This residential enclave of free spirits, located in the hills above Montecito in an area bounded by Gibraltar Road on the north and Coyote Road to the south, with Mountain Drive forming the spine, began to coalesce in the years following World War II. The driving force behind its formation was Robert McKee Hyde, known to all as Bobby.
Hyde was the son of Robert Wilson Hyde, who was a major figure in the West Coast arts and crafts movement shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Bobby Hyde was born in Chicago in 1900 and, upon the family’s move west two years later, spent part of his childhood in Santa Barbara. After traveling in Europe, Hyde settled in New York state and into a career as a writer. In 1932 he returned to Santa Barbara to reunite with and marry Florence Tuckerman, with whom he had fallen in love when he was 21.
In 1940, Hyde began buying property in the Mountain Drive area but did not start to build until after the end of World War II. In the late 1940s, Hyde began selling one-acre parcels to folks he felt would be compatible neighbors. In these days before uniform building codes, residents were free to build as the spirit moved them, using whatever was at hand for construction material. By the mid-1950s some 20 families had joined the Hydes, increasing to around 40 families by the early 1960s.
The spirit of the community was bohemian, a “live-and-let-live” feel that fostered a close-knit camaraderie. Community interaction often centered on a growing number of celebrations and festivals. Probably the best-known was the Wine Stomp, begun in 1952, in which the Wine Queen selected that year was joined in the large wine vat by neighbors to crush that season’s harvest. Other celebrations included Twelfth Night in December, Halloween, the 4th of July picnic, Bastille Day, and Robert Burns’s birthday. The crafts festival, Pot Wars, begun in 1962, attracted so many people to enjoy the homemade wares, music, and food, the county shut it down in 1967 due to traffic concerns.
Fourteen houses were destroyed in the 1964 Coyote Fire, including the Hyde home. The Hydes moved back into town, and Bobby concentrated his energies on his property in the Painted Cave area, where, to get around building codes, he constructed a lake and floated upon it a houseboat, a structure that did not come under county regulations.
Hollywood came to Mountain Drive in 1965, when director John Frankenheimer’s company filmed a grape-stomping bacchanal scene for the movie Seconds. In the film, a straight-laced businessman, played by Rock Hudson, is encouraged to take part in the festivities by his free-spirited companion, played by Salome Jens, and eventually is literally thrown into the vat by the celebrants. Even Frankenheimer takes part towards the end. The company paid the community $5,000 to stage the stomp, which undoubtedly came in handy in the aftermath of the fire.
Bobby Hyde died in 1969, but the spirit he engendered may still be felt in what must be one of the most unique communities to take root on the South Coast.
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 Santa Barbara Independent, 122 West Figueroa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.