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Santa Barbara’s El Pueblo Viejo Explored

Coauthor of New Guide Mary Louise Days Discusses Exhaustive Book


“Considering its relative remoteness, and smallness, it is surprising how important a position Santa Barbara has occupied within the history of 20th-century American planning and architecture.” Those were the words that architectural historian David Gebhard wrote in his 1986 introduction to Santa Barbara: A Guide to El Pueblo Viejo, a book commissioned by the city following an 11-year survey of the downtown neighborhoods where Spanish Colonial Revival was mandated as the guiding design principle following the earthquake of 1925.  

Thirty years later, Gebhard’s words ring truer than ever: Even fewer American cities feature such a uniform look and feel as Santa Barbara’s El Pueblo Viejo, which extends roughly from the Old Mission, through downtown, and to the waterfront. To celebrate that reality once again, the nonprofit Santa Barbara Conservancy decided to dust off that popular guide, update and expand its information and photography, and publish the second edition, which was released in November.

“I’m tired, so I guess it’s finally hit me,” said coauthor Mary Louise Days the morning after December’s First Thursday release party at Casa de la Guerra. “But we have to keep going. Boy, we’re sure selling books!”

Responsible for resurveying much of the town, explaining the street names, raising funds, and coordinating the team that worked on this edition over the past four years, Days was also instrumental in the first edition. That one was funded, in part, by the legendary Pearl Chase, who passed away in 1979 after decades of fighting to protect Santa Barbara’s strict design. “It was a popular seller,” said Days, who was also proud that it became a reference for newspapers and libraries. “They use the book a great deal,” she said. “We’re pleased with that.”

The new, nearly 300-page edition features 262 individual structures around town, from small adobes and hidden fountains to large Upper East mansions and State Street storefronts. The brief descriptions have been enhanced with modern information, and the images combine archival shots with new photography by retired architect David Jones. And, given the immense effort, Days is especially proud of the affordable price tag: just $19.95, compared to $9.95 from 1986. “Given the 30-year timespan,” said Days, “we think that’s good.”

Santa Barbara: A Guide to El Pueblo Viejo is for sale at El Presidio’s gift shop,the S.B. Visitor Center, and numerous bookstores around town. See sbconservancy.com.



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