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From Bowl to Shining Sea
updated: May 07, 2011, 9:45 AM

By Stacey Wright and Peter Hartmann

This week we continued our quest to walk all 256 miles of public streets within the city limits of Santa Barbara, and report back to you on our adventure from the very top of Milpas Street to the shores of the Pacific.

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Milpas Street is one of those areas in town that virtually everybody in Santa Barbara visits when they need to buy something. Even though we have been on Milpas hundreds of times, our official urban hike from the County Bowl to Cabrillo Boulevard was the first time we really took our time and enjoyed, on foot, the collective consciousness of one of Santa Barbara's main strips.

We began our early morning hike at the top of Milpas Street, where it turns and becomes East Anapamu Street. Our first significant point of interest is the magnificent County Bowl. We could reminisce endlessly about the concerts we have attended at the Bowl, but instead we'll share with you pics we took that morning, and add that we sure are glad they upgraded the bathrooms. And we need to share with you just a tiny bit of Bowl history: The land for the bowl, which was located in Quail Canyon, was donated by a guy who purported to sport a "pink beard". His name was George A. Batchelder; but more about this "colorful" fellow in next week's installment. We like this view of the Bowl because it's one you most likely have never seen before, given that most of us only see it at show time when the crowds are thick and the sun is setting.

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Interestingly, the County Bowl began in 1936 as a WPA project (so we can thank FDR for our fabulous local venue). Unfortunately, the original stage (a wooden revolving number), was destroyed by a flood in 1939. The replacement, made of concrete, was continually used (and abused) until the end of 2001, when the SB Bowl Foundation, through generous donations of local citizens and corporations, began the current upgrades.

Heading south down Milpas, we could see from that vantage point almost to the bottom of our route. The trees that line the street are a prominent feature of Milpas, but when one drives, it's hard to see enough of them at once to really appreciate their grandeur. Often, when we're on hikes that take us to view locales, we look down and can easily pick out Milpas by its telltale feature of very orderly mature shade trees that line both sides of the street. This pic sort of shows off the trees of Milpas, but if you want a better look, go climb a hill and look for the trees..

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Surprisingly, there are a lot of houses on what most consider a commercial street. We're guessing that this modern home may be the newest home on Milpas, considering it was completed during the last few years. We speculated quite a bit about what house/structure is the oldest, but we couldn't guess with any certainty. Does anybody know the answer to this question?

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The next exciting feature of our morning hike was the apartment building sign we passed. Normally a sign such as this would have little or no relevance. However, since we just returned from a week at lovely Sans Souci Beach in O'ahu, we couldn't help ourselves...

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And of course, no expose of Milpas would be complete without a photo and story about the cow atop Mc Connell's. The building, a beautiful example of art deco architecture, was built as the Live Oak Dairy in 1940. Back in those days and before, cows for almost a dozen local dairies roamed the nearby hillsides. After a series of ownership changes, in the early 1950's the dairy became one of Arden's operating plants, and on July 4, 1976, it became the plant for Mc Connell's Ice Cream. The cow was original when the building was built, and was subject to pranksters, beginning in the mid to late 50‘s. Interestingly, we can recall that for a few years in the mid to late 1970's the cow was removed from the building, having been seen as an attractive nuisance to high school students who tried to best one another in representing of their schools.

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Call us crazy for including a photo of Taco Bell, but we are almost positive that this particular restaurant was the first one to open in Santa Barbara. It was sometime in the mid-to late 1960's and we both can recall the menu including a pronunciation guide for items such as ‘Taco" and "Tostada". This cuisine was after all, new to many and quite exotic…and then there was the hot sauce that came in little plastic containers, covered by a piece of plastic wrap and secured by a rubber band. Could you imagine if every packet of Taco Bell hot sauce used today had to be packaged by hand? Wow - Technology at its finest!

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In addition to the old dairy and its cow, Milpas has many wonderful examples of a variety of architectural marvels. We figure we'll just show some of our favorites and share what, if anything, we remember about the buildings from the past. The building that is now Milpas Motors is a dandy example of Art Deco...we remember it as having once been a bakery...

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And then, in rapid succession, the buildings that caught our fancy are the following: Salud Mas Vida ( an herb store...but not THAT kind of herb); La Super Rica ( maybe the only business in town that doesn't need obvious signage - the natives just describe it as, "you know, the place that used to be the Orange Julius); La Pachanga Night Club ( it used to be Ali Baba and then The Mecca, and we're told both places were strip clubs back in the olden days); the legendary brick building at the corner of Milpas & Haley (a March Edness location long ago); Frango's since 1946; the house behind Frango's (which we think might be the oldest home on Milpas); and a view from the rear of a little building that sits on a little island on Milpas and Jennings...now it's a taqueria, but for many years it was Pavlako's, a Greek restaurant.

