Address: 317 West Micheltorena Street
Standing on the sidewalk in front of the charming white picket fence at 317 West Micheltorena Street, there is little indication of the lush foliage that inhabits much of the home’s backyard. The yard was bare when Grace and Woodie Wilde (pronounced WILL-dee) bought the house in the mid-1980s. Little by little, and on a tight budget, they filled the backyard with many species of plants that thrive in our climate. Sitting on a small bench amid the greenery, it’s possible to imagine you are in a tropical forest. Another small home — a former carriage house — is located at the back of the 200-foot-deep property and is accessed by an alley that extends to Castillo Street.
The Home’s Origin
It’s always amusing to find the cost of building a home in Santa Barbara way back when. This one-story frame home was built in 1906 for $1,800. The 1907 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows that it was the first house built on the south side of the 300 block of West Micheltorena Street. The home is a simple Italianate style with wide eaves supported by decorative brackets. This style was most popular from 1840 to 1885, although other examples were built in the years beyond that.
An easy-to-miss feature is the decorative fish-scale shingles surrounding the louver under the tiny front gable. These shingles are reminiscent of the Victorian styles of the 1800s.
A Home for a Minister
For more than two decades, this was the home of a German Lutheran minister, Rev. David LeBahn. He was born in Germany, lived in the American Midwest for several years, and moved to Orange County for health reasons. In 1912, he began traveling to Santa Barbara twice a month to conduct services in German at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, located at De la Vina and Anapamu Streets. In 1913, he bought this home. When the space at the Adventist Church became unavailable, LeBahn held services in the home’s living room. As the congregation grew, it was necessary to knock out the wall between the living room and dining room. By 1916, however, the congregation had grown to 60 people, and it was time to look for larger quarters.
The congregation purchased a lot around the corner at 326 West Sola Street and built a one-room frame church for $2,120.50. The local paper wrote, “The new German Lutheran Church, in West Sola Street between Bath and Castillo, was dedicated yesterday with a morning and an afternoon service, both of which were attended to the full capacity of the church. Occupation of the church marks the fourth year the congregation has been established in Santa Barbara.” The paper noted that it was “a small, but attractive structure” that was “very handsomely appointed.” Services were held in German and English.
It’s interesting to note that even though the chapel was built well past the Victorian era, it also has some fish-scale shingles. Perhaps this was done as an homage to the Rev. LeBahn’s home. Obviously, the little church was well-built, because that building still stands, although the original congregation moved a couple of times as their numbers continued to increase. The congregation grew to be called the Emanuel Lutheran Church, now located at 3721 Modoc Road.
The Wildes are very fond of their home and enjoy their proximity to State Street. Woodie served in the Army, and they lived in 20 places around the world. One of their favorite spots was southern Spain, and they say that Santa Barbara has a similar climate.
Grace told me that the neighborhood had a lot of problems when they first moved here. There were abandoned shopping carts, shoes hung on utility lines to indicate drug sales, etc. Grace was very active in efforts to clean up the neighborhood and received an achievement award for making the neighborhood a pleasant place to live.
Please do not disturb the residents of 317 West Micheltorena 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.