322 Castillo | Credit: Mel Sahyun

The exact origins of the home at 322 Castillo Street are hidden in the past of Santa Barbara. The earliest indication of this home’s existence is an 1877 bird’s-eye-view map. Artists created this type of map by going around a city, sketching buildings block by block. Then the artists imagined how it would look if he or she were flying like a bird, since this type of aerial map was developed long before people were able to fly. The home’s original location is believed to be at about 322 Bath Street, but as mentioned, the details are not clear.

A Popular Style

If the style of this home looks familiar, that’s because it was one of the more common styles in Santa Barbara in the late 1800s. The style is often called Victorian vernacular. Simple styles such as this were often not custom-designed by an architect. Instead, builders used a set of house plans, and built one or more homes. Homes built from a kit that included plans and pre-cut lumber were another reason why identical homes appeared.

Birds eye map with 322 Castillo circa 1877 | Credit: Courtesy

The actual date that this home was built is uncertain due to the scarcity of records here way back when. In any case, the completion of Stearns Wharf in 1872 was a key event in building here, since one of the main reasons for the wharf was to facilitate the unloading of lumber. Before the wharf was built, cargo such as lumber had to be offloaded onto smaller boats or was just thrown into the water to be carried ashore with the tide.

This home’s overall style is described as a front-facing gable with a wing. The wing generally had a front porch supported by posts. There was often decorative wood trim on the posts. The front of this home has a bay window, which was a popular upgrade.

The Roadmaster’s Home

As the age of the house is unclear, the early residents of the home are not clearly known either. What is known is that for most of the home’s existence, it was occupied by a high-ranking employee of the Southern Pacific Railroad (a k a the “Esspee”) called the roadmaster. A railroad roadmaster managed a crew of employees who performed the inspection, maintenance, and repairs of the train tracks in the area. 

Between 1911 and 1954, the roadmasters who lived in this home included Charles Cole (1911-1924), Harry Watkins (1926-1951), and Thomas Reilly (1952-1954). It was during Reilly’s residence that this house was moved.

Moving Trials & Tribulations

In 1947, when Highway 101 was upgraded to a freeway, the railroad decided to move this house from 322 Bath Street to 322 Castillo Street — its present location. House moving doesn’t happen much these days, largely due to the expense of moving utility lines out of the way. But in 1947, a total of 20 homes were moved in Santa Barbara. Sometimes houses were moved in one piece; sometimes they were partially disassembled. 

The moving process for this house was apparently uneventful, but things did go wrong sometimes. There was an article in the local paper in 1948 about a man who apparently moved a house to the wrong vacant lot on the Mesa. Oops! 

Railroad support under 322 Castillo | Credit: Courtesy

In Los Angeles that same year, a group of house movers went on strike and left some houses stranded on the freeway for a while. I also found a story about a house-moving party in Hollywood in 1948. While a house was being moved to a new location, the owner invited her friends to party in the house as it moved along. (Houses were generally moved at about 3-4 miles per hour.) “While the house movers moved the house last night to a new location, guests … frolicked within. Red lanterns and candles substituted for electric lights.”

Please do not disturb the residents of this home.

Thank you to S.B. Genealogy Society members Mel Sahyun, Rick Closson, Heather McDaniel McDevitt, and John Woodward for their help in researching this home.

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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