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History of the Santa Barbara Coast

History of the Santa Barbara coast

There are a series of pictures that recount the history of the Santa Barbara coastal area. It covers the time period from prior to 1870 to the present day.

Pre - 1870s

Pre - 1870s Santa Barbara's Coastal Chumash   image
Santa Barbara's maritime history began thousands of years ago with the coastal Chumash, who plied their canoes, known as tomols, between the Central Coast and the Channel Islands.

View of Santa Barbara, about 1852   image
In 1852, Santa Barbara had no safe place for ships to moor.

"Juan Cabrillo's San Salvadore, 1542," by Ron Funk   image
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was the first European on record to come to the Santa Barbara Channel. Cabrillo and his crew arrived in 1542 to claim the area for the Spanish Crown.

Richard Henry Dana, about 1840   image
Dana visited Santa Barbara in 1853 and wrote about it in his book, Two Years Before the Mast. In his book, he described local southeasterly winds as "the bane of the coast of California."

1870s - 1890s

1870s - 1890s John Peck Stearns   image
Stearns came to Santa Barbara in 1867 and opened the first lumber mill. Frustrated with the rickety Chapala Street Wharf, Stearns built his own wharf that was an economic boom to Santa Barbara.

Veronica Springs Mineral Water Bottle   image
By the 1870s, Veronica Springs Mineral Water Company tapped local mineral springs and capitalized on Santa Barbara's fame as a health resort.

Bathhouse on Santa Barbara's Waterfront, about 1880s   image
This is one of many wooden bathhouses that dotted Santa Barbara's waterfront from the 1870s to 1900s.

Ships a' Calling   image
Pacific Coast Steamship Company's passenger steamer Mexico disembarks passengers amid cargo from a three-masted lumber barkentine. The lumber was used to construct Victorian homes and businesses.

Plate off the State of California, Pacific Coast Steamship Company   image
State of California called at Stearns Wharf.

Arlington Hotel, about 1880   image
The Arlington Hotel opened in 1876 to accomodate the flood of tourists arriving on steamships at Stearns Wharf. W. W. Hollister built the Arlington a mile inland to protect guests from damp sea air.

View of Santa Barbara with Chapala Street and Stearns Wharves, 1873  image
By 1873, Santa Barbara boasted two wharves, Stearns Wharf and Chapala Street Wharf. The Chapala Street Wharf was destroyed by a storm in 1878.

The Great Eucalyptus Experiment, 1888-1891  image
To reduce costly repairs, Stearns used wood from locally grown eucalyptus trees to replace old pilings underneath Stearns Wharf. The experiment was a disaster. The eucalyptus pilings quickly warped and deteriorated ane were replaced by fir pilings.

California: For Health, Pleasure, and Residence. A Book for Travellers and Settlers, by Charles Nordhoff, First edition, 1873.   image
Charles Nordhoff's popular book praised Santa Barbara's beautiful climate. His glowing descriptions attracted health-seeking tourists to Santa Barbara.

1900s - 1910s

1900s - 1910s Los Banos del Mar, 1901-1913   image
The first Los Banos del Mar opened in 1901 at the foot of Castillo Street. The popular bathhouse's two steam-heated saltwater pools let men and women bathe separately. A fire destroyed it in 1913.

"Where the Elite Retreat," Potter Hotel, about 1910   image
The Potter Hotel opened in 1903. The waterfront resort attracted wealthy tourists, some of whom purchased local estates. On April 13, 1921, a fire destroyed the grand hotel.

Aftermath of the 1914 Storm, West (now Cabrillo) Boulevard   image
On January 25, 1914, a heavy storm hit Santa Barbara. It destroyed the Santa Barbara Yacht Club at the foot of State Street and washed out railroad lines.

Pleasure Pier, 1901-1929   image
The 425-foot Pleasure Pier, built next to the Los Banos del Mar, was popular with tourists and locals who fished from the pier. It was torn down in 1929 after shifting sands from harbor construction filled the area.

Menu from Potter Hotel, 1909   image
Guests such as the Carnegies, Rockefellers, Armours, Vanderbilts, Du Ponts, Studebakers, and Fleischmanns ate in the resort's dining room. Supplies for the kitchen came from the hotel's farm and dairy.

Luggage tag from the Pacific Coast Steamship Company   image
Pacific Coast Steamship Company vessels called at Santa Barbara from the 1870s to 1916.

