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Urban Hike: San Roque - You Just Gotta Love It
updated: Apr 09, 2011, 8:45 AM

By the Santa Barbara Urban Hikers, Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright

What do a long, colorful history, the only elementary school in SB not named for a president, the friendliest residents, a variety of beautiful homes, the patron saint of dogs, serene parks, and this State's first motel have in common? San Roque.

The intrepid urban hikers, a middle-aged couple, continue their quest of walking each and every street within the city limits of Santa Barbara (all 256 "centerline miles" of them). After hitting the streets that make up San Roque (in a few hikes), we now share our wonderful adventure, and encourage you to take a hike of your own.

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San Roque is everything any Santa Barbarian could ask for, and more. We don't live in San Roque, nor has either of us life-long residents ever made this neighborhood our home, but that's not to say we wouldn't. What we're trying to say here is that, like the parent of an honor student, or the winner of March Edness, we would be proud to tell the world that we achieved something wonderful, and moved into a quaint home in San Roque...but that may never happen because we already love where we live. We guess that's the trouble with Santa Barbara - so many great neighborhoods and so little time.

But while we're on the subject of really neat and different houses, we figure we should show you just a couple of the MANY fantastic homes that make up San Roque.

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The first of these homes is unique, the second is quite "green" (considering a tree goes straight through the roof) and the third is historic - it once belonged to Stephen Rutherford, the man who developed the Rutherford Park area of San Roque in the early 1920's. In front of his house, which he named "Redwood Tree", is one of the many Sequoias he planted in the neighborhood. Rutherford Park's layout was unusual in that it consisted of a number of curving streets that radiated from a central circle. The circle, named Argonne, was named for his son, who lost his life fighting in the Argonne Battle of World War I.

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Governor Portola named San Roque in 1769, after he and his men arrived in Santa Barbara and set up camp at the mouth of San Roque Creek. Portola named the creek in honor of Saint Roque, the patron saint of many things, including invalids, the plague, epidemics, rashes, knee problems, sick cows, falsely accused people, bachelors, tile makers, surgeons and dogs. St. Roque, the son of a French father and an Italian mother, was orphaned at age twenty. He immediately gave away his earthly possessions and took up the life of a mendicant pilgrim. Along his travels, he began to tend to and heal the sick, including those suffering from Bubonic Plague. While in Italy, St. Roque caught the plague and was banished from town. He retreated into the forest where he took up residence in an abandoned hut. He would have died, had not it been for a hunting dog who each day brought St. Roque a loaf of bread. In time, he overcame the plague and traveled back to France, where he was thought to be a spy. As a result, St. Roque was imprisoned for five years before dying at the hands of his captors.

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In 1948, the first San Roque Church was built, and in 1953, the Mission Parish was divided at Alamar, making San Roque Church a parish church. The Church we see today, on Argonne Circle between Calle Cedro and Calle Pinon, was built in 1962.

There is an interesting story about San Roque from the 1850‘s about an outlaw named Jack Powers, who took up residence near present day Canon Drive and Calle Fresno. As the legend goes, by day Mr. Powers was an employee of Jose De La Guerra's, and by night, he was a bandit who robbed unsuspecting travelers along El Camino Real, which lead past San Roque on what is now upper State Street. Powers selected a home base that was central to his evening profession, but it also happened to be located on land owned by Don Nicolas Den. When Sr. Den attempted to evict Powers and his men from his land, there was quite a struggle. After Sr. Den signed a writ of ejectment, and things escalated, one of Jack Power's men was shot, and the Sheriff was stabbed in the back during a meeting of posse members at the Aguirre Adobe. When a posse of 200 deputized men rode out to confront Powers and evict him from the property, the posse was met by Power's men at "a candelabra" shaped Sycamore tree. There the posse was threatened with serious harm if they proceeded. They retreated, and only after a number of years did Sr. Den succeed in expelling Jack Powers from the land. The tree became known as the "Outlaw Sycamore". In the 1950's, a surveyor located what he believed to be the tree at what was 134 N. Ontare Rd. Today, there is no such address, but we found a nearby tree that may be the site of the standoff... it's located just off Ontare on San Remo, in the middle of the street.

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But fast forward to the 20th Century and the proliferation of family homes in San Roque. As families arrived, so did the need for schools. Peabody School was built in 1928 and has the distinction of being the only public elementary school in Santa Barbara named for someone other than a president. Officially named Frederick Forrest Peabody School, it was named for Mr. Peabody, the Arrow Shirt tycoon who donated the property for the school. Today, the school is simply known as Peabody Charter. The other San Roque school, a parochial school, was aptly named San Roque School, and built in 1937, eleven years before the church of the same name was erected. In 1948, a Catholic sisters' convent, was built at the corner of San Roque Rd and Calle Pinon. Today it belongs to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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Aside from the really pretty houses and colorful history, San Roque offers beautiful views of the mountains, and super- friendly people. We have come across a number of friendly neighborhoods in Santa Barbara during the course of our hike, but we've gotta confess that we are really impressed with the congeniality of the San Roqueites. They are smiling, engaging, friendly-gesturing sorts. They are out and about quite a bit in their neighborhoods, generally walking, jogging or taking the dog out for a little fresh air. Even people in passing cars waved and smiled at us - that was a first for these urban hikers. The good folk of San Roque also seem to like to embellish their homes with unique decorations, a couple of which we bring to you today, along with a picture of the mountains from San Roque.

