My husband is generations deep in Santa Barbara.
His great grandfather settled in the town of Fillmore at the end of 19th Century, buying hundreds of areas for his five sons who became the first orange growers for Sunkist, living an idyllic life among the fragrant orange groves. Great Grandfather Burson came to California around the same time that the first owners of the Miramar arrived. The Burson clan and the Doultons, who turned the land where the Miramar now stands—er, once stood into a resort, became fast friends. The “Five Brothers Oranges” fueled thousands of Miramar’s guests over two centuries.
Doug’s maternal grandmother, Dorothy (Lane) Burson grew up on Redondo Beach in Southern California. The Miramar became the “last stop on the way home” as she and her sister traveled from UC Berkeley, where they were getting their masters degrees. When Dorothy married Walter( Butch) Burson in 1937, the Miramar became the place for Sunday brunches and anniversary parties.
When Doug Jacoby and I were married, and left Santa Barbara for better careers in the Bay Area, we left family and our hearts in “God’s country.” My husband never fully recovered from leaving his beloved home town.
So when the holidays came around and space was short, we found that the Miramar was the ideal place for us. Soon the Miramar became our home away from home. Every October, Douglas would get a call from the manager to confirm our Christmas reservation. (I think this was because Doug always gave the management a huge box of Joseph Schmitt Chocolate Truffles for a Christmas present.)
We had a specific room – Room 512. It was between the freeway and the train tracks. Doug wanted to make sure the ocean waves pounding on the beach were the dominant sound. (We couldn’t hear the freeway as much as the train whistles – but that’s Montecito for you.) There was a naturally fenced back yard for our young son to play in, and the first thing my husband would do is adorn the 15-foot-high shrub in Christmas lights. Every morning someone would comment on how they loved the Christmas lights and he would beam. For a young family, it was ideal. My first duty on our first morning was to find cases of Fillmore oranges. Doug wasn’t truly home until he awoke in the morning and found me squeezing his oranges. My son would awaken and we would run down to the beach to count how many dolphins we could see.
On our way to breakfast, and every time I was in the lobby, I would look in amazement at the guest book. My favorite movie stars were in that book: Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and all those glorious silent movie stars. The restaurant wait staff knew exactly how my husband liked his omelets, and of course the bartender knew exactly how to make his Cuervo gold margarita on the rocks.
Then it was on to my tennis lessons, given by Hilbert. Hilbert was a true playboy. By this time, he was well into his seventies. He taught me how to serve and volley, and the last 15 minutes we would always talk about his fascinating life. He was great friends with the Shah of Iran’s sister’s husband. He told me about the now infamous copper fence the princess had custom-made to surround her Hope Ranch property, and about all the wonderful parties (and illicit affairs) at the Montecito Club where he was the resident tennis pro for many, many years. Hilbert died as he lived—on the tennis courts.
We hardly ever left the grounds; everyone came to us. My mother-in-law would drop by with homemade Christmas cookies and Rudy’s burritos from Haley Street. My brother-in-law would pick up a tennis game and see how my lessons were coming along, and Doug’s beloved grandmother would watch as her grandsons and great grandson played, laughing at their foolishness. (Gram was a high school English teacher and girl’s tennis team coach at Filmore High.)
Sometimes we were fortunate enough to be in town for high-goal polo season. We’d see a game, catch up with old friends, then head back for cocktails at the Miramar bar and a gorgeous walk on the beach at sunset.
I’d often stop and chat with the Miramar’s owner, June G. Outhwaite?. By this time, the matriarch was in a wheelchair and she would tell me that it gave her great joy seeing all the generations of families and young children enjoying her beloved home. She stressed that having families being able to enjoy the accommodations was the main reason for her keeping the rates in check. She marveled that her childhood playmates’ great-grandchildren were guests and it was source of great pride to her. As we relaxed and enjoyed our stay, there was always the knowledge that it would all come to an end with her death.
Our last visit to the Miramar was bittersweet, and leavened by favorite memory of the Miramar: my husband dumpster diving for a lost Christmas toy. When my son was three, he loved Baby Bop from the children’s show Barney. I searched high and low for Baby Bop as a Santa present. While Doug was checking out, I made the horrifying discovery that Baby Bop had gotten tossed into the garbage. As our son sat in his car seat screaming, car loaded, I broke the news to my husband. There was no way he was going to drive 600 miles with a screaming kid in the back seat. After four dumpsters filled to the brim with Christmas wrappings, and other far more disgusting garbage, he finally emerged triumphant with Baby Bop in hand.
When we found out that Ian Schrager had purchased the Miramar we knew that it was the end. We were horrified as the beautiful resort sank into disrepair. Couldn’t he have just left it alone while the permit process went through—or not, in this case? I’d joke that Studio 54 had addled his brain.
Family would keep us posted on all the infighting and every time we came home we’d drive past the ruined old gal, we’d lament on her deterioration.
Finally, Doug jumped the fence and removed our room numbers and presented them as a Christmas present for me. That night, I dreamed I was back in our room 512, with the sound of ocean waves pounding on the beach, Hilbert on the tennis courts, Jacques (the lifegurard) chasing all the local kids out of the pool, and Mrs. Outhwaite watching all the children play.
I cannot imagine their leaving.