Way Back When in July 1917

Way Back When in July 1917 title=
Way Back When in July 1917
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By Betsy J. Green

One hundred years ago this month, the "Flying A" film folks were celebrating their 5th anniversary, the "wild man" on Santa Cruz Island finally decided to get civilized after 10 years, and, would you believe it, someone wanted to turn the Lobero Theatre into a garage! Also this month, the young men of Santa Barbara learned if their number had been chosen for the Selective Service. A painting of our local landscape landed in a highbrow art magazine, and a Montecito church gained another window. (All quotes are from Santa Barbara’s “Morning Press” or “Daily News & Independent,” unless otherwise noted.)


Remembering the Days of the Cowboys

The American Film Manufacturing Company, nicknamed the “Flying A,” celebrated its fifth anniversary in Santa Barbara this month. “Five years ago, a company of cowboys rode up the main street of the town … The first American studio was a puny affair upon an ostrich farm. Frequently the big birds uprose and kicked up so much trouble that production was stopped for the period. Now there’s a big studio there … and they turn out more than a million feet of celluloid a week.” (The Seattle Star, July 26, 1917)

Many of the early “Flying A” films were cowboy movies, and since the actors and cameraman just showed up at a location -- No permits? No problem! -- their activities sometimes caused a scene. For one of their first movies here, they went to a nearby ranch where the owner was out of town, and freaked out a couple of Chinese gardeners. The gardeners paid no attention to the film crew until, “‘Chick Morrison’ came dashing up at the head of his bunch of cowboys. Morrison was armed to the teeth, ready for any sort of fray. One of the Chinese took a look, and then beat it. He dashed down the road for half a mile at full speed until he met ... the constable of the district ... The Chinese gesticulated wildly, and the constable thought something frightful must be taking place and hurried back to the ranch house, where everything was soon explained. ... The Chinese then watched the proceedings with the greatest interest.” (Moving Picture World, July 27, 1912)

The earliest productions of the “Flying A” featured cowboys of all types and sizes. Notice the “Alice Cooper” cowboy in the front row. Image: courtesy of Neal Graffy


Up Close and Personal

We are used to close-up shots in movies today, but close-ups were not common back in the 19-teens when “Flying A” was here. In many early movies, the camera sat at one end of the room, and filmed the action as if it were a play on the stage. The invention of the close-up changed the tone of the movies. “The word ‘close-up’ will not be found in any dictionary because it is a word born of the movies, and the movies are young, too young to have a vocabulary of enough importance to be classified and catalogued by the lexicographer. … In the early days of the movies, there were many things that could not be expressed with action, except when the action was violent. … The subtler emotions could not be shown until the close-up was evolved.” (The Ogden Standard, July 14, 1917)

The invention of the movie close-up allowed such emotions as love to be expressed without the impassioned clutching of one’s bosom accompanied by exaggerated chest heaving. Image: scene from the 1919 movie “Money Corral”


Chickens & the Clean Plate Club

In addition to “victory gardens,” homeowners were encouraged to raise chickens for their eggs. Image: Farm Journal of Useful Science, February 12, 1880

An article in the local paper advised every family in Santa Barbara to add some chickens to their household to help conserve food. “The average household yields sufficient table scraps to sustain a flock of four to six.” The article advised that table scraps, and items that normally don’t make it to the table, such as overripe fruit, could be fed to the hens, which in turn, would produce eggs for the breakfast table.


Channel Islands Wild Man - Running Bear? Bare? Bayer?

Clothing was optional for this resident of Santa Cruz Island. Image: Wikimedia

For 10 years, he roamed around Santa Cruz Island, wearing not much more than a smile. A Dane by birth, Christian J. Bayer, told surprised visitors that he wanted to be one with nature in order to live a primitive lifestyle and improve his health. According to the local paper, “He has no firearms, no matches, no cutlery, dishes or other facilities that modern man has come to consider indispensable. He makes fire with flint, catches fish with crude bone hooks, kills animals with a slingshot, and in all other respects, resorts to primitive customs.” He ate mussels, abalones, and wild game.

Bayer was in the news this month because he applied for enlistment in the United States Army. He did agree to get suited up in a uniform.


