Way Back When in November 1917

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

Our local boys who volunteered to fight in "The Grizzlies" came back for a visit, we learned why we were blacklisted by Ringling Brothers Circus, the first "Bicycle Day" was held here, and Ojai went up in flames -- again. Here’s the history of Santa Barbara -- one month at a time!

“The Grizzlies” March Down State Street

A number of local young men who had joined “The Grizzlies” earlier in the year, came back here in November. They marched down State Street past the old Post Office (now the Santa Barbara Museum of Art). (Image: courtesy of John Woodward)

The group of young men who volunteered to serve in “The Grizzlies” light artillery group came back to Santa Barbara to visit with families before heading off to the war in Europe. People were encouraged to meet the group at the train station. There was a ball game scheduled, music was supplied by a jazz band, and “Grizzlies will demonstrate some of their squad drills and maneuvers.” While they were here, some of them were filmed for a “Flying A” movie. 

Some of “The Grizzlies” appeared in the “Flying A” wartime adventure story, “Miss Jackie of the Army.” Image: Motography magazine, December 15, 1917

Because so many of “The Grizzlies” were local boys, they had a lot of support from the population here. “Start Fund to Buy Blankets for Grizzlies,” read one headline this month. Apparently, the government did not have enough blankets for all the men, and local folks were asked to contribute money to buy blankets for them. Fifty women here were also hard at work knitting sweaters for the soldiers.

Down in Carpinteria, members of the home guard (a.k.a. the constabulary) who had participated in another patriotic movie titled “Her Country’s Call” earlier in the year, were able to watch themselves this month when the movie was shown at the Palace Theater on State Street


Way back when, it was relatively easy to end up on a movie set, such as “Her Country’s Call.” Image: Motography magazine, October 20, 1917

The Day the “Elephants Broke Loose”

Ever heard of the great elephant stampede in Santa Barbara? Well, we really had one, and it gave us a bad name in the circus world. Image: The Family Library, 1844

Was this for real? Our fair city was apparently blacklisted by Ringling Brothers circus. “It has seemed many long years since a real man’s circus came to town. On the last memorable occasion, something happened. The elephants broke loose. … It was the invasion of private property that brought the Ringling elephants into disrepute in Santa Barbara, and that threw this fair and generally hospitable city into disfavor with the circus magnates. The bill for damages was too large, tradition says, and the decree went forth that henceforth and forever, this community should be denied the privilege of spending its cash to see the three-ringed show. Elephants, it is said, have long memories; and so, it appears, have elephants’ owners. Santa Barbara is still blacklisted by the circus trust.”

The great elephant stampede of 1909 must have been big news for a long time, as the local paper reported, “The monstrous brutes broke loose from their trainers while being unloaded early yesterday morning in the freight yards, and ere the hour was tolled off, five were found to be missing. The gigantic animals did considerable damage.” (The complete story will be part of my forthcoming book, “Animal Tales of Old Santa Barbara,” to be published in 2018.)

Adobes on East Carrillo


The Hill-Carrillo adobe at 15 E. Carrillo Street, looking toward State Street. Image: Edson Smith photo, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Public Library

November 1917 marked the date of the rebirth of the Hill-Carrillo adobe. “One of Santa Barbara’s ancient landmarks, the 84-year-old adobe house on East Carrillo Street … is to be restored. … The place, which until recently was occupied by Chinese laundrymen … will be restored to its former condition as nearly as possible. … The Carrillo adobe was built in 1833 by Daniel Hill, a carpenter and stone mason … it was the first adobe in the neighborhood to be built with wood floors.” (Most other sources say this adobe was built 1825-26.)

And it’s still with us today. It is owned by the Santa Barbara Foundation. Unfortunately, its neighbor to the west, the Scott adobe met an unfortunate end about 1902. “Fifteen years ago, an attempt was made to move the Scott structure to Anacapa Street to house the Natural History Museum, but the old house would not bear transplanting, and fell to pieces when the movers succeeded in getting it into the street.”

Santa Barbara’s First “Bicycle Day”

The Santa Barbara Bicycle Association stepped into high gear and organized a bicycle race, as well as a parade with decorated bicycles, antique bicycles, people in costumes, prizes, and clowns. On Saturday, November 24, the race began in front of the old Y.M.C.A. (where Ralphs is today), went up De La Vina to State Street, then to Hollister in Goleta, and back again. In the afternoon, police officers on motorcycles and a truck holding the high school band led a bicycle parade around the city.

