Rockwood, the home of the Santa Barbara Woman’s Club at 670 Mission Canyon Road, sits upon land that once belonged to the Old Mission. In 1892, Enoch J. Marsh bought 1 ½ acres from the Catholic Church. Marsh had been a teacher and a college president in Ohio; his wife, Mary, was a music teacher; and their son, Arthur, would later teach school in Mission Canyon. The Marshes loved the rural feeling of Mission Canyon and built a home with wonderful stonework. The family moved out in 1914, but retained partial ownership of the property. The home was transformed into a hotel, Rockwood.
Florence M. Weston ran the hotel until 1921 and developed a steady clientele. Its proximity to the Mission, a popular tourist attraction, helped attract visitors. Initially, rates were $2.50 a day for a single or $15 for the week. The sparsely settled charm of Mission Canyon was also a drawing card. A story made the rounds about a skunk that climbed through a bathroom window at the hotel and delivered her litter in the bathtub. Staying at Rockwood was definitely a different experience from being in town.
Ownership changed fairly frequently, but the hotel continued to do well. A new dining room was added to the house and a number of bungalows were constructed, all in a style that would retain the inn’s rustic charm.
By the mid 1920s, rates had gone up to $5 a day and $30 a week. One promotional brochure, in addition to boasting of the delights of the canyon and the excellence of the cuisine, warned that the “Rockwood Hotel and Bungalows is not a place for the sick, as chronic invalids will not be accepted.”
On the night of February 8, 1927, a fire broke out in the boiler room, and the main building and two bungalows were destroyed. A lack of water pressure apparently hindered efforts to contain the blaze. Fortunately, there were no injuries.
The Santa Barbara Woman’s Club expressed interest in buying the property to use as a new clubhouse. Founded in 1889 as the Fortnightly Club, the club had more than 500 members, and its old clubhouse was badly damaged in the 1925 earthquake. The members voted, with only three dissents, to buy the property for $17,000. Marsh, who still held interest in the property, sold at that price and then turned around and loaned the club $23,000 toward a new clubhouse.
The club retained the area architectural firm of Edwards, Plunkett & Howell to design its new home. The result was the Spanish Colonial Revival structure that graces the property today. Artist John Gamble acted as advisor for the building’s interior color scheme, a role he would later play for the Arlington Theatre. Landscape architect Lockwood de Forest Jr. was the consultant on the ground’s plantings. The streetcar company moved its Old Mission stop closer to the new clubhouse, while the county board of supervisors approved a new bridge over Mission Creek for members’ convenience.
More than 1,000 people celebrated the May 1928 opening of the Woman’s Club new home. By the end of the decade, membership in the club was well over 1,000, a number its new home could easily handle. Today, Rockwood continues to be a Mission Canyon landmark.
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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.