At the Movies on State Street

On July 7, the good folks in Santa Barbara could go to the Palace Theater at 904 State Street to watch the latest Mary Pickford movie, “A Poor Little Rich Girl.” According to the ad in the local paper, “She was rich -- yet poor; she lived in a mansion, yet she had no one to play with.” Pickford, who was 25, played a little girl who had a whole lotta money, but was lacking in the love department. You can watch it here, and see for yourself:

Mary Pickford was nicknamed “America’s Sweetheart” and “the girl with the curls.” Image: Film Fun, December 5, 1917


Local Landscape Artist Makes News

Howard Russell Butler’s “Approaching Cloudburst” was painted during his stay in Santa Barbara. Image: The Art World, July 1917

Artist Howard Russell Butler, who lived here for part of the year, had one of his Santa Barbara landscape paintings featured in “The Art World” magazine this month. The magazine sounded pretty impressed with this painting. “’Approaching Cloudburst’ tells the story of the rain, which may be absent for months in Southern California, but when it does arrive, seldom lacks majesty and hues of wonderful richness. ... A bull in the foreground lifts his head to watch the coming storm. One feels that pause, affecting the wind and the trees and the creatures, which usually occurs just before the tempest. ... Are natural phenomena organized on a larger scale, near so great a body of water as the Pacific, than they are near the Atlantic? Considering the height and number of mountain ranges, one is tempted to think so.”


Another Jewel in the Crown

One of our local churches was featured in the local papers this month. At the All-Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church on Eucalyptus Lane in Montecito, all eyes were focused on the new stained-glass window that was dedicated in July. The “large, beautiful double-lancet stained-glass window was designed by Carlton Winslow,” according to the local paper, which called the new window, “particularly beautiful and churchly, and the colors are very rich. … In this window, Santa Barbara possesses a very fine specimen of the ancient art of stained glass.” (Winslow also designed the ornate sculpture above the massive doors on the Anapamu Street façade of the Central Library, and numerous other projects in Santa Barbara.)

This 100-year-old window is on the south side of the church. Image: photo by Betsy J. Green


It’s Still Here!

I’m always on the lookout for homes and other buildings that were built 100 years ago, and are still with us today. I don’t find one every month, but this month, I got lucky -- a bungalow court at 220 E. Sola, facing Alameda Park. “$40,000 Investment Gives Tone to Exclusive Residence Part of Town. Alameda Court, the attractive cottage resort, built on Sola Street near Alameda Plaza … is practically completed … The court marks a unique departure to the court idea, containing features which make it high class … All the cottages, which are of white plaster exterior, are splendidly furnished, and the electrical fixtures are of the finest money can buy.”

Alameda Court, built 100 years ago, still looks just as good today. Image: photo by Betsy J. Green

According to the book, “Discovering Santa Barbara Without a Car,” by Ken Kolsbun (1974), this complex “served as a winter retreat for the economically advantaged … The two-story rear building formerly provided for the chauffeurs and maids.”


A “Bird Paradise” on the Channel Islands

The Cooper Ornithological Club’s latest publication focused on the birds of the Channel Islands. Image: Cooper Ornithological Club, June 30, 1917

The local paper wrote about a new study of the Channel Islands birds that had just been published by the Cooper Ornithological Club. “These Santa Barbara islands are a bird paradise,” wrote the paper. “Natural enemies are few … Many housecats, however, now run wild,” on several islands. The scientists counted 195 species of birds on the islands.

I asked Paul Collins, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the SB Museum of Natural History, about how the number of birds 100 years ago compared with current numbers. He told me, “This was the first compilation of information about the avifauna of the Channel Islands, and as a result, covered records of birds seen and/or collected from the Channel Islands from the 1860s through 1916. This is the reason that there were only 195 species of birds recorded as having been documented on the Channel Islands at that time. Since then, there has been another 100 years during which a great deal of additional information about the birds of the islands has been compiled. In the bird checklist that I published through the Museum in 2015, we have now recorded a total of 423 species of birds on the eight islands off the coast of southern California. The increase in the number of species observed on the islands has increased due to the more intensive work that has taken place relative to the avifauna of the islands since Howell’s 1917 publication on this avifauna.”

Collins is currently working on a book about the birds of the California Channel Islands, so birders can look forward to that publication. But in the meantime, if you’re curious about the 1917 bird study, you can check it out here.


The SB Library Nears Completion

The final touches were being put on the new Central Library building this month. “The shelving in the new public library is now almost finished … the two large fireplaces … are about completed. As soon as the wiring and shelving work is finished, the linoleum flooring for the main room will be laid. … The library trustees hope to open the new building August 27, which is the third anniversary of the date on which it was announced that the city had secured a gift of $50,000 for the library from Andrew Carnegie.” (There’s more information about the Carnegie grant on page 47 of my “Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1914” book.)

The library’s fireplaces were completed in July. Image: courtesy of John Fritsche

The library is hosting a number of special events, talks, and slideshows this year to celebrate its centennial. The next (free) talk is on Sunday, July 9 at 3 p.m., when historian Hattie Beresford will present: “The Faulkner Gallery: Art, Architecture, and Philanthropy.” After her talk, librarian Jace Turner will lead a short then-and-now tour of the library for people who would like to compare the present library with vintage photos of the library in decades past.


