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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Revolution against Spanish rule breaks out in Mexico.
One of the largest earthquakes in California history devastates Santa Barbara. Tidal wave reaches the area of present-day Anapamu Street.
Ship’s carpenter Daniel Call jumps ship and becomes Santa Barbara’s first American settler.
Mexico wins independence from Spain and California now comes under Mexican authority.
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.
The first meeting of a town council marks the change from military to civilian government in Santa Barbara.
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.
The Gold Rush opens the gates of California to a flood of newcomers trying to strike it rich.
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.)
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.
The Weekly Gazette becomes the city’s first newspaper.
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.
Population is 2,351.
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.
Population is 2,970.
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.
Santa Barbara and Ventura counties become separate entities.
The first horse-drawn streetcar line begins service.
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.
Santa Barbara High School graduates its first senior class.
Population is 3,460.
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.
Santa Barbara gets its first electric lights.
Cottage Hospital opens. President Benjamin Harrison visits the city and is greeted with a floral parade.
The completion of the first electric streetcar line will eventually spell the end of the horse-drawn cars.
Population is 6,587.
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.
The 600-room Potter Hotel opens for business at West Beach. President Theodore Roosevelt visits.
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.
The Arlington Hotel is consumed by fire. A second Arlington, built in the Mission Revival architectural style, will rise in its place.
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.
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.
Population is 19,441.
The Potter Hotel is destroyed by fire. There is talk of arson, but no definitive evidence ever comes to light.
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.
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.
The highlight of this year’s Fiesta is the official dedication of the new Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
A major oil field is discovered in the Ellwood area. Population is 33,613.
The Arlington Theatre, built upon the site of the Arlington Hotel, opens for business.
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.
Sansum Clinic begins operation.
Population is 34,558.
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.
Westmont College and Brooks Institute of Photography are founded.
The Music Academy of the West begins operation. The Fiesta Parade is renamed El Desfile Historico.
State Street gets its first traffic lights.
Severe drought causes cancelation of Fiesta.
Population is 44,759.
Cachuma dam is completed.
UCSB moves from Alameda Padre Serra to its new home, the former Marine air station in Goleta.
Cachuma dam spills.
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.
The zoo at the Child’s Estate opens.
More than 80,000 acres are charred in the Coyote Canyon Fire.
The Downtown Business Organization is formed to promote business. La Cumbre shopping mall opens.
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.
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.
Four people die and some 15,000 acres burn in the Romero Canyon Fire.
The nation’s first Egg McMuffin is served by a McDonald’s restaurant in Santa Barbara.
The Harbor restaurant on Stearns Wharf burns down.
The Sycamore Canyon Fire destroys more than 270 homes in Santa Barbara and Montecito.
Population is 74,414.
The Red Lion Resort opens for business down at the waterfront.
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.