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What stuck us as we made our way down Milpas Street during the early hours of a beautiful Saturday morning was the level of industry we witnessed. Many of the businesses were still closed, but shopkeepers and their help were washing windows, tending to the landscaping, or sweeping the sidewalks in front of their establishments. We came upon a barbershop and a taqueria that were quintessential "Santa Barbara neighborhood" businesses, and we couldn't help but admire their utility, charm and cleanliness. The restaurant, Taqueria El Bajio, was open for breakfast and doing a brisk business. We stopped in and spoke with Santos Guzman who, along with his family, has owned and operated the restaurant since1996. He told us it's his job to open the restaurant in the mornings, and that he arrives each day around 5:00 am to get things in order for the day. We were tempted to take a break and enjoy a little bit of very authentic Mexican food, but instead we just took a picture and carried on.

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Just a stone's throw down the road, at 111 South Milpas, we saw a cottage that looks a lot like it could have been one of the Moody Sisters creations...but if so, it's been extensively remodeled. Either way, we think it's pretty cute. You can read more about The Moody Sisters in our Urban Hike posting "Coast Village Road and then Some" on Edhat on 4/23/11. Here's the link.

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Further down the street are two examples of landmark Milpas architecture - the A-OK Mower Shop and its next door neighbor, Milpas Rental. We don't really know much about these places, but we appreciate their unique charm, especially in the morning light.

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And now for a little Spanish-era history: Down near the northwest corner of Milpas and Quinientos is a little sycamore tree that marks a significant location from1800. At that time, a predecessor sycamore tree (wiped out by an El Nino year storm in 1986) was used by the Spaniards as a lighthouse. Legend has it that the townspeople hung a lantern in the uppermost branches in the tree to help guide arriving ships to shore. The Sailor's Sycamore was used until the lighthouse on the Mesa replaced it in 1856. You can read more about the lighthouse's colorful history in our Urban Hike "The Mesa" posting on Edhat on 2/27/11. Here's the link

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Just across from the round-a-bout is a palm reader with a palm tree in the front yard. We must have a thing for fortune tellers, because this is the second one to catch our eye and our shutter.

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Also in this vicinity (and down toward the beach) is a display of public art that may or may not inspire you - we refer specifically to the numerous light fixtures created by artist David Shelton. The fixtures are quite whimsical and not offensive, really, but we aren't certain they properly reflect the purpose for which they were installed. Specifically, we keep hearing that Milpas Street was named for the Chumash word for maize or corn, and/or the field in which the corn grew. Even our high school history teacher taught this "fact". However, we have reason to believe that "milpa" was actually the Nahuatl word for a growing field and the term milpa is used to describe a system of crop rotation used throughout Mesoamerica. There is no doubt that corn was grown in the fields, but we believe there were also other staples that were tended, and certainly the crops were rotated to maximize growing potential. So I guess we're just wishing that instead of only being corn stalks, the light fixtures represented some of the other bounty grown in those fields, back in the day…or maybe on second thought we should just have traditional light posts and avoid the controversy altogether. In case anyone is wondering about our historical source, we refer you to "The Huse Journal", which is Charles Huse's diary, published by the Santa Barbara Historical Society in 1977. It is a fascinating piece of writing, and Huse, a Harvard-educated lawyer, takes great pains to document the everyday events occurring in Santa Barbara for a five-year period, beginning in 1852 or so. In his writings he describes Milpas Street being named for the Indian "sowing patches" in the area.

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Just on the ocean side of the railroad tracks is a business most of us in Santa Barbara know and love: Tri County Produce. It opened to the public about 35 years ago, but we just can't imagine (or remember) how the good people of Santa Barbara ever got by without it. Originally built in 1950 by Harry Bowman (as the home of Harry Bowman Produce), the business was strictly wholesale until 1976. During the 1970's, Virgil and Marie Elliot bought the business from Mr. Bowman. After opening to the public, it served as the only local "farmer's market" for many years. In 1985, Jim Dixon and his son John purchased the business and have worked to establish Tri County Produce as Santa Barbara grocery shopper's favorite. We think the folksy quality and the elaborate murals that let us know they are open to the public now are pretty swell.

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The next cool feature of our hike down Milpas is the Cabrillo Ball Field. There was a baseball game in progress as we passed by and we were delighted to see the field being used for its intended purpose. We were also happy that the activity on the field drew our attention to the game and away from the so called "art" at the end of the field.

