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The Callahan Building

Hotelier Neal Callahan’s Hospitality Site


This four-story building, at 527-535 State Street, was built shortly after the June 1925 earthquake. It is named after Neal Callahan, one of Santa Barbara’s most innovative early hoteliers. Callahan arrived here in the 1890s, as tourism became an ever more important part of the area’s economy.

Callahan was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1869, one of 13 children. His father was a grain merchant and operated a hotel. After the family moved to Cleveland, young Neal decided to follow his father into the hospitality business. He worked in two Cleveland hotels owned by his brother-in-law, John Brennan. When Brennan relocated to Los Angeles in the late 1880s, Callahan came west with him and became a clerk in the Hoffman House, one of only five hotels in the City of the Angels.

In 1894, he decided to strike out on his own and headed for Santa Barbara. He became manager of the New Morris House, on the corner of State and Haley streets, which catered to excursionist groups, i.e., groups that took advantage of special package rates offered by Southern Pacific. Shortly thereafter, he became proprietor of the Mascarel Hotel at State and Cota streets.

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S.B. Historical Museum

Callahan saw a huge opportunity with the completion of the new Southern Pacific depot at 209 State Street in 1905. What better place to open a new hotel than next door? The Hotel Neal was built in the Mission revival style to match that of the new station. A restaurant occupied the ground floor and was initially named the Southern Pacific Eating House.

Both the Mascarel and the Neal catered to the middle classes, leaving the upper-crust clientele to the luxury Arlington and Potter hotels. Both of Callahan’s establishments were successes, and he now looked to other horizons.

In late 1916, he purchased the Mascarel outright. He had the old hotel remodeled from top to bottom, inside and out. He took special pains to make the hotel as fireproof as possible. The 1909 fire that had destroyed the first Arlington Hotel must have been on his mind, and he was aware that one of the previous hotels on the Mascarel site had also burned. The newly named Barbara Hotel opened in 1917. Among the hotel’s features was an “auto bus” to ferry guests to and from the train depot.

The earthquake of June 1925 badly damaged the hotel, and Callahan spent about $300,000 to rebuild, virtually from the ground up. He engaged Roland Sauter and E. Keith Lockard to design the building in the Spanish colonial revival style. This duo also redesigned the Neal Hotel after the earthquake. The two architects were best known for their previous work on the City Hall.

The new 125-room hotel had a barber shop, cigar stand, newsstand, and restaurant. Fifty of the rooms had radio speakers connected to a receiving set located in the hotel office. A single room cost $2 to $4, while a double went for $3 to $6. More than 4,000 people turned out for the grand opening in January 1926.

Over the years, the building has been put to a number of uses. General Electric Tempo leased it for use as a “think tank” from 1958-1966. It housed the Schooner Inn for a time. Today, the Hotel Santa Barbara occupies the site, harkening back to the days of Neal Callahan and his years of “successfully entertaining the migrating public.”

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Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, will answer your questions about Santa Barbara’s history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

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