A sense of the past hangs over Santa Barbara like a strong perfume, but by the time most residents can differentiate between the Carrillos and Castillos-or discover that former Mexican Governor Micheltorena’s poor battle record was caused by a killer case of ‘rhoids-they’ve been forced out of town by the one-two punch of Santa Barbara’s astronomical housing prices and low paying jobs. Previous generations had Walker “Two-Gun” Tompkins to fill in the past’s blanks before they moved on. We, in turn, have Neal Graffy. Gregarious, engaging, and chock-full o’ facts, Graffy has (until now) relied almost exclusively upon oral tradition to distill his knowledge to the masses. Now, after 15 years of dredging, digging, and procrastination, he’s published Street Names of Santa Barbara, a thin, fun little tome designed to fit neatly into one’s pocket (or Christmas stocking). Graffy recognized there’s a story behind every street name, but in this book he focuses on the tales behind Santa Barbara’s original 52, initially laid out in 1851.
Many of the streets were named after former governors, Arrellaga, Sola, Victoria, Figueroa, to name a few. Some, like Chino, San Andres, Gillespie, and San Pascual refer to combatants who played a role in the Mexican-American War. My personal favorite has to do with Valerio Street, named after a Chumash variant of Robin Hood who-gifted with the power of invisibility by the skunk spirit-stole from the rich and gave to the poor. When Valerio killed another Chumash, however, his spirit guide stripped him of his special powers. As a result, Graffy tells us, he was soon executed by the authorities and the Chumash alike. He failed to mention, however, that Valerio Street remains popular with skunks to this day, and when their babies are born, the street abounds with their vapor. Many street names owe their origin to the Chumash language. Anacapa means “mirage” or “ever changing.” Anapamu means “the rising place.” And given that the county administration building-home to the county supervisors’ offices-lies at the intersection if these two streets, there’s something especially poetic in these meanings.
Though Graffy has no signing scheduled, his book is allegedly selling like hotcakes at Chaucers, Tecolote Book Shop, Vices & Spices, and the downtown Borders. Failing that, they can be ordered online at elbarbareno.com.