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been very interesting to the writer to note how the improvement of
the highways to which I have just referred has been followed by the
improvement of the country and villages through which they pass. We
made our first runs through these valleys when there was little but
sandy trails to guide us and our impression of the towns and ranches
was far from favorable. No stronger argument could be made in favor of
highway improvement than to cite the rapid strides made in these valleys
immediately following the coming of better roads.

Our first impression of Ventura, with its broad streets and
flower-girded cottages, was wholly favorable, nor have we any occasion
to alter it after several visits. It is a quiet, prosperous town of
over four thousand people according to the census—which rapidly becomes
inaccurate in California—and depends mostly on the productive country
about it, though it is gaining some fame as a resort. The new county
courthouse, a white stone palace fronting the sea from the hillside
above the town, is of classic design and cost, we were told, a quarter
of a million dollars. It would be an ornament to a city ten times the
size of Ventura and is a fine illustration of the civic pride of these
California communities. The situation of the town is charming indeed—on
a slight rise overlooking the shimmering summer sea and just below a
range of picturesque hills.

The chief historic attraction is the old mission of San Buenaventura,
which gives its name to the town and which was founded by Father
Serra himself in 1782. It reached the zenith of prosperity in 1816,
when the neophytes numbered thirteen hundred and thirty. The result
of secularization here was the same as elsewhere: the property was
confiscated and the Indians scattered. In 1843 it was restored to the
padres, who eked out a moderate living until the American occupation.

All the buildings of the mission have disappeared except the church,
which lately was restored and renovated quite out of its ancient self.
The interior is now that of a rather gaudy Catholic chapel and most of
the relics of early days have been lost. It is situated in the midst of
the town and the priest's house and garden adjoin it. In the latter is
a fig tree which has survived since the mission days. Taken altogether,
San Buenaventura is one of the most modernized and least interesting
of the entire chain. Its redeeming feature is the beautiful bell-tower,
though the old-time bells are gone. The church is now in daily use and
had a great display of wooden figures and lighted candles when we saw

Leaving the town we took the new Rincon "cut off" road following
the coast to Santa Barbara and avoiding the Casitas Pass—long a
terror to motorists. We took the Casitas route on another occasion
and while the road was narrow, rough and steep in places, with many
sharp turns, we have done so many worse mountain trails since that
the recollection is not very disquieting. Just across the river we
passed through a beautiful wooded park, the gift of a public-spirited
citizen now deceased. Beyond this we began the ascent of the first hill
range—East Casitas—which is rather the steeper of the two. But all the
disadvantages of the road are atoned for by the shady nooks, the wild
flowers and the magnificent outlooks from frequent vantage points,
especially from the eastern summit. Here one looks for miles over wooded
hills abloom with the pale lavender of the wild lilac and fading away,
range after range, into the blue and purple haze of the distance. West
Casitas is practically a repetition of East so far as the climb and
descent are concerned; in all there were about seven miles of moderately
heavy grades before we came into the level roads through the walnut
and lemon groves on the western side. We agreed that Casitas Pass was
well worth doing once or twice, but generally the Rincon road is to be

The coast road was opened in the summer of 1912, and was made possible
by the construction of more than a mile of plank causeway around cliffs
jutting into the sea and over inlets too deep to fill. The county of
Ventura contributed fifty thousand dollars to the work and an equal
amount was raised by subscription. It closely follows the shore for the
whole distance and is about nine miles shorter than the mountain route.
It was quite unimproved at the time we first traversed it, and really
rougher than the Casitas road.

The Rincon Route, as it is called, has since been paved and now carries
practically all traffic between Ventura and Santa Barbara. It affords
a glorious drive along a sea of marvelous light and color and the long
shelving boulder-strewn beach is a popular camping and play ground.
This route may lack the thrills and rugged scenery of the Casitas Pass
road, but its smooth level stretches appeal to the average motorist and
the usually bad condition of the Casitas is another deterrent to its
frequent use.

From Photograph]

Both routes converge at Carpinteria, about twelve miles south of Santa
Barbara. This little village has two distinct settlements. The site of
the old Spanish settlement was visited by the Monterey expedition as
early as 1769 and was named "Carpinteria"—carpenter's shop—because some
Indians were building a canoe at the spot. The newer American community
is more thriving and up-to-date.

A little to the northwest of the village is a monster grapevine famed
throughout the section as the Titan of its class. It is near a farmhouse
just off the main road and we turned in to view it. The enormous trunk
is ten feet in girth and the vines cover a trellis one hundred feet
square. Its maximum crop, said the farmer, was fourteen tons a few years
ago—enough to make a big carload. One single cluster, of which he showed
us a photograph, weighed no less than twelve pounds. The average yearly
crop is ten to fifteen tons. Legend has it that it was first planted
in 1809, in which case it would be a little more than a centenarian. It
is of the mission variety and shows no signs of decay. A comparison of
the trunk with the old man shown in our picture should substantiate at
least one "tall California story."

A year or two later we paused to view it again, only to find the dead
trunk remaining as a sad witness of its former glory. The immense crop
of fruit that it had borne the previous year had so sapped its vitality
that it withered and died.

At Summerland, a few miles farther, is the curious phenomenon of large
oil derricks standing in the ocean. Here are prolific oil wells beneath
the water and the oil gives the surface an opalescent appearance for
some distance from the shore. The place was originally founded as a
spiritualist colony, but for lack of the promotive genius of a Madame
Tingley, it never throve. Possibly the creaking oil pumps and pungent
odors of the vicinity had something to do with the disappearance of
mediums and their ghostly visitants.

