By Cheri Rae
I haven’t figured out yet what make me feel sicker—a recent bout with the flu or watching City Council Members admit their ignorance of Santa Barbara history.
During the hearing about the possibility of naming the new airport terminal for two hugely important figures in Santa Barbara—Dwight Murphy and Judge John T. Rickard—the information provided by the public seemed to simply astonish and overwhelm those who have been elected to serve this city.
One after another, these city leaders acknowledged they knew virtually nothing about the luminaries who helped shape this city in so many ways. There is no excuse for not knowing anything about these important citizens. Both men appear in Thomas M. Storke’s book, “California Editor.” And Dwight Murphy is mentioned in The American Guide Series classic “Santa Barbara,” as well as several of Walker A. Tompkins collections.
Ed Hartfeld published his lovely, information-packed hardcover biography about Dwight Murphy, “California’s Knight on a Golden Horse” way back in 2007. Full disclosure: I helped him find the right designer for the book and he returned the favor, by kindly inscribing my copy, “In appreciation of your efforts to save Santa Barbara.”
And the contributions of Judge Rickard, a Santa Barbara native descended from the Orena and the De La Guerra families who served this city as a distinguished Mayor of great vision and leadership, have long been known by ordinary citizens throughout the community. His name appears on the plaque at the city’s Spencer Adams Recreation Park. Anyone know where that is?
There was a time when the City of Santa Barbara collaborated on projects with local publishers in order to get the history of the community written, bound and easily available to the citizenry. But that hasn’t happened in a long time—and there aren’t many local publishers left, either. Most left town years ago, unable to make a living anymore in a city that seemed hell-bent on attracting chain stores at the expense of local businesses. But that’s another story.
The failure of our “leaders” to comprehend the significance of important persons of the past has a great deal to do with the present. Now I understand how so many awful official decisions can be made in the David Gebhard Public Meeting Room; how the “community mosaic” concept of Bernhard Hoffmann could be so easily demolished; how the actual historic stone wall around the estate of A. Boyd Doremus could be so easily be obliterated—over the wishes of the public—without a blink of an official eye.
They don’t even know who did what in the community they are supposed to serve.
Shouldn’t our elected representatives be required to demonstrate even rudimentary knowledge about Santa Barbara history before they qualify to run for office?
There are many, many knowledgeable community members who toil regularly to protect and preserve the legacies, save the sites and tell the stories. But they don’t get paid when they prepare their presentations and share their vast knowledge and make their cases.
And they get scoffed at with alarming regularity by uncomprehending electeds—whose knowledge of the history of the community apparently doesn’t extend much past dressing up in their Fiesta finery and shouting “Viva La!” in the annual parade.