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In1926, before Mr. Rutherford set about developing San Roque, there was a plan to build the San Roque Country Club. But with World War II and the Great Depression, the plans for a grand golf course and social club were scrubbed. Instead, residential development began, and two parcels of the land that were previously slated to be part of the golf course were deeded to the City of Santa Barbara. One of those parcels became Steven's Park, a 24-acre park with a running creek, hiking trails, playground and picnic area, located below the Foothill Road Bridge. The other parcel became the smaller and more centrally located San Roque Park, which has beautiful mountain views.

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A summary of San Roque just wouldn't be complete without two more tidbits of information. We found a photograph of San Roque taken about 1940, showing it from an aerial perspective. We like the photo because it shows several places of interest, but also because it shows the lovely curving streets of San Roque, with Argonne Circle a true standout. Some of the designations on the map are: # 5 Loreto Plaza; #7 what was an airport and is now the Municipal Golf Course; #11 Ontare Rd.; #12 the entrance to Steven's Park; #15 San Roque School; #16 Argonne Circle and #18 San Roque Rd.

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Not shown on this map, but worth mention, is the site of the very first "motel" in California. Back in the early 1920's, when travelers passed through Santa Barbara on their way north, many felt that our town was a good place to stop for the night. As a result, The Mountain View Motor Court was established at the northwest corner of State and Alamar, now home to the Lemon Tree Inn. There, weary travelers had the option of pulling their cars up to a shady campsite where, for .50 cents, they could pitch a tent and camp for the night, or for $1 they could take a cabin, which they pulled up and parked next to. So, not only is Santa Barbara the birthplace of the Egg Mc Muffin, we are also the home of the very first motel. Pretty cool stuff.

Speaking of cool stuff, we have one last surprise for our dedicated readers. In honor of San Roque and the Northside businesses, we have decided to offer the first person(s) who recognizes us as the Urban Hikers (while we are in the process of an urban hike) a very special prize - a $25 gift card to Harry's Plaza. During the course of our many hikes around this part of town, we urban hikers have often worked up a good appetite and hefty thirst. As a result, we've become reacquainted with Harry's, and now consider it a pretty neat place to refuel and refresh. We carry the gift card on all of our hikes, and will gladly hand it over to the first person who says, "Hey, are you the Urban Hikers?" The only rule is that the inquiring party has to be on foot. And by the way, if the guy isn't wearing Topsiders, it isn't us…

So as always, we encourage you to go out and meet your neighbors, see first hand the pride they take in their homes and neighborhoods, keep your eyes, ears, and minds open to all that you encounter, and above all, to expect the unexpected.

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

 COMMENT 162504 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-09 09:28 AM

Excellent - keep up the good walk!


 COMMENT 162507 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-09 09:42 AM

Thanks for the memories! I grew up in that neighborhood in the 50's and remember fondily the Rutherfords. Every Haloween the 'Colonel' served cookies and chilled cider for the trick or treaters.


 COMMENT 162512 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-09 09:55 AM

Love this feature, but there may be an error. I think Franklin School is also named for a non-president.


 AUNTIE S. agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-09 12:54 PM

This took me back to when I first moved here with my parents in 1948. We lived in the "last house" on San Roque Rd. - 3 houses up from Foothill Rd. At that time the street did not go through and there was only a cyclone fence and empty fields on the other side of our house. There was a little trail going into the field up to a house where an old Armenian gentleman lived but I never saw him - he was sort of a mystery. As for the story of San Rocco, I was amazed to hear the exact same one in the little town of Intra on Lake Maggiore when I visited Italy a couple of years ago.


 COMMENT 162558 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-09 02:24 PM

San Roque School is also where Donald Patrick Roemer, a Catholic priest, molested children for years. Nice neighborhood, but some dirty secrets lurking there.


 MTNDRIVER agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-09 02:40 PM

One of the great neighborhoods of SB. Growing up in the 50s and 60s most of my friends lived in San Roque--one on Argonne Circle. I think that friend coincidentally now lives in one of the houses you posted photos of, not having moved far from her childhood home.

Also have friends who lived in the house with the curvy cottage roof in the first photo for a few years in the mid-90's.

San Roque School is no longer a parochial school, of course. Owned by the Sperling family of University of Phoenix fame--son (and family) of the founder of U. of P. Same folks who bought St. Anthony's and sent the SB Middle School off to find a new home. Very deep pockets.


