By Penny Davies
With A String of Pearls: Pearl Chase of Santa Barbara, author Cheri Rae has meticulously crafted an inspired biography chronicling the life of Santa Barbara’s legendary activist, Pearl Chase.
I did not want this book to end. Every page was captivating. Pearl saved every piece of paper—and apparently and Cheri found them all! The author chronicles a life well lived, at a time when women in America were told their value came only from marriage, child rearing and domestic servitude. Pearl Chase broke the mold; she never married, never had children, and instead, working with the most powerful men and most brilliant women of her time, changed the city of Santa Barbara forever.
As someone who knew Pearl Chase personally, it brought me back to a time in my life when my late husband (Terry Davies) and I worked alongside her in the1960s. I remember fondly her fierce tenacity as we fought to prevent the construction of high-rise condominiums, resulting in what is now Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden.
Terry and I met Pearl when she came to our house, the old parsonage next door to the large Unitarian Church on East Arrellaga Street. Terry and I were in our mid 30s. We had three small children and were refugees of the East Coast Blizzard of 1966. When Terry obtained a job in Santa Barbara, we couldn’t believe our good luck. We thought we had died and gone to heaven.
One day a man came to our door with a petition, asking for our support of a plan to build two large, modern, condominiums on the site of the burned-down El Mirasol Hotel. It felt wrong to us. Terry was told that Pearl would know what to do so he phoned her, and Pearl sprang into action. Out of our first meeting with the already legendary Pearl came plans of how to preserve this space for the betterment of the whole community.
I vividly remember walking into a city council meeting with Pearl and the uneasy hush that came over the room. She was powerful, respected, and held in awe by most. But there were powerful people who opposed her: Thomas Storke, owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press and Louis Lancaster, President of Santa Barbara’s most prestigious bank, each had plans to own a penthouse condo on this proposed site. The council voted in favor of the developer. The justification was that wealthy people who lived in these apartments would use their money to shop downtown. A long court battle ensued. We raised $30,000 in small community contributions to pay for an attorney, who helped us win and thanks to citizen activism, what might have become two nine-story residential towers became instead one of Santa Barbara’s most beloved city parks.
I met Pearl when she was in her 70s. This was one of her last battles. A String of Pearls reveals so much her younger days and middle years. I always wondered: How did she manage to make Santa Barbara so beautiful? Why didn’t she marry? Was it money that gave her power? This engrossing book answers these questions and many more.
Cheri Rae’s biography of Pearl Chase is a lively (and long overdue account) of one of the most influential women (and surely the most determined!) in Santa Barbara history. Pearl Chase was ahead of her time. We knew it in the 1960s and now readers will know it too.
Penny Davies was the owner of The Earthling Bookshop, a beloved downtown institution for more than two decades. Inspired by Pearl Chase’s determination, the Davies fought the city’s plans to take over their building by eminent domain. The issue became a ballot measure, and the City was defeated in another example of successful citizen activism.
NOTE: Chaucer’s will host the first book-signing of A String of Pearls: Pearl Chase of Santa Barbara on Wednesday, November 8, 6-8 p.m.
View the book trailer: