J.J. Hollister, whose family name is synonymous with Santa Barbara ranching, a law firm, street names, and a California city, died peacefully yesterday afternoon at the age of 83. John James Hollister III is remembered as a gentleman with a strong sense of civic duty, who made it possible for the county’s land trust to acquire his 782-acre Arroyo Hondo ranch for $6.3 million as a natural and historic preserve in 2001.
A graduate of Stanford University and Berkeley’s Boalt Hall, Hollister cofounded Hollister & Brace in 1966 with William Brace. He had lived at Arroyo Hondo, where he and his wife Barbara were married in 1970, for many years in an adobe built by the Ortega family. Presidio Commandant José Francisco Ortega had been granted Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio, of which Hondo was one canyon, by Mexico in 1827. The arroyo formed part of the thousands of acres stretching from Refugio to Pt. Conception acquired by his great-grandfather, Col. W.W. Hollister, in the 1860s with the Dibblee brothers, Thomas and Albert.
Hollister was born in San Francisco in 1932. His father was in stocks and bonds there until the Great Depression caused the family to move to the family ranch near Gaviota. A natural storyteller, Hollister shared his history of growing up on the Gaviota coast when teacher and writer Cynthia Carbone Ward brought her 6th graders to Arroyo Hondo — their Vista Del Mar schoolhouse had been at the foot of the canyon before moving to Las Cruces — during a living history project in the late 1990s.
At LivingStoriesCollective.com, the students recounted the stories he told them about the single-room Drake School he attended and how they would give sandwiches to the hobos who got off the train at Drake or Bulito. Of the Depression years, he said, “It was a type of fright that lives with you night and day. There was no government help in those days. People were despondent. It shaped my father’s life.”
“J.J. has a deep respect for the history of this land and speaks knowledgeably of the people who have lived here,” Carbone Ward wrote, “from the earliest Indian cultures to the Yanquis. He knows full well that he shares the ranch with many ghosts.” The 2.8-acre Vista Del Mar land, which reverted to his family after the school closed because of toxic pollution from the neighboring Chevron plant, was donated to the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute in 2011, the last of the Hollisters’ Gaviota holdings.
J.J. Hollister III was predeceased by his wife, Barbara, and is survived by their seven children and step-children, 13 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.