Stearns Wharf as a Popular Promenade, about 1908   image

Los Banos del Mar, 1915-1937   image
The second Los Banos del Mar opened on March 22, 1915. The new bathhouse had a large pool, 132 changing rooms, and 850 bathing suits for rent. It was demolished in 1937.

War Alert!   image
During World War I, sandbags were piled high on Stearns Wharf to protect the town from possible attack.

1920s - 1930s

1920s - 1930s Arlington Hotel, Before and After the 1925 Earthquake   image
The second Arlington, built on the site of the original hotel, opened in 1911. It was destroyed in the 1925 earthquake.

Max Fleischmann, Yeast Magnate   image
Local philanthropist and avid yachtsman Max Fleischmann gave Santa Barbara $630,000 to help build the city's harbor.

Max Fleischmann's Haida, about 1929   image
Fleischmann purchased his 218-foot yacht in 1928, and moored it in the Santa Barbara Harbor. It was one of his many yachts named Haida.

View of Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf, 1933   image
The harbor was completed in 1930. It interrupted the flow of sand down the coast, creating the beach seen in the foreground.

The S. Larco Fishing Company on Stearns Wharf, 1939.   image
The Larco Fishing Company was Santa Barbara's dominant fish retailer and distributor until the 1940s.

Fleischmann's Yeast Tin   image
Max Fleischmann's wealth came from his family's yeast company.

Beachgoers with Harbor Construction in Backgroung, about 1927   image
Construction of the harbor began in 1927, using rocks quarried from Santa Cruz Island. Castle Rock, shown in the foreground, was damaged in the 1925 earthquake and later destroyed to make room for the harbor.

1940s - 1950s

1940s - 1950s Naval Reserve Center, 1942 or 1943   image
The Naval Reserve Center was built with funds from the city and the federal government. After the outbreak of World War II, the city sold the building to the Navy for $1. The Navy used it during the war for port security and as a training facility.

Navy Pier, Santa Barbara Harbor, 1940s   image
This Navy-built pier was sold to the city in 1959. The pier is heavily used today by commercial fishermen and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Harbor Dredging Plan for Boat Slip Construction, 1954   image
The harbor's first boat slips, built by private investors Harry Chanson and Leon Tatreau, were completed in 1955.

Santa Barbara Harbor, about 1940   image
The harbor originally had no slips or boat docks.

Fishermen on Stearns Wharf, 1940s.

Aerial View of Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf, 1958   image

1960s - 1970s

1960s - 1970s Genny Anderson, Santa Barbara Undersea Gardens Guide, 1967   image
The Undersea Gardens, built at the sea landing at the east end of the harbor, gave visitors a chance to see sea animals in their natural habitat.

Your Slips are Showing!   image
By 1967, Santa Barbara's harbor had four boat marinas.

Storage Tanks for the Oil Industry, Stearns Wharf, 1960s   image
Beginning in 1958, Stearns Wharf was home to the offshore oil and commmercial diving industries.

Aerial photograph of the Santa Barbara oil spill around Stearns Wharf, 1969.

George Castagnola, owner of the Harbor Restaurant, Stearns Wharf, 1960s   image
George Castagnola's Harbor Restaurant was a popular dining spot until it burned down in 1973.

Anti-oil protesters on Stearns Wharf, 1969   image
One of the worst disasters in Santa Barbara's history, the 1969 oil spill sparked the environmental movement and national legislation to protect ocean resources.

1980s - Present

1980s - Present Opening of Stearns Wharf, October 1981   image
Stearns Wharf closed after the 1973 fire. It was renovated and reopened to the public in 1981.

Stearns Wharf fire of November 18, 1998   image
The 1998 fire destroyed several businesses and caused millions of dollars in damage.

Two Technologies, 1999   image
Members of the Chumash Maritime Association in a tomol are leading two one-man submersibles during celebrations honoring the Sustainable Seas Expedition.

Santa Barbara Harbor Closes for Six Weeks!   image
On March 1, 1983, a major storm hit Santa Barbara. It caused $13 million in damage and trumped Queen Elizabeth's visit as the lead story in the local newspaper.

Burned Spike from 1998 Stearns Wharf Fire   image

You Are Here.   image
The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum opened its first exhibits in 2000 in the former Naval Reserve Center.