The Upham Hotel, at 1404 De la Vina Street, is one of the oldest in Southern California. It opened in 1871 as the Lincoln House, operated by the Amasa Lincoln family.
Amasa Lincoln brought his family to Santa Barbara in December 1869 in hopes of going into ranching. Born in 1833 in Massachusetts, he was a distant cousin to Abraham Lincoln. At the recommendation of W.W. Hollister, Lincoln purchased the Tajiguas Ranch located some 30 miles west of the city. The family moved there, but drought conditions made ranching difficult. Also, Mrs. Lincoln wanted a place in town, and in 1870 she bought the site upon which the Upham now stands.
Construction of the main house began the following year. The Lincolns hired Santa Barbara’s first professional architect, Peter Barber, to design the building. The result was an elegant Italianate Victorian that would serve both as a private home and a boarding house. The house boasted three indoor bathrooms, highly unusual for the time.
In 1872, a “happy” accident changed Amasa Lincoln’s life. Mortimer Cook had opened the first bank in Santa Barbara the previous October. On August 20, 1872, Cook and his wife were thrown from their carriage near the Lincoln home. Cook sustained a number of broken bones and ended up enjoying the hospitality of the Lincolns during his recovery. Cook discovered that Lincoln had been involved in banking back east and offered him a job. Lincoln became head cashier at Cook’s First National Gold Bank in 1873 and held that position until his death in 1897.
In 1880, the Lincoln family sold their home, and it passed through the hands of a number of owners until 1898, when Cyrus Upham bought it. He changed the name to The Upham and operated the hotel until 1911. Upham expanded the hotel’s operations, adding a two-story annex to the property. It later was christened the Lincoln House in honor of the first owners.
One of the most charming features of the Upham is the series of guest cottages toward the rear of the property. Four of these were built by Ira Goodbridge, who had purchased the property from Upham. The hotel has had a number of owners since then.
Writers seem to have been especially drawn to the quiet charms of the hotel. In the early 1870s, Charles Nordhoff stayed for a time. His travel books are largely credited with launching the tourist boom in Southern California. He was the grandfather of Charles Nordhoff, coauthor of Mutiny on the Bounty. Another writer who stayed at the Upham was Aldous Huxley, best known for his novel Brave New World. A visiting professor at UCSB in 1959, Huxley fondly referred to the hotel as “the dear old Upham.”
The hotel was declared a city landmark in 1980, and a bronze plaque was placed in 1996 when the hotel celebrated its 125th anniversary. Today, the Upham Hotel continues to serve guests, flavored with the ambiance of 19th-century Santa Barbara.
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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.