Thomas Storke, the man who would come to be known as “Mr. Santa Barbara,” was born on this day in 1876. Although his accomplishments were many, Storke is best know for his hand in the local newspaper business. He was 24 years old when he bought the Daily Independent and over 80 when he won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism.
“In 1900, Tom Storke, age 24, borrowed $2,000 to buy the Daily Independent, weakest of the town’s three papers,” wrote the NY Times at the time of his death in 1971. “He sold it in 1909 and went back into the business in 1913 as owner of the Santa Barbara Daily News. Not long afterward he reacquired the Independent and published the combined paper as the Daily News and Independent.”
In 1932, Storke’s competition, the Santa Barbara Morning Press, was on the brink of bankruptcy, and they begged him to take over as owner. He did and merged his newspaper with the Morning Press to create today’s Santa Barbara News-Press. Continue reading…
From 1950 until November 1991, traffic lights along U.S. Highway 101 were a part of Santa Barbara life. Then, twenty three years ago today, the signal at the intersection of Anacapa Street–the last remaining traffic light on U.S. 101 between Los Angeles and San Francisco–was removed.
“When the lights were red, they were the only thing between motorists and 435 miles of free-and-open ride up and down the venerable highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco,” wrote the Los Angeles Times. “But when they were green, they seemed to stay green forever, and they divided Santa Barbara in two.” The lights actually lasted up to eight minutes and many motorists turned off their engines! Sheila Lodge, Mayor of Santa Barbara at the time, reportedly spent the interludes poring through her mail.
In 1966 our family arrived in Santa Barbara and quickly we fell in love with the jewel on the Pacific. The first house we lived in was in a tract in Goleta. In 1967, we moved to the old Parsonage next to the downtown Unitarian Church. We loved living downtown. Our three children thought we had surely come to live in paradise.
One night there was a knock on our front door. A man who we did not recognize had a petition that he was circulating around our neighborhood. It was supporting two high-rise condominiums to be built on the old El Mirasol Hotel property across the street from the church. When we inquired who was behind this project, we couldn’t get an answer.
We knew this was a big mistake, having seen other towns that had been destroyed by high-rise buildings. We felt helpless and didn’t know what to do. Then, a friend mentioned Pearl Chase. We had no idea what we were in for.
We called up Pearl Chase, who lived in the neighborhood, and told her about the petition. “I’ll be right over,” she said. When she came to our door, we knew here was a greater presence than the small white-haired lady who stood before us. She immediately took charge. She confided to us that this project was “a kick in the stomach by her friends”. Her friends were Thomas Storke, (owner of the News-Press) and Louis Lancaster, (owner of the SB Bank and Trust).
Our association with Pearl was an eye-opener for us “newcomers”. She worked seven days a week forthe beautification and preservation of Santa Barbara. She told us that when she graduated from Berkeley, she arrived home and stepped off the train full of disgust. She was ashamed of Santa Barbara’s dirt roads and vowed then and there to devote her life to the city she loved.
She had always gathered people around her who had similar goals, as she did when she formed a group called “Santa Barbara Plans and Planting.” She had a little office downtown where she sat at her desk like a queen.
But she had never had to face a battle like this one:
In our battle to keep Santa Barbara low rise, we attended endless council meetings under her direction, and tried to inform the public using her media savvy. Pearl and her small group founded SAVE OUR CITY (SOC) as a focal point for community support.
To see Pearl Chase in action with the City Council, very clearly making her viewpoint known was a lesson in power projection.
When we heard that the City Council was going to give a variance to the builders, we were shocked. We decided to advertise and ask for public financial support to take our case to the courts. We asked for money for our legal fees and the people of Santa Barbara responded enthusiastically.
One woman wrote to us that she was postponing her kitchen renovation, and sent the kitchen money to SOC. John Sink became SOC’s attorney. Two years from the day that the petitioner came to our front door, the courts decided that the so-called variance did not conform to the zoning laws, and found against the high-rise project. Pearl was a very happy woman and we and all the members of SOC were proud to have worked with her.
The site of the old El Mirasol Hotel is now a beautiful garden, thanks to the generous donation of Alice Keck Park, and the tireless efforts of Pearl Chase.
“Today we celebrate the birthday of Pearl Chase, which ought to be a day of recognition in this city that owes her so much. So much of the natural and architectural beauty we see around our community is directly attributable to her influence and vision.
In her day she wielded great power, but never held political office. Throughout her long life she was honored by organizations and individuals near and far. In her later years, the community gathered for commemorate her milestone birthdays.” – Cheri Rae
Eleven years ago this week, 340 crosses were first placed in the Santa Barbara sand to honor American soldiers killed in the Iraq War. The memorial would become known as Arlington West. By 2008, that number had ballooned and local activists and volunteers would place 3,000 crosses in the sand near Stearns Wharf every Sunday. Today we honor veterans and their families… and we offer our thanks.