 COMMENT 162573 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-09 04:17 PM

My 'hood - love the info. Thanks!


 COMMENT 162579 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-09 04:40 PM

Thank you for this series. I am really enjoying your posts and learning new things about Santa Babara each time.


 COMMENT 162609P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-10 05:54 AM

Is it true that with the initial home sales of the San Roque development, African Americans were not allowed to purchase homes there? I think I read this in a Barney B. story.


 RONNIEB agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-10 06:06 AM

Wonderful memories! I attended San Roque School 1945 -1952 and lived in San Roque on Los Pinos. Freedom was my first bike at age 8. Before school we would hang out in the alley that parallels State Street and time our school arrival five minutes before Mass ended, upsetting the nuns-one of our main purposes in life. My parents built the Northside Laundromat & Cleaners at 3040 State Street. It was only a nickel to play the pinball machine in the waiting room. We'd help ourselves to the delicious apricots, peaches, figs and citrus that grew everywhere. At one point there had been walnut orchards in the area. The San Roque nuns used to make the kids whose parents couldn't afford tuition pick walnuts, which stained their hands.


 COMMENT 162622 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-10 08:03 AM

Call noguera=walnut street


 COMMENT 162625 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-10 08:08 AM

Not to disparage the 'hood, but when we bought our house in 1997, we found out that Rutherford included some now-illegal racist deed restrictions. It's a hyper-friendly 'hood now, but back then... Let's continue trying to do better. So far, so good!


 FLICKA agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-10 10:19 AM

It's been historically written that the 1st motel (in the U.S.) was the one at the bottom of the Cuesta Grade, in San Luis Obispo. It's a mission style structure. In the days of Model T's girls in peasant outfits wearing caballro hats passed out menus to passing cars which were crawling along for the Cuesta climb.


 COMMENT 162667 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-10 11:14 AM

We live on the Westside and were surprised to read the 1928 racist deed restriction when we bought our house in 2002. I think that was par for the course in most developments during that time period. By the way, I too had heard that the oldest motel was in SLO. I just googled it and a site said it was built in 1925. Not sure who is right, but I guess it was within 100 miles of here for sure.


Thanks for another great article.


 COMMENT 162671 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-10 11:32 AM

Is it possible that's a Cedrus Deodara in the photo, not a Sequoia? Maybe there's a Sequoia elsewhere on the property?

San Luis Obispo's The Motel Inn (Orginially the 'Mo-Tel Inn', short for for 'Motor Hotel') was built in 1925 for $800,000 according to Wikipedia. That's quite a chunk for those days. It was the first of a new chain of overnight accommodations meant to cater to motorists.Back then it took a full day's driving to get from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo, then another full day to Los Angeles. At the base of the Cuesta Grade, the Motel Inn offered in-room bathing in separate cottages, a supposed first. Evidently the model was much copied and the owner/builders were never able to copyright the term Motel. Their chain of Mo-Tels never got off the ground.

Does anyone have info on the build date of the San Roque motel? Neil?


 COMMENT 162681 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-10 01:17 PM

Urban Hiker, here. I have a photo of the San Roque Motor Camp from 1923, that I will submit to Edhat. The place we mentioned in our article, however, was called the Mountain View Auto Court. We found both the photo mentioned above and information about the Mountain View Auto Court in Walker A. Tompkins Neighborhood Series 1, San Roque. In the booklet, Mr. Tompkins reports that the Mountain View Auto Court was the "first motel" in California, having been opened "around 1920". As the caption under the San Roque Motor Camp photo indicates, it's a picture of the "motel" in 1923; my guess is that it opened a few blocks north of the Mountain View Auto Court a year or two (or three) after Mountain View was in operation. So I think San Roque still has SLO beat, considering that one could either pitch a tent or let a cabin for the night. In other words, it wasn't simply a campsite, but also offered the services of a true motel.


 COMMENT 162701 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-10 03:58 PM

The racist restrictions were very common in real estate development. They were called restrictive covenants, and Wikipedia has a good explanation. I did my thesis on 1910 subdivisions in Oakland which did and did not restrict "persons of African or Mongolian descent." Racist covenants were made illegal by the Supreme Court in 1948, though plenty of restrictive covenants remain in condos and PUDs, such as, no clotheslines, only certain colors of exterior paint, etc.

Seedlady, I am certain those big conifers on Calle Palo Colorado are not redwoods. Gorgeous trees though! You can tell they have been there a long time and really shape the ambience of the street.


 COMMENT 162735 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-04-10 08:03 PM

There were other auto courts before the one in SLO, but they were the first to use the term Motel. Thus they are the first , having coined the term.


 EDDIEKD agree helpful negative off topic

2011-07-31 12:56 AM

Racist covenants were indeed par for the course--our old neighborhood in Northern California had the same thing. They may actually remain in original documents...they are now illegal, but still must be disclosed as part of the title history of properties.


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