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The final place of interest on our hike is located at the end of Milpas Street, just as it meets Cabrillo Boulevard. The Santa Barbara Inn is one of "modern" Santa Barbara's first hot spots. Built in the early 1920's, it was the destination for tourists who preferred a natural, beachy resting place for the night. Its popularity endured, and in the 1960's the remodeled Santa Barbara Inn became THE place to sip martinis and enjoy an unobstructed view of the Pacific. The bar was designed so the patrons faced the ocean and the bartenders operated from a sunken floor. Today we found many hotel guests enjoying breakfast from what may be the best ocean view from any hotel restaurant in town.

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As we came to the end of our hike, we were sad to see this hike come to an end. So we took one last peek over our shoulders and this is the view we saw...

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And so, as always we encourage you to go out on a hike of your own, to meet your neighbors and see first-hand the pride they take in their homes and neighborhoods. We also remind you to keep your eyes, ears and minds open to all that you encounter along the way, and to be on the lookout for us. We still have the Harry's gift certificate, and are anxious to give it to the first person on foot who sees us during one of our hikes and says, "Hey! Aren't you the Urban Hikers"?

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

 COMMENT 171037 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-07 10:27 AM

I remember the Mecca on Milpas Street, but wasn't Ali Baba on East Cota just off State...? (I knew a couple of women who worked there.)


 COMMENT 171103 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-07 06:06 PM

Spot on! You're right about Milpas naming - the MCA too had uncovered the Milpa as a Nahuatl term about making a field where complimentary crops would be grown together, as an activity that binds the community.


 SHAKEY agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-07 10:34 PM

What no picture of the biggest landmark on Milpas , Roger the scanner guy !!!


 COMMENT 171159P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-08 09:00 AM

What a great article! Thanks so much- I learned lots about what I didn't know - plus, great photos!


 FLICKA agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-08 09:48 AM

Thanks, Urban Hikers, for a great tour. The Bowl was originally built for the plays during Fiesta. The night club used to be Kings Supper Club, I went there once during the 60s; was shocked by the nearly naked show (I was a 22 yr old housewife). Under the bridge, to the right was the Lotton's (sp?) farm from my mother's era. Their son, Clare, was a friend of my grandfathers and he often took my mom and her siblings there. They would return home with corn, berries, etc. Tri-County was Johnsons Produce; took me ages to start calling it Tri-Co.


 COMMENT 171168 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-08 09:54 AM

Great as always! You've probably already thought about this but ever consider making this into an app for iPad or iPhones along the lines of the app for Al Gore's book Our Choice that's available at the app store?


 TROLLEY TOM agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-08 02:13 PM

The street was designated Milpas in 1850 by a committee of mostly hispanic Santa Barbarans...I'm sure they meant it to mean corn field. Milpas was the street furthest east when the grid was laid out my Captain Haley in 1850. I love walking up Milpas.


 FLICKA agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-08 03:52 PM

I forgot to add that I love the corn art! Reminds me of Mom going to the farm.


 COMMENT 171426 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-09 11:29 AM

La Pachanga was called the Copa Cabana until last year. The Mecca is currently a few doors down, it was briefly a place called Chocolate and before that, Legends, which was cool.


 COMMENT 171508 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-09 02:23 PM

Re Taco Bell, I think the one in IV might have been first? When I was a UCSB student in the mid-60s, that Taco Bell's salsa was in little clear plastic cups with white plastic snap caps. The saran wrap & rubber band came later.


 COMMENT 171933 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-10 07:28 PM

Great article, but I must correct the Santa Barbara Inn "history."The old photo you show is the Santa Barbara Inn at Santa Barbara, the Isle of Pines, Cuba.

Our Santa Barbara Inn wasn't built until 1960.

Also, note to Trolley Tom. Milpas Street was not the furthest street to the east. Alisos, Voluntario, Soledad, Canada and Salinas were also laid out by Haley in 1851 (not 1850) and named by the "Committee to Name the Streets" that same year.


 COMMENT 179113 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-06-02 03:39 PM

Let us not overlook...
Where "Milpas" & Ani'pimu [Anapamu to the lay-Native]
"The ascending place"...meet & directly behind the S.B. Bowl,is where my great Uncle did the Solstice ceremony on the last day of Winter Solstice.
He would place a crystal [abt 2 feet long & big around as your fore-arm] into a hole cut into a huge stone [still there] which would shine a beam of light the entire length of Ani'pimu.
This is a place of great power in SB, if one knows how to use it.


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