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The 1925 Santa Barbara Earthquake

In a related note to yesterday’s 90th anniversary of the great quake, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum is currently holding an exhibition about the 1925 Santa Barbara Earthquake for only a few more days – through Saturday, July 5th to be exact. Out of the rubble would come a new Santa Barbara with the headline, “Spanish Architecture to Rise from Ruins.” Santa Barbara Historical Museum, 136 East De la Guerra Street.

Boom! At dawn on June 29, 1925, our city shook with a 6.3 earthquake leaving much of downtown destroyed or heavily damaged.

The twin towers of Mission Santa Barbara collapsed, and eighty-five percent of the commercial buildings downtown were destroyed or badly damaged. A failed dam in the foothills released forty-five million gallons of water, and a gas company engineer became a hero when he shut off the city’s gas supply, and prevented fires like those that destroyed San Francisco twenty years earlier.

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Date in Santa Barbara History: The Great Quake

On June 29th, 1925, Santa Barbara was rocked by an earthquake…

sbmissMinor temblors were recorded as early as 3:30 am on the 29th, and they continued for three hours. Then, at at 6:44 AM, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city killing 13 people and destroying over 600 buildings.

The Wharf, Granada Theater and most homes survived in decent shape. However, much of the downtown region crumbled. Hotels collapsed, the Sheffield Dam cracked, and the Mission bell towers were wrecked, picture above. All in all, over $8 million of damage was done by the great quake of 1925.

PS: As noted in the History of the City, one of the catalysts for the architectural development of Santa Barbara was this earthquake which destroyed many commercial buildings in the business district, most of which were built of un-reinforced masonry.


Santa Barbara’s Painted Cave Fire: 25 Years Ago

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Painted Cave Fire in Santa Barbara. On June 27, 1990, at 6:02 p.m. a fire started up in the mountains near a place called Painted Cave. A long drought had made the brush very dry, and a several day heat wave was further drying up the area. Just as the sun was setting, strong winds began blowing the fire down the mountain towards town.

Two hours later the fire had done the impossible. It had traveled five miles downhill cutting a swath between Goleta and Santa Barbara setting afire entire neighborhoods in it’s path. The fire jumped the combination of Santa Barbara’s six-lane freeway and the two side roads, Calle Real and Hollister and continued burning down stores, restaurants, businesses, apartment buildings, and more houses on the other side. All roads between Santa Barbara and Goleta were blocked by the fire, it was impossible to get from one side to the other.

The Painted Cave Fire as seen from the corner of Constance and De La Vina
Entire neighborhoods were burning to the ground, hundreds of houses were lost as residents evacuated with little or no time to save any of their precious belongings. It appeared nothing but the Pacific Ocean itself was going to stop this fire. Finally, later that night, the winds died down and the fire was brought to a halt at the edge of Hope Ranch, about two miles from the ocean. Dawn broke the next morning on a very eerie sight. There was nothing but ashes where entire neighborhoods had stood the day before. 5000 acres, 440 houses, 28 apartment complexes, and 30 other structures were lost. There were still visible flames on the black burnt mountain range. The fire continued to burn in the mountains for several days before finally being extinguished.

Authorities say an incendiary device was found where the fire started — it was arson, and the arsonist has never been found. This continues to be one of the worst disasters ever in the history of Santa Barbara. - Description written by David Deley


Vintage Views of Santa Barbara

On May 29, 1955, James Dean in his Porsche Speedster, took part in the Santa Barbara Road Race. Held on airport surfaces and access roads, the Santa Barbara Road Races were the premier West Coast motorsport events during the 1950s. Legendary driver Phil Hill won the inaugural Santa Barbara race in a Ferrari 250 in 1953. The event’s proximity to Hollywood drew celebrities like Steve McQueen while this Memorial Day event was James Dean’s last race.
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History: Santa Barbara Gets a Newspaper

On this date in local history – May 24, 1855 – Santa Barbara got its first newspaper, the Santa Barbara Gazette. Printed half in Spanish and half in English, the paper offered Santa Barbara residents welcomed information ranging from legal notices and news to local happenings and bargain specials.


84 Years of the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara

Today, the Arlington Theatre celebrates its 84th birthday! The Arlington Theatre opened in 1931; but before the theatre, Arlington meant the finest in hotel accommodations (photo below) and the name has been embedded in the history of Santa Barbara.
Michael Redmon, Director of Research at the SB Historical Museum, provides history:

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Photo Credit: J W Collinge. The First Arlington Hotel: Solely for use on Santa Barbara View.


