It was April 1960, and I’d only been in town a month, with a new job on the Santa Barbara News-Press copy desk. With my wife, Angela, year-old Barclay, and baby Frances, I’d found an apartment at the foot of Linden Avenue in Carpinteria.
Then I pulled off another of my seemingly foolish moves. The first was driving from Chicago to California to seek my fortune in Golden State journalism, with only a few hundred dollars to my name and no job waiting. By luck, I found work at T.M. Storke’s News-Press. The second foolish move was an odd desire to buy a home in a city I wasn’t sure I could afford while working a job I wasn’t sure I would like or could hack, T.M. being a famous tyrant.
So, with just a month on the job, I walked into Executive Editor Paul Veblen’s office and asked if there was any chance he would keep me. I’d worked on two papers but never on the copy desk of a genuine daily newspaper. “Go ahead and buy a house,” he assured me.
I’d been raised in apartments back on Chicago’s South Side, but my mother kept pushing, times got better, and my parents actually achieved the American Dream in the planned suburban community of Park Forest. So I felt the itch. I wanted my children — soon to be four — to have a backyard to play in, a safe street to ride their bikes in, and one of those modern, one-story California schools to learn in.
So Angela and I drove around in Goleta, where new tracts were rising where lemon orchards once grew. We were almost too late. Only a few houses remained unsold in Sunkist Plaza Estates on Valdez Avenue, just off Calle Real a few blocks from Fairview Avenue. It was on the far side of the tract from La Patera School but had a huge backyard separated from a creek by a chain-link fence.
I borrowed the down payment — I forget how much, but less than $1,000 — from my mother. The day came when Angela and I sat with other young families in a sales office and signed papers to become homeowners. The price: $16,900. With it came a staggering monthly payment: $124, including property tax, insurance, and principal.
With the first of every month came the struggle to rush to the bank, cash my paycheck, and make the house payment. We had bought a house, but one that wasn’t well equipped. It had no grassy yard, no patio, and no built-ins: no stove, refrigerator, carpeting, or a stick of furniture. So before we could move in, I made a trip to Montgomery Ward in downtown Santa Barbara and bought beds and everything else — all on time, of course.
In the years to come, Wendy and Kenneth came along, and I recall all four of them climbing around on a used swing set I’d picked up somewhere. The neighborhood was full of kids. My children still recite stories of those days in Goleta, the cats that came and went, the bamboo that threatened to engulf the yard, the neighbor’s bomb shelter.
I remember running my fingers along the rough, crumbly stucco walls and thinking, “In a few years, they’ll tear these homes down and build real ones.” But not only do they still stand, in good shape, sheltering a new generation of families, but sell for around $700,000, plus or minus.
We, however, moved on in a dozen years to a North Goleta home that cost a staggering $50,000. Never in my life did I think I’d ever live in a $50,000 home. Ah, how little did any of us realize what the times would bring.
Now when the family gathers, we swap stories of life back in the tract house on Valdez Avenue and agree that back then, when the children were little, were our happiest times.