A Home on a Bungalow Court

Upper East Court Built in 1915

Credit: Betsy J. Green

Address: 15 East Islay Street

The earliest mention of a bungalow court that I found in California newspapers dates to 1904. And 10 years later — 1914 — I found the first article in the local paper about a bungalow court being built in Santa Barbara. Happily, that bungalow court is still here — on the southwest corner of Victoria and Laguna streets. Santa Barbara has more than a dozen bungalow courts. The word “bungalow” comes from the word “Bengal” — a region in India. The British colonists in India used the word to describe one-story cottages in India.

Credit: Betsy J. Green

A bungalow court contains stand-alone houses that share a driveway or courtyard. There are three main designs: two rows of houses with a larger house at the end, two rows of houses without a house at the end, and one row of houses. The feature of this month’s column fits in that last category — Islay Commons. It contains five homes. It was built in 1915, so it is one of the earlier bungalow courts in Santa Barbara.

Sometimes, all the cottages on a bungalow court are owned by one owner. Other times, the cottages are owned separately. George and Lindy Southwell have owned “Cottage D” — the one farthest from the street — since 2010. Because their home is at the end of the court, they have a nice-sized backyard.

A Historic Corner

The home is just a few steps from the intersection of State and Islay, a corner that has one of the most colorful histories in Santa Barbara. Historian Neal Graffy told me that in 1908, an ostrich farm was established on the southeast corner of State and Islay streets. The ostrich farm was only there for a couple of years. Neal explained that it “had a number of management and money problems and nearly a year-long lawsuit … and charges of fraud, and arrest of one of the operators for ‘cooking the books.’” (The ostriches were raised to provide feathers for women’s hats.)

 The “Flying A” cowboys rode into Santa Barbara in July 1912. |
Credit: Moving Picture World, September 14, 1912

After the ostriches flew the coop, that corner became the first home of Santa Barbara’s movie studio — the “Flying A.” In July of 1912, the citizens of Santa Barbara were amazed to see an entourage of automobiles and travel-worn cowboys on horses. The local paper wrote, “The cowboys … came clattering up State Street at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and they surely looked the real thing. They were travel stained and dusty, but rode their horses with true western grace … The horses show the best of care. Even after the long grind of a week from La Mesa [east of San Diego], when more than 250 miles were covered, they showed their sturdiness by stepping up the street in fine style.”

Unusual Names

There were numerous homeowners of the 15-D East Islay home over the decades. One long-term owner was a widow named Marie Falxa Anchordoguy, who lived in the home in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. I got curious about her name and learned that she was born in the Basque area of France. 

Islay is probably one of the most misunderstood and mispronounced of all of our street names. I contacted Dr. Jan Timbrook, Curator Emeritus of Ethnography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. 

Credit: Betsy J. Green

She told me, “‘Islay’ is the Spanish version of the Salinan Indian name for Prunis ilicifolia, the common chaparral shrub we call Holly-leaved Cherry in English. I assume the plant grew on the slopes of the Riviera in the early days when Santa Barbara streets were being named…. People today usually pronounce it ‘iz-lay’ but it should be said more like ‘ees-lie.’”

Getting back to the cottage, the Southwells told me, “What we love about the cottage we occupy is that it is off the street at the end of a long drive so enjoys lots of privacy and is quiet. The proximity to downtown Santa Barbara allows us to walk to many restaurants, coffee shops, and a corner neighborhood grocery store.”

Please do not disturb the residents of 15 E. Islay 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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