Historical Society, on the corner of Santa Barbara and De La Guerra Streets.

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Lastly, our hike took us past the Covarrubias Adobe, which for a few months in the waning days of Mexican rule over California was the State Capitol. Gov. Pio Pico lived there (the house belonged to his sister, Conception Carrillo), and at that time, he decreed the house to be the official capitol of California. Gov. Pico was indeed a very interesting leader. He was reportedly a "black mestizo" who had extensive land holdings in Los Angeles, and was known for his hard partying. His reputation was based on stories that, never one to pass up a good party, he would ride as many as a couple of hundred miles just to attend a single fiesta. Today, the adobe is used for weddings and other social events.

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The Upper East & Downtown are full of beauty, activity and history. And so as always, we encourage you to go out into the world, hike the streets of our town and above all, expect the unexpected.

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

 EDDIEKD agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-12 09:57 AM

All your pieces are great; this one is stupendous!!! And I get a kick out of the backwards imprinted Pueblo St. "B." I wonder where the person who did that is now! And was it a crew and everyone missed it?


 COMMENT 153092 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-12 10:38 AM

The early cement layers in this town were often immigrant workers who may have been illiterate. Therefore a backwards "B" may not have registered any alarms. Adult Ed in this town got its start, and still one of its most important mission, teaching English and citizenship to this large group of new arrivals - mainly Italian artisans at that time skilled beautifully with their crafts, but not necessarily book-learned in their countries of origin.


 COMMENT 153129 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-12 01:24 PM

Thanks, this is the best one yet. Keep them coming.


 COMMENT 153168 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-12 04:57 PM

Wonderful neighborhood, fabulous narrative!


 COMMENT 153178 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-12 06:06 PM

Neighborhood was a lot nicer before the city turned both Santa Barbara and Anacapa streets into high traffic volume, one-way speedways below Mission Street.

I am surprised the residents below Mission Street, at least to East Valerio where it is still very residential, let the city do this to them.


 COMMENT 153189 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-12 07:48 PM

@153178 -- that had to be at least 50 years ago, didn't it?


 COMMENT 153194 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-12 08:31 PM

Yep, they were playing with the one-way pattern when I was in high school (Class of '60). At one point there were one-way signs mounted in opposite directions on poles at each corner, with burlap coverings which could be moved to configure the next experiment: Anacapa North only or South only? etc. I was trying to learn to drive at the time. What a delightful mess.

I heard a rumor that some of the HS kids were going to go out one night and set up the burlap so that alternate blocks of the same streets would be directed into opposing one-ways. Pretty sure it didn't happen - - the carnage would have been considerable - - but we had our less harmful pranks, including depredations upon innocent fake cows.


 COMMENT 153201 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-13 07:37 AM

Nicely done! I enjoyed your article and photos.


 COMMENT 153204 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-13 07:57 AM

Thanks for the information about many of the buildings that I see every day. I like the little discoveries, like the backwards "B".


 COMMENT 153208P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-13 09:19 AM

This is fascinating! Thanks so much. (Is the urban hiking group open to others?)


 COMMENT 153217 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-13 10:19 AM


using the previous postings, you could be the one to get a group started. Just put out a call here on edhat, posting time for an organizational meeting (what day/time is best) and get started hiking!


 AGENTSME agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-13 11:18 AM

Thank you!


 COMMENT 153264 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-13 01:25 PM

This is a wonderful column I, enjoy the walks and the stories but...(and I do hate to nit-pick) the Rochin Adobe history was really off. There is a plaque on the front of the building that gives a concise history of the adobe. It was bought in 1856 not 1848 and the redwood siding was added in 1901, not 1898. Additionally, it was never a brothel (first time I've heard that story - though there were brothels across the street in the "Sojourner Building" and in the area now covered by the Post Office) and the Rochin's heirs lived in Santa Barbara until their deaths in 1947 and 1960. They never lived in the adobe, but converted it into a duplex and rented it (and it was not vacant from 1916 to 1924) . It remained rented until 1961 when the Rochin's grand-daughter and her husband moved into the adobe and created the mini-museum.

I love it that you catch all those interesting things pressed into the sidewalks. It is unfortunate that so many of our street names - some misspelled, letters reversed, letters upside down and in a few cases an earlier name - stamped on the corners have been jack-hammered into oblivion for wheel chair access or for the stupid bulb-outs. In San Francisco they carefully cut the names out and set them back in again when they poured the cement for the wheel-chair access. Isn’t this something our City Landmarks should be insisting on preserving?


 COMMENT 153298 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-03-13 05:39 PM

You will find many of the cut out sidewalk contractor markings have been cut out and saved nearby. Lots of them. There should be a contest to collect as many different ones as can be found and see if we can get some history about those people and companies that put them in.

I love the fish one and that circle on with a Motor company or something. The surprise to me is how many different cement laying companies existed in this town at that time and how much pride they took in their work - it was a true craft then and how proud they must feel knowing how well a lot of their signed work has held up.

A good new path for America to get back on is superior craftsmanship in all its work product that comes with a USA made label. We lost out on this one a while back, but there must still be much where USA still sets the highest standards for excellent craftsmanship.


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