Great Depression

Q: ‘What happened in Santa Barbara during the Great
Depression?’

— Susan Hahn The horrendous economic slump of the 1930s
affected all parts of the United States. Santa Barbara initially
attempted to meet the crisis with its own resources, only to find
conditions worsening year by year.

Santa Barbara’s first response to the deepening financial crisis
was to turn to the resources of charitable agencies and generous
individuals. This was in line with the approach President Herbert
Hoover urged for communities across the nation. Moreover, Santa
Barbara already had in place a tradition of institutional and
private philanthropy. In the early stages of the Depression, Santa
Barbara came to rely especially heavily upon these sources of
relief.

One of these local sources was the Citizens Unemployment Relief
Committee, founded in 1930 by four prominent philanthropists who
jointly contributed $50,000 to employ some 200 workers in
cooperation with the city’s park and street departments. One of the
projects undertaken was the cleanup of the old salt pond that today
is the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.

As 1930 slipped away, it became apparent that the economic
crisis was deepening. Between October and November 1930, the dollar
value of construction projects in and around the city dropped an
amazing 50 percent. Montecito’s elite estate owners experienced
growing financial pressures as the stock market and national
production fell. As a consequence, those who worked on these
estates were among the first to feel the misfortune of
unemployment. Property values plunged; one estate, valued at more
than $1 million at the beginning of the 1930s, sold for $35,000 at
the end of the decade.

Private sources of relief continued to be mined with diminishing
results until early 1932. It became apparent that private resources
did not have deep enough pockets to weather the crisis. The rather
weak attempts at public relief in the last months of the Hoover
administration also proved inadequate to the task. Employment
projects offered too few jobs for too short a duration.

The onset of the New Deal in conjunction with the beginning of
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency in 1932 began to transform the
economic landscape. Santa Barbara benefited from a pair of special
allies: Democratic Senator William McAdoo, who lived here
part-time, and his close friend, Santa Barbara News-Press publisher
Thomas Storke, himself a power on the local political scene. With
the influence of these two along with other prominent citizens,
Santa Barbara, by the end of the Depression, had garnered some $22
million in federal funding for a variety of projects. These
included the County Bowl, Los Baños del Mar, the National Guard
Armory, the main post office, and portions of Gibraltar Road,
colloquially called Depression Drive for a time. By the latter half
of 1938, economic conditions had significantly improved, although,
like much of the rest of the country, full recovery would not occur
until the onset of World War II.

Certainly Santa Barbara did not suffer as deeply as some other
areas of the country, but there had been pain, especially among the
lower economic classes. Some venerable institutions had fallen by
the wayside, such as the Santa Barbara Girls School, the Santa
Barbara School of the Arts, Diehl’s Grocery, and the Santa Barbara
Morning Press. By the end of the 1930s, Santa Barbara, as with the
rest of the nation, was tied into a new governmental economic
network that had developed in response to the Great Depression.

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