6 Years Ago Today, the Jesusita Fire

firehillsBelieve it or not, six years ago today, the Jesusita Fire broke out. First word of a fire in the hills came around 1:45 in the afternoon, a breaking report followed… “there is a very visible fire in the hills above Santa Barbara.” Preliminary reports had the fire near Tunnel Road… the first picture of the blaze was sent in from a Viewer at La Cumbre Mall (left).

For the next two weeks, the Jesusita Fire had Santa Barbara residents on edge. The skies around Santa Barbara filled with smoke and power went out throughout the city. 1,200 homes were immediately put under a mandatory evacuation order and a proclamation of local emergency was declared by Santa Barbara County. Flames, fueled by 84 degree temperatures and sun-downer winds, were no match for brave helicopter pilots. The blaze swelled from 150 acres to 8,700+ acres burned.

By May 9th, nearly 6,000 properties were under mandatory evacuation orders.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters fought the flames from the ground. Six fixed-wing aircraft, 5 helicopters, and a DC-10 jumbo jet tanker battled the blaze from above. 100% containment of the Jesusita Fire was reached on May 18th; unfortunately, 80 homes had been destroyed. The cost to fight the blaze was put at $20 million.

As for the start of the blaze, 50-year-old Craig William Ilenstine and 45-year-old Dana Neil Larsen, were allegedly using gas powered weed cutters on the trail at the origin of the fire. Both men were eventually charged with one misdemeanor count.
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People of Santa Barbara: Robert F. Winchester, Ranchero and Physician

On this date in 1845, Robert F. Winchester was born in Brewer, Maine. Winchester would become the second practicing physician in Santa Barbara.

Winchester served in the Civil War as a surgeon for the Union Army. After the war, he was drawn by the wanderlust of the West coast and moved to San Francisco. He began his practice when the smallpox epidemic drew him to San Juan Bautista and his fateful meeting with Colonel Hollister.  According to Walker A. Tomkins, “when Colonel Hollister was preparing to move his family to Santa Barbara, a devastating epidemic of smallpox broke out in the San Juan Bautista area near his sheep ranch. A young doctor, Robert Fulton Winchester, volunteered to leave his practice near San Francisco to come to the aid of the stricken community… Hollister was so impressed that he hired him to serve as the family’s personal physician and eventually set him up for business in Santa Barbara.”

As an enticement to get Dr. Winchester to come south, in 1870 Colonel Hollister purchased 1,000 acres of prime land the doctor’s name in the lush arroyo west of Ellwood Canyon. Winchester agreed to the move. After a few years, he grew tired of rural life and moved into Jose Lobero’s adobe at 110 West Carillo Street, which the Hollisters had used as temporary living quarters while the Glen Annie ranch house was being built.

In 1872, the year Stearns Wharf opened, Dr. Winchester started his practice in competition with the town’s well-established Dr. Brinkerhoff. When the Fithian Building opened at State and Ortego in 1896, Dr. Winchester leased a suite of offices. By this time, Winchester had served as Santa Barbara County coroner, county doctor and city health officer.

Dr. Wichester retired in 1925, died on March 31, 1932, and his final home was in the Trussell-Winchester Adobe, a historic landmark at 412 West Montecito Street.

October 1960 SOUTH (FRONT) ELEVATION – Trussell-Winchester, 412 West Montecito Street, Santa Barbara, CA


Happy 233rd Birthday Santa Barbara!

Today marks the 233rd anniversary of the Founding of El Real Presidio and the City of Santa Barbara by his Majesty King Carlos III of Spain.

El Presidio de Santa Bárbara was the birthplace of Santa Barbara and home to the original founding ceremony, held on April 21, 1782.

There will be a two-day celebration this weekend which will include three events: Candlelight Dinner in the Historic Presidio Chapel, Founding Day Festival, and Rancho Roundup.  The candlelight dinner in the Historic Presidio Chapel has never been done before and will be a once-in-a-lifetime evening… for more information, CLICK HERE.


Fire Razed Potter Hotel on April 13, 1921

On this date in Santa Barbara history the magnificent Potter Hotel was destroyed by a fire. Crowds watched in horror as flames quickly engulfed the Potter Hotel on April 13, 1921. The hotel opened on January 19, 1903 and cost over $1 million to build.

100+ guests were safely evacuated, but with winds gusting from fifty to eighty miles per hour, the fire spread quickly and burnt the hotel to the ground within three hours. Flying debris even set fire to Stearns Wharf and to the tall palms that line the boulevard along West Beach. Only few chimneys were left of what had been one of the finest hotels on the West Coast.

Faulty wiring was found to be the cause, although many historians suspect it was arson. Several attempts were purportedly made to burn down the hotel which had been heavily insured and was steadily losing money, and the fire department believed that all the fires they extinguished has been deliberately set. Although arson was suspected, it was never confirmed.
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