Home with a Picture-Perfect Past
Downtown Home of a Prominent Photographer
Address: 411 West Canon Perdido Street
It all began with a hitching post. I was in the process of photographing and documenting a sandstone hitching post on the parkway and ended up chatting with the owner of this home. It’s a small Victorian cottage with attractive detailing. The shingles under the front gables form a distinctive basket-weave pattern. The most elaborate details on Victorian homes are often found just under the gables.
Once I started researching the history of the home, I learned that it was originally quite tiny. It’s common for older homes to grow over the decades. This home began as a narrow house that almost doubled in size when another portion was added on the east side of the home.
When I looked at the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, I saw that in 1892, only the western portion of the home with the front porch was shown. At the back of the property, I could see a small stable that opened onto Transfer Avenue. Then, on the next Sanborn map that was drawn in 1907, the addition appeared, and in place of the stable, there was a small house in back. These maps are available at the Gledhill Library on the Santa Barbara Historical Museum’s website.
A Prominent Photographer
One of the home’s first owners was the family of William Warren Higgins; his wife, Marion; and their six children — four girls and two boys. The home’s addition was probably completed by the time this family of eight lived here. Marion was famous for her pies, so the home must have been filled with delicious scents. As if six kids and two parents were not enough for this small home, the family also had a parrot that was known for its wisecracks.
W.W. Higgins was a prominent photographer. He was a partner in the firm Brock-Higgins that operated here in the early 1900s. He photographed some of the old adobes that were still standing and was also the official photographer for the Santa Barbara High School yearbook.
Several of his photos were used for postcards that tourists could purchase here and send to friends back home. Perhaps his most famous — or infamous — photo was of a large fountain in a park near the beach with long icicles dripping from it! He took the photo during an exceptionally cold morning in January 1913. He then produced postcards with the photo.
Reportedly, the Chamber of Commerce froze in horror and bought up all the postcards lest the world be informed that we sometimes had real weather here in Santa Barbara. Higgins also invented a camera that would pan (swivel) to place an image on a piece of film 10 inches high and 45 inches wide.
As Higgins became more successful, he and his family moved to a larger home about 1910. For a while in the 19-teens, this home was rented — for $15 a month.
An Unusual Street
The back of the property faces Transfer Avenue, a curious street that is only one block long and a mere 35 feet wide, instead of the usual 60 feet. It is also one of the few streets here named for a business — the Santa Barbara Transfer Company. Today, the street only extends from the freeway on the Westside to Castillo Street on the Eastside. In the past, the street was even shorter — Castillo Street was closed between Canon Perdido and De la Guerra streets because Mission Creek ran through that portion of the road. A small bridge crossed the creek, allowing traffic to pass along Canon Perdido Street. Today, a bridge permits traffic on both Canon Perdido Street and Castillo Street, and many people hardly notice the creek in this area.
I asked historian Neal Graffy about the Transfer Company. He told me it was a storage building for travelers’ luggage and trunks, and it occupied part of the Castillo Street right of way. The train station had been located on west Anapamu Street near the Arlington Hotel (now the Arlington Theatre). When our present station opened in 1905, the Santa Barbara Transfer Company also moved.
Please do not disturb the residents of 411 West Canon Perdido 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.
Support the Santa Barbara Independent through a long-term or a single contribution.
You must be logged in to post a comment.