The “Flying Merkel” was still manufactured in 1917, so it might have been in the parade here. Image: Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated, October 14, 1917

Prizes for winners of the race and parade included silver and gold trophy cups and gold watches. Categories included: oldest rider in the parade (77 years), youngest rider (6 years), most novel costume, best decorated bicycle, and clowns. The star of the show was an 1867 velocipede ridden by Henry M. Hazard, owner of the bicycle shop at 904 Chapala Street. 

A 50-year-old velocipede wowed ‘em in the parade.  Image: The Velocipede, J.T. Goddard, 1869

The local paper declared, “The bicycle has come back and is beginning to again take its place in the field of contest as well as a convenience and vehicle of rapid transit.”

A Car Designed for Women


So easy to drive that a mere woman could do it. Image: Handbook of Automobiles, 1917

This month, the first car ad aimed at women appeared in the local paper. “As a woman’s car, the Chevrolet Four-Ninety has no equal. So easy to operate that a woman can drive one as well as a man, and so popular is this model among women auto enthusiasts that thousands of them are owned by women throughout the United States. … $715.”

What made this car easy to operate? It had an electric starter, and did not need to be started with a crank. (Several times a year, I see articles about someone in Santa Barbara who suffered a broken arm when the car backfired as they were cranking. Backfiring spun the crank violently in the opposite direction, and often injuried the person holding the crank. Ouch!)

“Runaway Horse Goes on Wild Rampage”

This was a pretty amazing story, so I’ll just let the newspaper tell about it: “A dash across State Street and the Arlington Hotel grounds, through a maze of automobiles on West Victoria Street, and north on Bath, with a final lunge into a fence gate, dragging a five-foot hitching post the entire distance and taking a number of hard falls, had no other ill effects for a saddlehorse yesterday morning than a few scratches. The horse became frightened by the continual din caused by falling pieces of corrugated iron from a roof near State and Victoria streets, and broke off its hitching post, which, dragging at the end of the hitching rope and continually bumping the heels of the animal, goaded it to renewed speed and fright.

“The speeding horse tore over the Arlington lawn and through the flower bushes, miraculously missed a number of machines [cars] parked hear the Victoria Street entrance to the hotel grounds, took a header to the ground, and then, getting up, headed west on Victoria. At Bath Street, it turned north, and after going some distance, dived across the private grounds of a residence, and at terrific speed, hit a rear gate, when the final tumble to the ground was made, the fence, hitching rope and hitching post securely tied the horse so he could not get up.

“In ye olden days, a runaway on the streets of Santa Barbara was not an unusual occurrence, but in recent years, such an event has become more and more uncommon.”

The Passing of the Horse Age

The 19teens were the years when horses gave way to horseless carriages. Image: Black Beauty, Anne Sewall, 1877

It was the clear sign of the end of an era -- a stable and its horses were being replaced by an automobile dealer. “Where once the neighing and champing of gallant steeds was heard, will resound the purr and roar of the modern motor.” The lumber from the old Sherwood Stable on 21 East Victoria was being salvaged, and the horses were up for sale -- some for less than a dollar. “Never in the history of the town, say horsemen, has there been such another sale.” Why so cheap? The reason was two-fold -- the expanding role of cars, and the increasing price of hay and oats. “Horses, which once were the pride and joy of Santa Barbara equestrians, were literally consigned to the scrap heap by the auctioneer, many of them selling at the remarkable figures of 50 and 75 cents. … The horse was once a mighty factor in the old tourist days, just as the motor car is a bigger one in these 20th-century days, and as the airplane is destined to become in the days yet before us.” A Ford dealership would occupy the location of the former stable.

Not everyone viewed the dawning of the car era as progress. The “Expositor” newspaper in Summerland printed an opinion piece from someone who clearly took a dim view of the automobile age: “The automobile is a large iron and rubber contrivance for transforming gasoline into speed, luxury, excitement, and obituaries. It consists of a handsome leather-upholstered carriage body mounted on fat rubber-tired wheels, and containing a gizzard full of machinery suffering from various complications and ailments. It has run over 100,000 miles, and 10,000 people. It can transport seven people from the porch to the police station, the bankruptcy court or the golden gate [heaven] in less time than any other known method.”

The Dawn of the “Jass Age”

No, that’s not a misspelling. Jazz was still in its formative years in 1917, and we were a long way from New Orleans. In fact, it wasn’t even called “jazz” yet. It was called “jass.” An ad for Victrolas at the Paulins Music Store on State Street explained: “A brass band gone crazy! That’s ‘Jass’ music. The latest dance hits of the season.” Why did “jass” turn into “jazz”? Supposedly, because some miscreants would erase the letter J, leaving a word that was, ahem, not acceptable in polite society.

