By Cheri Rae
Recent focus on the dead, dying and dried-out Italian Stone Pines of Anapamu Street failed to provide much historic context for how they got here in the first place. Yet they still manage to hold on, 77 years after the death of Dr. Augustus Boyd Doremus, the man who planted them.
Dr. Doremus was born on the Fourth of July, a Civil War veteran and a dentist, with a passion for horticulture. He moved to Santa Barbara for his health and lived to be 95 years old. Doremus is known as the “Father of Santa Barbara’s Parks.”
When Dr. Doremus and his wife purchased a huge lot in the 600 block of Anapamu Street in 1891, the property was described as “a barren half-block.” But even before their house was completed, they set about creating a garden on the hillside that was, “filled with unusual flora planted with the thought of special groupings around an expansive view. The garden was much admired by the many visitors, including outstanding horticulturalists who came to Santa Barbara.”
Horticulture was all the rage back in those days, and Santa Barbara was a hot spot for the trading and securing of seeds and cuttings from around the world. Both Dr. Doremus and his friend Dr. Francesco Franceschi participated, and enjoyed raising the seedlings and small plants in their respective nurseries. They planted them in their own gardens, in city parks and in parkways.
In 1908, Dr. Doremus planted a double row of Italian Stone Pines seedlings on either side of the narrow dirt Anapamu Street between Milpas and Canal (now Olive) streets. In 1929, he extended the planting all the way to Garden Street using seeds sent from Europe by his brother. The trees grew strong in the Mediterranean climate.
The huge Doremus estate was a destination of garden-lovers from around the world, and a number of grand parties, weddings and other gala events were held at the large mansion and expansive gardens on the property. Standout specimen plants were regularly featured in the pages of “Santa Barbara Gardener,” edited by Lockwood and Elizabeth de Forest (parents of Kellam de Forest) and published by the Plans and Planting Committee of Santa Barbara.
After his wife passed away, Dr. Doremus moved in next door with his daughter in her equally expansive home and garden. Upon his death in 1937, he was remembered in Santa Barbara Gardener: “The spirit of gardening shone in Dr. Doremus as in few men—the spirit of zeal tempered by a sense of humor.At the age of ninety he chopped down some large trees in his garden and planted young ones for the joy of seeing them grow and he actually lived to see them good sized specimens.”
A 1981 article in Noticias noted, “Dr. Doremus was remembered by all who knew him—the bank tellers, the gardeners, the many intimate friends—as a tall, stately, kindly man, ‘a real gentleman,’ ‘a gallant and noble spirit.’ With fifty-five of his ninety-five years devoted to Santa Barbara, he is remembered as one of the city’s foremost benefactors through his work in behalf of the parks and street tree plantings. Those who know the story can scarcely go anywhere in Santa Barbara without being reminded of Dr. A. Boyd Doremus.
Widely respected in his day for bringing so much life and beauty to this city, he has largely been forgotten. Yes, there’s an old plaque in Alameda Park, but nothing near the tree-shaded street of Anapamu where he left his still-growing legacy.
The magnificent old Doremus mansions were demolished and the graceful gardens destroyed, replaced in the 1960s by two massive apartment complexes. Back then, the developer was required to preserve the historic sandstone walls and the buildings were situated around the specimen trees on the property to save as many of them as possible. Unfortunately, a few years ago, the developer who purchased the property destroyed one of the original sandstone walls, and chopped down a thriving urban forest.
The Stone Pines struggle on—as they have for decades. That 1981 article noted: “Today, the pavement reaches the bases of the trees and their roots fight the encroachment. Several of the pines have been lost, yet the remaining overarching branches are admired, and their cooling shade appreciated, by all who pass that way.”
According to a recent city report on the 79 Italian Stone Pines that remain standing, “Four are currently dead…12 are in poor health, 24 are in fair health, 26 are in good health, and 19 are in excellent health.”
It’s time we correct our long neglect of the arboreal legacy of Dr. Doremus and create some on-the-ground interpretation of this historic part of Santa Barbara, where the city’s first park superintendent once lived, worked, and extended his vision far beyond his earthly years. We may not be able to save all his trees, but we can educate and preserve his memory. Call it the A. Boyd Doremus Historic Walk. Have a ribbon-cutting, install plaques, invite residents and visitors to keep his memory green. It’s the least we owe him, this man who planted trees.