A Home for a Historian

Craftsman Home Behind A Picket Fence

Credit: Betsy J. Greene
Credit: Betsy J. Greene

Address: 212 East Mission Street

In 1915, women in California could vote in local elections, but they would not be able to vote in national elections until 1920. Nothing stopped women from buying property and having a house built. However, single women doing this were certainly in the minority.

The first owner of the home at 212 East Mission Street, Edith Codman, was the daughter of a successful Boston attorney, and she was a graduate of Radcliffe College (1891).

Edith was a woman of the great outdoors. She never married, perhaps because she was too busy hiking and gardening. She was a member of the Sierra Club, as well as Santa Barbara’s Nature Study Club and Garden Club. She first visited Santa Barbara in 1903 on a nature excursion, when she was in her early forties.

In 1915, she bought the lot at 212 East Mission Street and had this home built. While doing research on Craftsman homes, I found an article from that same year about John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, in The Craftsman magazine.

The article must have resonated with Edith: “Whoever has learned to call the western trees and wildflowers by name, holds the name of John Muir in reverence. His name will be forever associated with mountains, forests, glaciers, storms, with the big, fundamental facts of nature, and too with its delicate, evanescent, poetic beauty.”

Credit: Betsy J. Greene

In 1920, Edith was part of a group of hikers that camped on Santa Cruz Island for several days. In 1929, she donated a sample of a pine tree from that island to the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. Edith passed away in 1931, and her brother William Codman, also single, lived in the home until 1943.

The present homeowners, the Moss family, have lived here since 1986. They love the old character of their home. They told me that Dr. Edward J. Lamb and his wife, Louise, had lived in the home in the 1940s and 1950s. The homeowners pointed out that the Lambs had also lived in the house at 2405 Santa Barbara Street, which I wrote about in July 2020.

The Historian Moves In

Credit: Courtesy “Royal Rancho”

The most notable residents of the home, however, were Walker A. Tompkins and his family, who moved here in 1960. He is probably the best-known history writer in Santa Barbara. The world catalog website worldcat.org lists 79 nonfiction titles written by Tompkins. Most are history books about this area, which is more than all of us other history writers added together.

“Two-Gun” Tompkins worked for decades on a 1928 typewriter, churning out dozens of cowboy novels with titles like Ghost Mine Gold, Border Ambush, and Deadhorse Express. In 1957, he began writing a column titled Santa Barbara Yesterdays for the Santa Barbara News-Press and continued until the 1970s.

No matter where you live in Santa Barbara, Tompkins probably wrote a book about your neighborhood: Downtown, the Eastside, Goleta, the Good Land, Hope Ranch, Montecito, Old Mission/Mission Canyon, San Marcos Pass, San Roque, the Mesa, the Riviera, the Samarkand, the Waterfront, and the Westside.

Tompkins was also an amateur ham-radio operator. While he lived in this house, he published DX Brings Danger, a sci-fi novel about a ham-radio operator on San Miguel Island. I reached out to Dorothy Oksner, also an amateur radio operator. She said that DX means distant transmission by radio from and to a distant planned location like an island.

Credit: Courtesy “The Mesa Paper”

According to his obituary in 1988, Tompkins also wrote 1,200 magazine articles, stories, and scripts for radio, movies, and television, and he had his own radio show for more than 20 years.

The 212 East Mission Street home is a Craftsman-style house, which is why I was looking at The Craftsman magazine, as I mentioned earlier. The home’s wide eaves and decorative brackets are typical of this style.

The scalloped picket fence, wreathed with Peruvian lily, sits behind the prettiest parkway on the block that is ornamented with small shrubs and flagstones. These create a natural, homey look that Edith Codman would surely approve of.

Please do not disturb the residents of 212 East Mission 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.

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