Many American men got their first taste of “jass” while serving in the war in Europe [World War I]. Image: Library of Congress

What did jazz or jass sound like in 1917? Thanks to the wax cylinder collection at UCSB, you can hear it for yourself. Here’s a 1917 recording of the song, “Everybody Loves a ‘Jass’ band”

Ojai in Flames Again

For the second time this year, Ojai was struck by a devastating fire. “Business Section of Ojai Valley town is destroyed by flames,” read the headline at the top of the front page here. Image: Western Architect, August, 1918

“At 10:00 today, Mayor Slosson of Santa Barbara, received a request for fire apparatus to help fight the fire, but immediately after the message came to him over the telephone, wire communication … was cut off by the fire. The telephone operator … said over the wire that she was being driven out of the telephone office by the flames, and that no more messages could be sent out.

“A message from Ventura stated that … the whole block comprising the business section was gone. The stocks of the various stores were carried into the street while the fire was raging, and schoolgirls formed a bucket brigade, and carried water to pour on the flames before the Ventura department arrived. Several were overcome by smoke and exhaustion. The women of the town brought coffee to the workers.”

Although many of the stores along the north side of West Ojai Avenue were destroyed in the blaze, the newly constructed arcade survived, and is still with us today. (The earlier fire in June had taken out a large portion of the residential section of the town. You can read more about that here: https://www.edhat.com/news/way-back-when-in-june-1917)

Another Fire -- in Mission Canyon

This one was even scarier because it was closer to home. “Mission Canyon Fire … Flames Sweep Homes, Barns and Crops Away; Immense Damage Done to Watershed.” For four days, the fire raged in the hills above Santa Barbara. “Desolation spreads over upper Mission Canyon today, and the mountain slopes from base to the high ridges are blackened and scarred, giving mute evidence of the hideous work wrought last night and during the early hours of the morning by the fire demon.”

In addition to burning homes, barns, and crops, the wooden trestles that held the pipes bringing water to the City of Santa Barbara were in the burn area. Had a trestle collapsed, the city would have had a major water supply problem. One man in particular was singled out as the hero. “The story of last night’s battle with the flames is one of thrilling heroism. The city played to good fortune in the ability of Victor Trace of the Water Department to save the water main … Only his constant vigilance and a streak of luck saves the city today from facing a water famine. The flames completely destroyed one trestle bearing a water main, but Trace managed to keep the main bolstered up.” (Perhaps because of his actions in this fire, a large water reservoir on the Mesa bears Trace’s name today.)

Trace managed to save the water mains, but the fierce blaze spread over a wide area and beat back the firefighters. “The flames, caught up by the winds, rushed through the chaparral, gathered volume, and forced the little group of men to retreat. The flames soon divided one wing following the Mission crags, and running straight down the ridge, while the other wing swung across the tunnel trail, and spread out over La Cumbre, leaped down into Mission Canyon proper, and began the destructive progress which today is marked in smoldering ruins of homes, and a charred path down the canyon.”

Soldiers Coming and Going

Eleven more young men from Santa Barbara, whose numbers had been chosen in the Selective Service lottery, left the city this month for Camp Lewis in Washington State. Of the 11, five were Chinese-Americans. “Practically every member of the local Chinese colony will be at the Southern Pacific depot [our present train station] … to bid farewell to the five Chinese boys who leave for Camp Lewis to become members of the Santa Barbara draft army. … It is probable that the city and cadet bands will be on hand, and will furnish marching music for the boys, and a serenade for them upon their arrival at the depot.”

He Left His Mark

Some of the most famous photos of Santa Barbara in the late 1800s were published by local photographer Norman H. Reed, who passed away this month. Reed came here in 1887, and had a photography studio at 927 State Street. The local paper wrote that his photos “will prove more valuable and interesting with the passing of the years, as they will be of historic importance.”

Santa Barbara’s Flower Festival was the subject of one of Reed’s books of photos. Image: Souvenir of Santa Barbara Flower Festival, N.H. Reed, 1895

Watch for my “Way Back When” columns on Edhat on the first Saturday of every month.

It’s getting to look a lot like -- that time of year again! And once again, you can find my new book -- 1917 -- in my “Way Back When” series in local bookstores later this month. Still only $9.95. This year, the centerspread features women in pants! As young men left for the war in Europe, women put on pants (this was revolutionary 100 years ago), and took their places on farms, and in businesses.

Also new this year -- cartoons from 1917. What did grandma and grandpa think was funny way back when? Is it still funny in 2017? You bet! Here’s a sample:

Image: Life magazine, January 18, 1917

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bjgreen Nov 09, 2017 08:00 PM
Way Back When in November 1917

Hi MISS! Sorry for the delay in responding to your question. The Mission Canyon fire started on November 21, 1917, and ended about November 24. -- Betsy

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