Santa Barbara (& UCSB) History
UCSB Visitors: Looking to learn a little about our fair city?
Here are some links to get started.
Santa Barbara is a very special place. If you’re new to the area (or thinking of coming here), what better way to get to know the present-day city than through its past? This News item offers links to websites on local history and articles that appeared in the local press about how the history of UCSB, Isla Vista, Goleta and Santa Barbara. Such snapshots often convey the “flavor” of the town better than standard narrative histories can.
This page is divided into sections, starting with UCSB and moving outward to the primarily student adjacent community of Isla Vista, then Santa Barbara, with subsections on landmarks and special historical events. Finally there are links to articles that have appeared over the years in local news sources, written by historically well-versed local journalists.
Sections below on this page (click each one to jump down)
- UCSB History
- Isla Vista History
- Goleta History
- Santa Barbara City History, with sections on
- Landmarks (Mission, Courthouse, Train Station with Morton Bay Fig Tree), and
- Memorable Events (1812 & 1925 earthquakes, 1969 oil spill, 1942 submarine shelling)
- City Historians (Neal Graffy, Walker Tomkins, Michael Redmon)
- Suggestions from Viewers
On UCSB’s Devereux/West Campus area, see the UCSB History Department’s Campbell Ranch project page. (Unfortunately, this project is no longer active.)
- Isla Vista History
The History of Isla Vista, the off-campus student residential area directly adjacent to the campus, is very colorful.
IslaVistaHistory.com is a website promoting the 196 page 2008 book Isla Vista: A Citizen’s History. It has some good links on the right side, such as one to Joel Melchione’s photographic exhibition 1970: The Year of Rebellion.
IslaVista.org has a brief 3-part documentation as well.
Today IV is most notorious for its raucous Halloween celebrations. In 2006 a UCSB graduate student wrote her dissertation about the history of IV Halloween, which was summarized in a 3-part UCSB Daily Nexus series in October 2010 (don’t miss the links at bottom); see also the 2nd article: 1990-2009.
In 2014 the UCSB Alumni Newsletter Coastlines published this “Unofficial Isla Vista History” article by George Thurlow (class of 1973).
Finally, the UCSB library has an Isla Vista Resources page.
- Goleta History
The History of Goleta, the recently (2002) incorporated town north of Santa Barbara (but not including Isla Vista or the SB airport) has its own rich history.
GoletaHistory.com has quite a few articles about significant places and events in the town’s history, for example this article about the predecessor of the Goleta Pier (just east of UCSB), More’s Landing, dating from 1874.
The Goleta wikipedia page contains a good short summary of the town’s history.
- Santa Barbara City History
The Wikipedia History of Santa Barbara City page goes into much greater detail on the history of the city itself.
The City of Santa Barbara website offers a Chronology complete with bibliography at the end.
It is organized into 8 time periods:
1. Exploration and Beginnings of the Mission Period
2. Founding and Early Growth of Mission Santa Barbara, 1786-1796
3. Economic Growth and Expansion of the Mission Complex, 1797-1833
4. Secularization and Structural Decline, 1834-1845
5. Beginnings of the American Period, 1845-1855
6. Expansion and Interest in Restoration, 1856-1924
7. Modern Restoration Efforts, 1925-1953
8. Stewardship and Modernization, 1953-present
- Santa Barbara Mission
Founded 1786, the current building was completed in 1820. The Wikipedia Mission Santa Barbara page is a great place to start.
The official Old Mission Santa Barbara site has a short narrative history of the mission as well.
- A walking tour of downtown Santa Barbara churches, as in this illustrated “Urban Hikers” report, offers visitors a good impression of the city’s Christian history, starting with the Mission.
- The Santa Barbara County Courthouse
Constructed 1926-29 after the 1925 earthquake and located at the corner of Anacapa and Anapamu Streets, is one of the city’s prime attractions (the photo at top of this page was taken from its tower).
- The local internet news site edhat.com lists the Top Five Reasons To Visit the Courthouse on a page with plenty of pictures and links to a number of interesting stories.
- Edhat’s garden columnist Billy Goodnick published this excellent illustrated discussion of the courthouse garden’s botanical treasures in September 2010. It ends with his discovery of a few “Crimes Against Horticulture” among the gems.
- The SB train station with its famous huge Moreton Bay Fig tree are very worth seeing. You’ll be surprised to learn that this fig, with a close to 200′ diameter crown, was planted in 1958 from seed.
- Memorable Events
- This list of “Memorable Events in S.B.’s History: A Chronology“ (from 542 to 1990, by Michael Redmon) was published in 2007 in the SB Independent, if you want just a short overview.
- When did Europeans first set foot in Santa Barbara? — August 20, 1769.
This Wishbone (Bell) Tower in Hope Ranch marks the spot.
- The January 1969 SB Oil Spill that spawned the US environmental movement and the first Earth Day is depicted in this Youth Cinemedia short film, which starts with a brief chronology of oil drilling in the area
- Earthquakes in Santa Barbara
In Jan. 2005 the LA Times did an informative story on the magnitude7.2 1812 earthquake centered in the Channel (pdf): 1812 California Tsunami Carried a Ship Inland: An undersea quake in the Santa Barbara Channel sent a powerful wave smashing into the coast, carrying a ship half a mile inland.” It is hosted on the USC Tsunami site.
This day-by-day series on the 1925 earthquake and its aftermath by local historian Neal Graffy is very informative.
