Santa Barbara History

Santa Barbara History


The city of Santa Barbara fluttered into existence just about 13,000 years ago when the first Native Americans popped on over and settled here. In the eighteenth century, the Spanish attempted to conquer and convert the Chumash Native Americans by baptizing and Christianizing them. Santa Barbara was officially part of Mexico for a brief stint, until it was acquired by the United States in 1848, along with the rest of the state of California.

Santa Barbara has had a series of costume changes from dust-coated bundle of adobe buildings, to bustling city shrouded in dreamers dazzled by the gold rush. It then transformed into a Victorian-esque town dotted with resorts. From there Santa Barbara became a silent film Mecca, more renowned than Hollywood. Splash some copious amounts of slick black oil on it and you’ve now got the booming industry that took over Santa Barbara. World War II squashed the growing oil industry and instead caused many residents to flee. The city seemed bleak but as soon as the war ended, folks came back and settled for good, and are largely responsible for the economically diverse vacation destination that Santa Barbara is today.

The Chumash people have remained a potent part of the Santa Barbara population since they first moved here thousands of years ago, before the city ever had a name. The Chumash reservation lies just up and over the Santa Ynez mountains, next to the quaint Danish delight known as Solvang. The Chumash Casino resides there also. In case you fancy a gamble.

When the Spanish adventured up the coast in the early seventeenth century, the homely city acquired its name from Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, christened due to a storm he survived on December 3rd, the birthday of Saint Barbara. It wasn’t until the mid eighteenth century that the Europeans clouded up the scene, and Franciscan Friar Fermin de Lasuen planted a mission here. A mission that is adorned with a plush and marvelous rose garden. In case you fancy a romantic picnic among flowers and Fathers. It’s really quite pleasant.

Then the raucous and reckless hoodlums of the gold rush flooded in. Gold had been discovered in the Sierra foothills and folks were flocking over from the Eastern states. They wandered all the way to the coast and settled in what had just become Santa Barbara County. They came for gold, and stayed for glorious coastal views and gleeful charm. In 1851 a Mr. Salisbury Haley attempted to draw up a street grid. Due to the moisture in the air from the ocean, Haley’s chains that he used for measurement would shrink and swell, causing inaccuracy and a lot of weird kinks and odd angles among the streets of the city. In case you fancied an answer for why you ended up going the wrong way on a street downtown.

In the late nineteenth century Charles Nordhoff was commissioned by the Southern Pacific Railroad to write about the glories of Santa Barbara. Nordhoff is relatively responsible for the influx of people that showed up to tour the city. Hence tourism exploded. Nordhoff’s praises of Santa Barbara as the “pleasantest” of cities in all of California proved masterfully successful. In earlier times the city had been hard to get to due to lack of traveling means. The construction of Stearns Wharf allowed for ships to dock rather than have to drop anchor farther out and unload. A railroad was built that stretched from San Diego all the way up to San Francisco so stagecoaches no longer had to trek through the San Marcos Pass. The city was no longer isolated. It grew exponentially in the coming years. Mainly due to the rising film industry.

Just prior to World War II, Flying A Studios was born. Flying A Studios was a branch of the American Film Company and was responsible for growing Santa Barbara into the center of the silent film industry, long before people associated Hollywood with movies. In case you fancy a good independent movie, check out the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival that happens late January early February every year.

A giant earthquake and a second world war flattened the city in the first half of the twentieth century, but once the war had ended, the city was rebuilt with its current Spanish style buildings, and folks came back to settle for good. The University of California Santa Barbara and Highway 101 were born, and the oil industry moved offshore. The oil derricks look like floating iridescent fairies in the night and magically provide infinite tar balls on the beaches of Santa Barbara. But don’t shy away from a little tar on your feet. Baby oil is the new vanishing cream. In case you fancy a romantic barefoot beach walk, bring some baby oil along.

In the mid-1970’s forces opposing uncontrolled growth outranked those favoring development, which is the responsible factor in Santa Barbara’s outrageous property values. Many people commute from neighboring cities like Santa Maria and Ventura because houses are much more affordable elsewhere. But if you fancy a chomp at the bit of becoming a Santa Barbara local, by all means, please buy a house in this sunny city.

Yes, there are countless tourists, but they provide for a lovely and cultured experience. Yes, the cost of living is a bit ridiculous, but rightfully so due to the location and all that the city has to offer. Yes, it’s slightly overrun with wild college kids and retired old people, but there’s always something to learn from someone else.

And there you have it, the history of Santa Barbara. We’ve come a long way folks. A long way indeed.



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