TB Sanatorium & Open-Air Schools in SB -- or Not

Last month, I wrote about a proposal to build a hospital in Mission Canyon for tuberculosis patients, and the feverish debate that it caused. (You can click here in case you missed last month’s column: https://www.edhat.com/news/way-back-when-in-june-1917) This month, the board of directors of the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce met, and agreed that the TB sanitorium should be located on the other side of the Santa Ynez mountains, and further recommended that the facility only house residents of Santa Barbara County. [Spoiler alert - in August, 1917, it was decided to locate the sanitorium in Los Angeles.]

TB was also a concern for children. Fresh air was believed to be important for the health of “delicate” children. This month, the Board of Education hired architect Winsor Soule to design a four-room “open-air school” on Santa Barbara’s West Side, and another on the Riviera. I’m not exactly sure what these schools were like in Santa Barbara, but here’s a description of an open-air school in San Diego: "Each room has a cement floor built upon 20 inches of earth. The retaining wall and parapet is three-feet high, built of cement. The side walls are of canvas, made to roll as a curtain, while the roof is of canvas and also arranged to roll. The skeleton or framework of the house is made of iron pipe. A wire screen is provided for protection against insects." (Sierra Educational News, October 1912)

In the early 1900s, open-air schools were built for children with poor health. Image: San Francisco Call, August 2, 1910


Centennial Celebration in Solvang

The Santa Inés Mission’s church was 100 years old this month. Image: New York Public Library

There were five articles in the local papers this month about the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the church at the Santa Inés Mission in Solvang in 1817. In the mid-1800s, the church had been abandoned and fell into disrepair. Then in 1904, restoration and repairs began, and by 1917, “The Mission Santa Ynez is now in apple-pie order. All the rooms -- and there are many -- have been thoroughly restored and cleaned. Countless articles that were buried in debris and scattered about the place have been carefully gathered together.” (Los Angeles Times, July 2, 1917)

The celebration on July 4 included a mass said by priests wearing the same robes that were worn by the padres at the 1817 dedication, as well an exhibition of Spanish dances, a public dance, a barbeque, and a chorus singing “Stars and Stripes.”


Repurposing the Lobero Theatre?

Our present Lobero Theatre building dates to 1924, but way back in 1917, the original Lobero Theatre was still standing. The building had been vacant for several years, but now there was a plan to change that. This month the local paper ran an article titled, “Would Make Old Opera House a Garage.” Were they serious? Apparently so. “The old Santa Barbara opera house, which opened in 1873, is to be remodeled into a modern garage building, if the plans of the Hollister Estate Company are carried through. The Hollister estate, which owns the building, has sketch plans for $5,000-worth of improvements, which will be made on the old theater. … A modern front will take the place of the present wood front.”

The first Lobero Theatre was built of wood and adobe. Image: photo by A. Sturtevant, courtesy of John Woodward

The opening of the Potter Theatre in 1905, plus the popularity of movie theaters on State Street, pulled patrons away from the Lobero, which had been the only game in town for decades. “For about half a century, the Lobero house was the biggest and best theater in the city, but it is now several years since a performance was given in the building. The last meeting held there was a rally for Governor Johnson’s senatorial campaign. … The American Film Company [a.k.a. “Flying A”] recently has used the front of the building as a set for country playhouse scenes.” (See page 66 in my “Way Back When: Santa Barbara in 1916” for more information about the campaign meeting held in the theatre in October 1916.)

Was the Lobero Theatre ever remodeled into a garage? I’ll keep my eyes peeled for updates in the coming months, and let you know.


Building Airplanes in Summerland?

The Lockheed brothers were building their airplanes on lower State Street, and this activity may have attracted the attention of another would-be aircraft manufacturer. A well-known aviator was in the local papers this month because he had just bought property in Serena, about halfway between Summerland and Carpinteria. “Much interest has been awakened in the news of the sale to Electrical Engineer [Earle] Ovington of 10 acres on the beach near Serena for an aeronautical station. He has plans for … a factory in which to make aeroplanes.” Ovington was hoping to get a government contract for his planes.

Pioneer aviator Earle Ovington was the first airmail pilot in the United States. Image: An Aviator's Wife, by Adelaide Ovington, 1920

Did Ovington’s plans ever take place, I asked David W. Griggs, the director of the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History. “This never happened or surely we would have a record of it,” he told me, “this is the first I’ve heard of Ovington’s plans locally. The Bauhaus Bros. built the first plane locally out of a garage on 7th Street here in 1920; and Chadbourne & Donze opened the first airfield (airport) in 1927 where Carpinteria City Hall stands today.”