This neat Santa Barbara Earthquake History website with information about the 1812, 1857, 1902, 1925, 1927 and 1978 quakes, and lots of photographs of the 1925 and 1978 ones is maintained by the UCSB Institute for Crustal Studies. For each earthquake in the list, there is a list of links to full text primary sources from travelers and newspapers.
Last but not least, the UCSB Map and Imagery Library put online a collection of 480 photographs taken shortly after the 1925 quake.
- World War II Submarine Attack
One of the most famous incidents in Santa Barbara’s history occurred on Feb. 23, 1942, when a Japanese submarine shelled oil drilling infrastructure just north of Santa Barbara at 7pm (during one of President Roosevelt’s fireside chats).
There are several sites with information about this incident, including:
- “The Shelling of Ellwood,” an official report from The California State Military Museum.
- Japanese Sub’s Coastal Shelling Unnerved Nation 50 Years Ago,” This Feb. 1992 AP wire story newspaper report (courtesy of google newspapers) has a photo and is perhaps the most informative. (The link at right to the Daily News version offers a photo of J.J. Hollister at the dedication of a memorial.)
- “A Beach the Japanese Shelled Japanese in 1942” This Feb. 2, 1988 LA Times article contains a great description of a hike from UCSB to that area as well.
- When the Japanese Attacked Santa Barbara,” by Ron Kurtus, 2001. (Don’t miss the reader comments; the cactus story was later debunked by local columnist Barney Brantigham.)
- “SB Remembers Submarine Strike,” Feb. 24, 2011 article in the UCSB Daily Nexus
- “Submarine Shelling of Ellwood Oil Field in 1942: Myths Can Obscure Consequences of 70-Year-Old Event,” Oct. 2, 2011 article by Vic Cox in the SB Independent
- Neal Graffy writes a column on tidbits from Santa Barbara’s past, such as old photographs:
- “Just an old photo“: “It was just an old photograph of a Santa Barbara house and I probably could have left it at that. But for me, there’s a thousand words behind each photograph – you just have to find them…”
This well-researched story about the house at the corner of Victoria and Dela Vina offers a fascinating glance into the city’s evolution.
- Or this column on a 1904 guidebook on what to do in Santa Barbara: “… No cars, cell phones, gaming devices, internet, radio, television or movies. What the heck did they or even the local populace do to keep from going mad with all the time they had to apparently do absolutely nothing?”
- Graffy’s January 2011 story about past floods with pictures from the 1914 deluge is excellent. Yes, it really does rain in paradise, every now and then!
- For a complete listing of Graffy’s columns on the local news site edhat.com, go to the
edhat HISTORY page.
- Graffy is also the author of the 2008 book Street Names of Santa Barbara ($9.95 at his website, www.elbarbareno.com):”In 1851 the Town Council of Santa Barbara appointed a committee to apply names to the fifty-two new streets being created from ‘…the front of the Mission Gardens to the sea and from hill to hill on each side…’
“Unlike other towns whose streets bore the unimaginative A – Z, numbers, trees or names of presidents, they gave names to our streets that portrayed the geography and botany of our town, honored the Chumash, early settlers, governors, and showed a distinct sense of humor and in some cases, delightful sarcasm.”
Street Names of Santa Barbara
“A sense of the past hangs over Santa Barbara like a strong perfume, but by the time most residents can differentiate between the Carrillos and Castillos–or discover that former Mexican Governor Micheltorena’s poor battle record was caused by a killer case of ‘rhoids …”
- Walker A. Tompkins was a reporter and staff writer for the Santa Barbara News-Press from 1957 to 1973. He wrote the popular Santa Barbara Yesterdays column for the paper and a book of the same name. His daily radio vignettes, also titled Santa Barbara Yesterdays, aired for 20 years on a local station. He later wrote a twelve-pamphlet series, Santa Barbara Neighborhoods, published from 1977 to 1980. They were republished in 1989 in a single volume Santa Barbara Neighborhoods (Santa Barbara Board of Realtors, 1989), which can sometimes be found on amazon.com. These are fascinating and entertaining vignettes. (I’ve ordered the book and will post a pdf at some point.
- Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, also writes a local historical column, History 101, for the Santa Barbara Independent weekly newspaper.
See, for instance, this Nov. 2009 column about Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan: “What buildings did architect Julia Morgan design in Santa Barbara?“:
“Julia Morgan was a trailblazer in her chosen field of architecture. She was one of the first women to receive an engineering degree from the University of California and was the first woman to earn an architectural degree from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Part of a highly distinguished career, her most famous work is the immense complex she designed for William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon. She also left her mark in Santa Barbara.
“Morgan was born in 1872 in San Francisco …”
If you would like to suggest additional links (I’m most interested in web content, not institutions), please email them to Prof. Harold Marcuse.
- The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum‘s main floor Exhibits Page gives a bit of information about the main themes of local maritime history, although for real content, you’ll have to visit the museum itself.
- Make a section on local hikes
- Since these links are useful for people wanting tours of Santa Barbara, it is worth pointing out that the amphibious Land Shark tours are a great way to get an overview of what Santa Barbara has to offer.
- “New Santa Barbara Museum Serves Up an Eclectic Archive of Artifacts” Dec. 9, 2010 SB Independent article about a former surf museum that now displays cool artifacts from Santa Barbara’s history. (google maps location)
hm 3/14/10, 3/21/10, 3/25/10, 5/30, 7/17, 8/22, 8/27, 9/26, 10/5, 10/26, 12/12, 1/2/11, 2/25, 3/27
10/17/11. hm 4/6/2013, 4/8; 11/9/14; 4/8/15