Thanks to Nick Welsh (yet again) and Adri Davies for sharing the important story of Horace McMillan, a man who dared to make a difference in Santa Barbara, when the forces of prejudice were in a much stronger position than they are today. I am chagrined by my ignorance of this amazing man. At the same time, the piece is timely as America has come to appreciate that the image of our country as post-racial is delusional.
I was particularly interested in Nick’s comments about Eric Lyons. For a number of years, I was a salesman in the office of Lyons-Ambriz Realty, comprised of Eric and his partner Joe Ambriz. They were definitely the blue-collar real estate firm, often taking a very proactive role in their work. They bought many low-cost houses in some of the more modest local neighborhoods, fixed them up doing much of the labor themselves, and worked to make them available to low- and moderate-income families of all colors.
I actually learned about Eric before I met him, through my late friend Katy Peake. She told me the story Nick related about Eric being kicked out of the local board of realtors. A native of Canada, Eric was not familiar with possible remedies for his predicament. Reading about his situation, Katy contacted him and introduced him to the local chapter of the ACLU, who represented him in successfully gaining reinstatement as a local realtor. Katy and Eric developed a close relationship through the rest of their lives, which included Eric’s daughter, Madeline, attending the Santa Barbara Community School, founded by Katy and other members of her family.
More to the point, Kary and her sister, Helen Pedotti, joined forces with Eric as straw buyers, buying homes in their own names and then reselling them to minority buyers who would have been denied in attempting to make the original purchase. Not surprisingly, Katy delighted in circumventing the local forces of racism and exclusion.
It warmed my heart to see Eric acknowledged for his chutzpah and integrity at a time when it incurred real risk for him.
A couple of sidebars: In the mid-70s, I accompanied a friend as she looked for an apartment in town. At one of the apartments there was already an interracial couple looking, announcing their intention to rent the unit. When we returned to the realtor’s office, we told him we wouldn’t being pursuing that apartment, since the other couple said they planned to rent it. The realtor gave us a sly smile and said, “That apartment’s not rented.”
Second, Kary and Helen’s brother, Herman Schott, was an important player in the development of a visionary housing development in Brentwood in the late 1940s, Crestwood Hills. Wikipedia summarizes the project like this: “Crestwood Hills began as a utopian experiment in the late 1940s by a few musicians, and eventually turned into a cooperative association that included 400 members.” Following the war, there were a number of plans created for similar progressive housing developments, many of which never quite reached fruition. Crestwood was an exemplary exception using simple, affordable designs from prominent midcentury architects. It included a preschool, park, and stable, where Herman’s son Max developed his abilities as a skilled rodeo rider, who performed in later years in the Fiesta Rodeo. Max also worked raising quarter horses with his wife, Stevie, on the Buellton ranch owned by Katy and Channing Peake.
This all took place when covenants and deed restrictions excluding minorities and other outsider groups were common and legally recognized. Herman lived on the outskirts of what would become Crestwood Hills, and chatted about it one day with his neighbor, Mrs. Henry Fonda. She expressed satisfaction that the new homes would be protected by such deed restrictions. Herman brought the conversation to a quick conclusion by noting that the Crestwood Hills association was actively working to defeat those same exclusions.