Communities are encouraged to save and protect local historic sites as part of our collective national heritage. Historic Landmark sites include landscapes, roads, bridges, vistas, topography, circulation patterns, and spatial relationships, such as those from the Old Mission and lower Mission Canyon to the western Riviera. Local landmarks follow national guidelines.
The East Los Olivos Street / Mission Creek Bridge / Mission Canyon Road / Alameda Padre Serra corridor is Santa Barbara’s most significant and intact historic area. It embodies visible remnants of Chumash, Mission, Mexican, Pioneer, geologic, and natural history. It must be preserved.
Mission Canyon Road, created in 1876 and once a Chumash trail, is the community’s last natural-looking north-south route to Foothill Road.
East Los Olivos Street in front of the Old Mission was purposefully designed as a graceful curve in 1912. Mission Creek Bridge, a historic landmark, was designed in 1891 by Roland Gibson Hazard — a brilliant designer of stone buildings and bridges. His daughter, Caroline, made sure her father’s walls stayed attached to the bridge when the bridge was widened in 1930.
The Mission Creek Bridge is now the oldest sandstone and masonry bridge in Southern California. It is structurally sound and in good condition per the 2017, biennial Federal Bridge Inspection Report. The 30-foot-wide deck — with a set of lanes and shoulders — meets today’s standards for such roads. The corridor’s traffic lanes have what is called a parabolic camber — the center of the road is higher than the edges. This purposeful design ensures that heavy rains drain to both sides, keeping the deck puddle free. Mission Canyon Road drainage works well.
The Laguna Street to Foothill Road corridor is one of Santa Barbara’s safest according to accident reports. It comes as close to “Vision Zero” criteria as possible: 1) few accidents; 2) injuries are nonexistent or minimal; 3) low traffic speeds; and 4) users are alert for themselves and others. Vehicles can go no faster than 20 mph over the bridge, and no faster than 25 mph at the curves. The speed limit in front of the Old Mission is 25 mph and 35 mph on Mission Canyon Road. The 35 mph speed could be reduced to 30 mph.
In 2016, the former City Council voted to accept Federal Bridge Rehabilitation Funds to widen the historic landmark Mission Creek Bridge, a plan that could cost $8 million to $10 million. The community did not and does not want this bridge altered. The City’s own Transportation Department recommended that the money, which is enough to pay for three of the six bridges demolished or damaged by the January 9, 2018, debris flows on Highway 192 in Montecito, be returned to the Federal Government. These funds were meant for bridges that were not sound. It would be unconscionable to use this money to destroy the historic integrity of a sound and safe bridge and corridor. The new City Council should vote to return this money.
The Transportation Department also stated that altering the bridge and roads will increase traffic speeds — likely resulting in more severe injuries and damage when accidents occur. Instead of the “Vision Zero” safety record now, the accident rate and injury severity would increase.
The historic engineering, scenic sycamore trees, boulders, undulating topography, and visually narrow corridor are naturally traffic calming. They are part of Santa Barbara’s heritage, a heritage whose preservation the National Park Service encourages.
Mission Canyon Road is a scenic corridor in the Mission Canyon Community Plan. It is time to make it a historic one as well.
A document nominating the entire corridor as a historic landmark can be accessed at:
We welcome everyone’s support in preserving this vital part of local, state, and national history.
The authors reside in the area. Roger Horton is a former City Council member, and Frank Frost is a former 1st District county supervisor.