Paving the Way to the Mesa

Apparently, Cliff Drive was not paved yet back in 1917. This roadway was in the news in July with eight articles in the local paper calling for the City Council to approve a bond election to fund the building of a paved road. The proposed road would travel across the Mesa, down to Arroyo Burro, and up to Modoc Road. Two reasons were given for the paving project: “The drive … across the Mesa to the Arroyo Burro has gained fame … The road will naturally open up the Mesa for residential purposes.”

A 1901 map of the Mesa shows only unpaved roads. Image: United States Geological Survey

A letter to the editor sang the praises of the Mesa: “It has always been a surprise to find how Santa Barbara has neglected this part of its residential suburb. In scenery, with its range of both mountain, sea and island, the Mesa is unexcelled in a district that is world-famed for both the charm and variety of its scenery. In climate, the Mesa is temperate in summer and warm in winter. … The one factor that hitherto has held back the Mesa is the want of a road serviceable at all seasons of the year.”

But the plan ran into a geographical glitch when it was discovered that the area where Las Positas Road runs today, was part of the Goleta road district. The La Mesa Permanent Road Association decided to try to work out a deal with the Goleta folks. If I find more information about this project in the coming months, I’ll let you know.


Not Your Daddy’s War

The Rough Riders’ success in Cuba was still fresh in the minds of people in 1917. Image: Library of Congress

Although Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders had charged up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War only 19 years earlier, the era of men on horseback on the battlefield was over. Stewart Edward White, an author and big game hunter who had lived in Santa Barbara many years, was a member of a cavalry troop in San Francisco at the beginning of World War I. But by 1917, it was clear that men on horseback were no match for tanks and machine guns. So, when White returned to Santa Barbara to recruit troops, he had switched his focus to field artillery. (Field artillery was hauled by horses.)

But the image of Teddy Roosevelt was still alive. The local paper wrote, “Men of the ‘Rough Rider’ order are in mind. … This field artillery has a strong appeal. It will be made up entirely of Californians, and will go into the war as the only unit of its kind. Those who enlist in it will be kept together, and this gives the assurance that chums who may enlist together will not be separated. ... The age limit is from 21 to 45, but such as are below the age limit will be admitted with consent of parents.” Seventy young men from Santa Barbara County signed up. [Spoiler alert - this group was later nicknamed “The Grizzlies.”]


No “Slackers” in Santa Barbara

On July 20th, the young men of draft age who were chosen in the Selective Service lottery, learned from the newspapers whose numbers had been chosen. According to the local paper, “Well, they got me. … was the general comment, which plainly told that the vast majority here were ready for any duty the government might call them to. … There was no levity, and those drawn realize the serious business ahead of them, but the community can feel its boys are not ‘slackers.’”

It’s interesting that the term “slacker” goes back 100 years, so of course, being a “word nerd,” I did a little surfing on the ‘net. The earliest mention I could find of someone being called “a slacker” dates back to an 1899 article in a Washington D.C. newspaper about British slang. “Funny Words of Oxford -- Verbal Coinage of an English University Mint,” was the title of the article that mentioned, “if anyone lounges idly about, he is, of course, ‘a slacker.’” (The District of Columbia Times, September 21, 1899) And by the early 1900s, I started to find the word used in the American press.

UPDATE - In my June 1917 column, I wrote about the “McCulloch,” a 219-foot ship that was rammed and sunk out in the Channel. The wreck was recently located and explored. There will be a talk about this at the SB Maritime Museum on Thursday, August 10 at 7 p.m. Find more information here.


The Last Laugh

What was considered funny 100 years ago? Here’s a cartoon from July 1917:

Image: Life magazine, July 12, 1917


That’s all for now, folks. Watch for my column on the first Saturday of each month.

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Gobbledygook Jul 05, 2017 11:39 AM
Way Back When in July 1917

The teacher (or whoever it is pictured) at the open-air school resembles the big-brained Talosians in "The Menagerie" episode of Star Trek, which aired 49 years after this article.

Flicka Jul 02, 2017 06:39 PM
Way Back When in July 1917

I forgot to add, I really enjoyed the film. Amazing Mary Pickford was 25 playing an 11 year old. Also, in the painting it looks like possibly Montecito Peak in the background.

Flicka Jul 02, 2017 10:32 AM
Way Back When in July 1917

Betsy, Thanks again for all the research you do to bring us 100 year old exciting news. My mother remembered going to the depot to watch the first recruits for WWI take off on the train (she was 5). She said one boy was very animated and hanging out the window waving, a crowd favorite. Word later came he was the 1st local boy killed in the war. It had such an effect on Mom she prayed the rest of her life that we not have any more wars (didn't work).

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