Address: 1721 Gillespie Street
It’s heartening to meet two young people who are so in love with history that they celebrated their wedding reception at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, dressed in fashions from the 1800s, and taught their guests how to waltz. Soon after this, the couple — Cameron Clark and Amy Steinfeld — bought this older fixer-upper on the Westside and began restoring it with history in mind. The home began as a simple one-story structure that faced south. The two-story portion was added later with a roofline that did not match the home’s style. The current owners remedied this. At one point, the home had been divided into apartments.
Clark and Steinfeld had heard that the home had been surrounded by orchards, but pampas grass was also cultivated in this area, judging by an article in the local paper in 1892: “If there are any people in this city who wish to see a really unusual and beautiful sight, we advise them to go out on Gillespie Street and see the beautiful field of pampas grass in full bloom.”
The Gillespie Speedway
It’s difficult to know the age of this home for certain. Although Gillespie Street is just a short walk or ride from State Street, a century ago it was on the outskirts of town, and there are few records of the home’s early residents. Although the County Assessor’s records list the age as 1905, the home is visible on an 1898 map. Nicole Hernandez, the Santa Barbara architectural historian, estimates that the home was probably built between 1890 and 1898, based on its style and its appearance on the map.
Way back when, Gillespie Street was a happening place. Residents of this home had a front row seat for the Gillespie Speedway. From 1912 to 1921, the street was closed to automobile traffic from Anapamu to Mission, and horse races were regularly held here. In an interesting parallel, Gillespie Street is scheduled to be part of the Westside Community Paseo, a proposed project to increase bike and pedestrian safety.
A Treasure Underfoot
You never know what you might uncover when you start construction work on an older home. One of my previous articles highlighted a family that found an old postcard inside the walls of their home. The 1721 Gillespie home also held a treasure from the past under the floorboards — a bottle of Dr. True’s Elixir. A 1924 ad for this medication claimed it was good for intestinal parasites, indigestion, nausea, headache, colds, and diseases of the stomach and liver. Dr. True claimed it also enabled one patient to, ahem, expel an eight-inch spotted lizard.
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The Beckstead Homestead
From the 1920s through the 1950s, this house was home to the Jesse P. Beckstead family and his relatives. The Becksteads were one of five families that settled on the Mesa in the 1800s, who were all from a tiny island in Ohio. Who knew Ohio had an island? South Bass Island is in Lake Erie, some three miles north of the Ohio shore.
The island is about 2.5 miles square and contains the town of Put-in-Bay. The five families who settled on the Mesa probably knew each other, since the island was so small. The Beckstead family owned a large farm along Cliff Drive, east of Meigs Road, and other property on the city side of the Mesa, about where the intersection of Miramonte and Carrillo is today.
Jesse P. Beckstead and his wife and family lived in this home. Jesse farmed with his father and was also owner of the Aloha Dairy. The dairy may have been located on “The Aloha Tract,” which is bounded by Gillespie Street, Robbins Street, Victoria Street, and Arrellaga Street — not far from this home.
Amy said she and Cameron love old homes. “We were attracted to the Westside neighborhood’s quaint cottages and quiet streets. The mature avocado tree caught my eye. Cameron saw the aging house as a challenge to which he could apply his woodworking skills and master the art of historic home restoration.”
Please do not disturb the residents of 1721 Gillespie Street.
Betsy J. Green is a Santa Barbara historian, and author of Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood, Santa Monica Press, 2002. Her website is betsyjgreen.com.