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The Santa Barbara Mission sustained damage after the 1925 earthquake.

The Santa Barbara Mission sustained damage after the 1925 earthquake.


Memorable Events in S.B.’s History

A Chronology


To many who sat through the interminable high school history classes learning the names of Roman emperors or what centuries denote the Middle Ages, history is nothing more than names and dates. It is to these readers, who performed the dance of joy on completing their last required history class, that we offer this history of Santa Barbara: stripped down to the bone and sinew, to names and dates.

This chronology is selective; some will be aghast at what was left out, others may be amazed at what was included, and to others it will all be new. Viva!

1542

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo is the first European to set eyes upon the Santa Barbara area as he leads his expedition northward up the channel. Cabrillo never lands here and dies in January of the following year. His is believed to be buried on San Miguel Island.

1602

The expedition of Sebastian Vizca-no sails northward through the channel on December 4, the feast day of Saint Barbara. As is the Spanish custom, Vizca-no has the channel named in her honor.

1769

Members of the Gaspar de Portola expedition are the first Europeans to set foot in the Santa Barbara area. The expedition’s scout is Jose Francisco de Ortega, who will later serve as the first commandante of the Santa Barbara Presidio.

1782

Padre Junipero Serra blesses a cross planted at the modern-day intersection of Santa Barbara and Canon Perdido streets, marking the site of the last of the four presidios established by the Spanish government in Alta California. This is considered the founding of Santa Barbara.

1786

Father Fermin Francisco de la Lasuen, presidente of the California missions, blesses the site for the Santa Barbara Mission on Saint Barbara’s feast day, December 4.

1792

The Royal Presidio is completed. George Vancouver, the first non-Spanish European to visit Santa Barbara, stops here during his first of three voyages to California.

1795

The first public school in Santa Barbara, the second in Alta California, is founded. The first school was established a year earlier in San Jose.

1810

Revolution against Spanish rule breaks out in Mexico.

1812

One of the largest earthquakes in California history devastates Santa Barbara. Tidal wave reaches the area of present-day Anapamu Street.

1816

Ship’s carpenter Daniel Call jumps ship and becomes Santa Barbara’s first American settler.

1822

Mexico wins independence from Spain and California now comes under Mexican authority.

1824

Revolt flares among the Chumash Indians at missions La Pur-sima, Santa Ines, and Santa Barbara. Rebel forces hold out at La Pur-sima for nearly a month before surrendering. The Chumash from Mission Santa Barbara flee to the Central Valley, returning four months later.

1826

The first meeting of a town council marks the change from military to civilian government in Santa Barbara.

1846

The Mexican-American War breaks out. Commodore Robert Stockton captures Santa Barbara. Mexican forces retake the city before it finally falls to American forces under the command of John C. Fremont.

1849

The Gold Rush opens the gates of California to a flood of newcomers trying to strike it rich.

1850

California is admitted to the union as the 31st state. Santa Barbara County and the City of Santa Barbara are established. At this time, Santa Barbara County also includes Ventura County. (Population for the entire county: 1,185.)

1851

Salisbury Haley is hired by the common council of the city to survey and lay out a street grid. Mistakes in the survey will lead to years of property disputes and litigation.

1855

The Weekly Gazette becomes the city’s first newspaper.

1856

The Santa Barbara lighthouse begins operation. Julia Williams will begin 40-year career as lighthouse keeper in 1865. The (wo)manned lighthouse, destroyed in the 1925 earthquake, will be replaced by an automated light.

1860

Population is 2,351.

1862-4

Following a winter of flooding, the county is wracked by a two-year drought that virtually destroys the cattle industry, reducing the herds in Santa Barbara County from some 300,000 head to 5,000 animals.

1870

Population is 2,970.

1872

Jose Lobero opens his opera house at Anacapa and Canon Perdido streets. The completion of Stearns Wharf allows deep-draught vessels to call at Santa Barbara. Gas lighting illuminates State Street, which extends for the first time from the sea all the way to Mission Street.

1873

Santa Barbara and Ventura counties become separate entities.

1875

The first horse-drawn streetcar line begins service.

1876

The Arlington Hotel, the city’s first luxury destination resort, opens its doors on State Street between Victoria and Sola streets. Tourism will become ever more important to the city’s economy.

1878

Santa Barbara High School graduates its first senior class.

1880

Population is 3,460.

