Q: ‘What is the story behind the Hollister of Hollister Avenue?’ —Deanna Gregg
by Michael Redmon
William Welles Hollister was born into an Ohio farm family in 1818. After his father’s death, he and his brothers ran the family farm, iron foundry, and mercantile store until 1852, when W.W. joined a wagon train headed for California.
Hollister traveled up and down the state, spending some time in the colorfully named town of Volcano in the gold country. He returned east and convinced his brother Joseph to join him in California. With their sister Lucy they drove a flock of 4,000 sheep westward. It was a difficult trek. The party had to fight off Piute Indian attacks and the brothers had to face down a mutiny of hired hands when the latter initially refused to carry the sheep one by one across a swift-running river. Additional hazards included drought and blizzards. The Hollisters lost well over half their animals on the 15-month trip, but still deemed it a success.
The Hollisters and their various partners, most notably Albert and Thomas Dibblee, became highly successful ranchers, buying more than 140,000 acres all across the state; this included ranches in Lompoc, Gaviota, and other areas in Santa Barbara County. Their county holdings stood at more than 125,000 acres. In 1869, Hollister bought property in Tecolote Canyon in Goleta, and named his new ranch Glen Annie, after his wife, Annie James. He made the ranch an agricultural showcase, raising crops not normally associated with this area, including coffee, bananas, tea, and dates.
Hollister became one of the most prominent citizens of Santa Barbara. He was a key stockholder in such civic improvements as Stearns Wharf, the San Marcos Building, and the Lobero Theatre. For a short period the San Marcos Building housed Santa Barbara College, an institution providing elementary and high school-level education, which Hollister co-founded. Hollister owned the Arlington Hotel for a time, Santa Barbara’s first luxury hostelry. Its opening in 1875 was a watershed event in the development of tourism here. Hollister was also a prime mover in setting up the city’s first public library as well as bankrolling the Santa Barbara Press, the voice of the Republican Party in the city. In 1872, his financial support allowed José Lobero’s dream of building an opera house in Santa Barbara to become a reality. In 1875, he built his Grand Avenue from Glen Annie to town, now known as Hollister Avenue.
Hollister’s purchase of his beloved Glen Annie ended in heartache for his family. Hollister had purchased the ranch from the heirs of Nicholas Den, despite receiving some pointed advice that title to the ranch was clouded at best. In 1876, the heirs’ attorney, Thomas B. Bishop of San Francisco, filed suit to void the sale. After 14 years of legal wrangling, four years after Hollister’s death, Annie Hollister was ordered by the court to vacate the premises. As Annie left her home in upper Glen Annie Canyon for the last time, the house mysteriously burst into flames and burned to the ground, the cause never officially explained. Bishop took as his legal fee the lower portion of the ranch, which became popularly known as the Bishop Ranch.
By the early 1880s, Hollister’s health was failing, due in part to his accidentally ingesting gopher poison. He moved to the San Marcos Building, now a hotel, to be closer to his private physician, Dr. Robert Winchester (of Winchester Canyon). Hollister died at the hotel in 1886. He was laid to rest in Santa Barbara Cemetery. The funeral cortège stretched some three miles from the Arlington to the cemetery, a fitting farewell to one of Santa Barbara’s outstanding citizens.
Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Society, will answer your questions about Santa Barbara’s history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.