1886

The railroad reaches Santa Barbara from the south. The city celebrates the centennial of the Old Mission with a grand festival and parade. Fifteen people subscribe to the first telephone service in the city.

1887

Santa Barbara gets its first electric lights.

1891

Cottage Hospital opens. President Benjamin Harrison visits the city and is greeted with a floral parade.

1896

The completion of the first electric streetcar line will eventually spell the end of the horse-drawn cars.

1900

Population is 6,587.

1901

The “Ellwood Gap” is closed, linking Santa Barbara by rail with northern California. Stagecoach service to the city comes to an end. President William McKinley visits.

1903

The 600-room Potter Hotel opens for business at West Beach. President Theodore Roosevelt visits.

1908

St. Francis Hospital is dedicated. The Great White Fleet of the U.S. Navy pays a visit to Santa Barbara. The city responds with a festival and grand parade down what is now Cabrillo Boulevard.

1909

The Arlington Hotel is consumed by fire. A second Arlington, built in the Mission Revival architectural style, will rise in its place.

1910

Population is 11,659. The Flying A Studio builds the largest indoor movie studio in the country in the block between State and Chapala streets, about Mission Street.

1919

After eight years in construction, Mission Tunnel is completed, connecting the city to Gibraltar Reservoir. Thought to be the answer to the city’s water needs, continued population growth will raise renewed concerns about an adequate water supply within a few years.

1920

Population is 19,441.

1921

The Potter Hotel is destroyed by fire. There is talk of arson, but no definitive evidence ever comes to light.

1924

The new Lobero Theatre, designed by George Washington Smith and Lutah Riggs, opens. The city celebrates with a week-long festival honoring the Spanish roots of the town: the beginning of the Old Spanish Days Fiesta. The Granada Theatre and El Paseo also open their doors.

1925

An earthquake estimated at 6.3 on the Richter scale rocks Santa Barbara. The city will be rebuilt with an emphasis on the Spanish-Colonial style of architecture.

1929

The highlight of this year’s Fiesta is the official dedication of the new Santa Barbara County Courthouse.

1930

A major oil field is discovered in the Ellwood area. Population is 33,613.

1931

The Arlington Theatre, built upon the site of the Arlington Hotel, opens for business.

1936

The Goleta Airport opens. Construction of the Santa Barbara County Bowl, built under the auspices of the U.S. Government’s Works Progress Administration, is completed.

1938

Sansum Clinic begins operation.

1940

Population is 34,558.

1941

Santa Barbara gears up for war. Hoff Army Hospital opens. A Japanese submarine shells the Ellwood oil fields-the only attack on the continental United States during the war-but causes very little damage.

1945

Westmont College and Brooks Institute of Photography are founded.

1946

The Music Academy of the West begins operation. The Fiesta Parade is renamed El Desfile Historico.

1947

State Street gets its first traffic lights.

1948

Severe drought causes cancelation of Fiesta.

1950

Population is 44,759.

1953

Cachuma dam is completed.

1954

UCSB moves from Alameda Padre Serra to its new home, the former Marine air station in Goleta.

1958

Cachuma dam spills.

1960

El Pueblo Viejo (Old Town) ordinance is passed, protecting older buildings in the downtown area and regulating construction of new buildings. Population is 58,758.

1963

The zoo at the Child’s Estate opens.

1964

More than 80,000 acres are charred in the Coyote Canyon Fire.

1967

The Downtown Business Organization is formed to promote business. La Cumbre shopping mall opens.

1969

An oil blowout at Union Oil’s Platform A in the channel focuses the nation’s environmental concerns on Santa Barbara, and is credited with being the catalyst for the modern environmental movement.

1970

Protests at UCSB against the Vietnam War reach their climax with the burning of the Bank of America in Isla Vista. Population is 70,215.

1971

Four people die and some 15,000 acres burn in the Romero Canyon Fire.

1972

The nation’s first Egg McMuffin is served by a McDonald’s restaurant in Santa Barbara.

1973

The Harbor restaurant on Stearns Wharf burns down.

1977

The Sycamore Canyon Fire destroys more than 270 homes in Santa Barbara and Montecito.

1980

Population is 74,414.

1987

The Red Lion Resort opens for business down at the waterfront.

1990

The Painted Cave Fire destroys more than 600 structures in the most destructive fire in the city’s history. A record low temperature of 20 degrees is recorded. The Paseo Nuevo shopping mall opens downtown. Population is 85,571.

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