On reaching Santa Barbara we decided on the new Arlington Hotel, an
imposing structure of solid concrete and dark red brick, the design
following mission lines generally. The towers are beautiful copies of
those of the Santa Barbara Mission and the roof is of dark red tiling
modeled after the antique pattern of the padres. The plainness of the
mission, while carried throughout, is everywhere combined with elegance
and comfort. The interior of the public rooms is decidedly unique,
the finish being dark brown brick and cement, without wood trimming of
any kind. Our rooms were furnished plainly but comfortably; the doors
were of undressed lumber stained dark brown and furnished with heavy
wrought-iron hinges, latches and locks. In such a land of plenty and
variety of food products as California, it is not strange that the
better hotels are famous for their "cuisine," as the handbooks style it.
The Arlington is no exception to the rule, and the quiet and attentive
young waitresses add to the attractiveness of the dining-room.

The first query of the stranger in Santa Barbara is for the mission and
no sooner had we removed the stains of travel—and they are plentiful
when you motor over the dusty roads of California—and arrayed ourselves
in fresh raiment than we, too, sought the famous shrine. An electric
car leads almost to its door; or, one will find the walk of a mile a
pleasant variation after several hours on the roads.

From Photograph by Dassonville]

You have the impression of being familiar with Santa Barbara Mission
even before you have seen it, for I doubt if there is any other object
in California that has been photographed and illustrated in greater
variety. Its position is a superb one, on a hillside looking down on the
town and fronting the glorious channel. From its tower balconies you may
have one of the finest views to be seen in a land of magnificent views
and you can not but admire the wisdom of the old padres in selecting the
site when Santa Barbara was nothing but a collection of Indian hovels.
Directly in front of the mission is the ancient fountain and below it a
huge tank in which the natives washed their clothes—a practice to which
they were little addicted before the padres came.

Entering the heavy oaken doors, we found system here for handling the
troops of tourists who come almost daily; the guide had just gone with
a party and we must wait his return. In the meanwhile we found plenty
to interest us, for there were many old paintings, books, and other
objects on exhibit. Our guide soon arrived—a spare-looking old priest
who spoke with a German accent; he was very courteous and kindly, but
not so communicative as we might wish a guide to be in such a place. He
led us first to the church, a huge apartment forty by one hundred and
sixty-five feet, gaudily painted in Indian designs. It is built of stone
with enormously heavy walls—six feet thick—supported by buttresses nine
feet square. Its predecessor was destroyed by an earthquake and it would
seem that in the new structure the fathers strove to guard against a
second disaster of the kind. The interior had been modernized and the
decorations reproduce as nearly as possible the original Indian designs.
There are numerous carved figures and paintings brought from Spain and
Mexico in an early day. One of the paintings is a remarkable antique,
representing the Trinity by three figures, each the exact counterpart
of the other. A stairway leads to one of the towers and as we ascended
we noted the solidity of the construction, concrete and stone being the
only materials employed. We were shown the mission bells, two of which
are one hundred years old, suspended by rawhide thongs from the beams on
the roof. There is a magnificent view from the tower, covering the town
and a wide scope of country and extending seaward to the islands beyond
the channel. Descending, we were conducted into the cemetery garden
where, the guide told us, were buried no less than four thousand Indians
during mission days. It is a peaceful spot now, beautiful with flowers
and shrubbery and affording a quiet retreat for the monks. There are
many rare trees and shrubs and we were especially interested in a giant
datura as old, perhaps, as the cemetery. In one corner is a mausoleum
where the fathers have been buried since the founding of the mission.
Some thirty have been laid to rest here and only five crypts remained
unoccupied at the time of our visit.

From Photograph by Putnam & Valentine]

In the court on the opposite side of the church is the garden which,
according to an ancient rule, no woman may enter save the "reigning
queen," though after the American conquest this was extended to include
the wife of the President, and the priest told us with pride that Mrs.
Benjamin Harrison availed herself of the privilege. By a somewhat wide
interpretation of the "reigning queen" rule, Princess Louise, wife of
the Governor-General of Canada, was also admitted once upon a time. We
recall a similar rule in Durham Cathedral and it seems that the monks of
the Old World and New did not always feel proof against feminine charms.
One of the old Franciscan fathers, however, took quite a different view
of the matter.

"It seems," he said, "that since our Mother Eve, through her fatal
curiosity brought upon her daughters the curse of expulsion from
Eden, the Franciscan order does not subject any other woman to similar

While not permitted to enter the garden ourselves, we were able to get
a very satisfactory "bird's-eye" view of it from the tower balcony.

The mission now is a Franciscan college for monks and at the time of our
visit there were forty-nine brothers in all. It is a center of Catholic
learning in California, having a valuable library which contains
most of the sources of mission history. Among these Father Zephyrin
Engelhardt labors daily upon his great work on "The Franciscan Missions
of California." Of this he has already published three large volumes
which are recognized as a valuable contribution to American history,
and a fourth is soon to follow. There are also illuminated missals from
Spain and Old Mexico and other rare volumes of considerable value.

The fathers and their students do all the work necessary to keep up
their establishment and its gardens. Each one learns some particular
trade or work and does not shrink from the hardest physical labor. The
buildings and grounds are being improved and beautified each year and
Santa Barbara seems to be the one mission where ideal conditions prevail
for the care of the property and the preservation of the traditions
of early days. Very appropriately it still remains in charge of the
Franciscans, a rather uncommon distinction shared with San Luis Rey

Santa Barbara was founded in 1786, four years after Father Serra's
death. The present church was completed in 1820 and is described
by Father Engelhardt as "probably the most solid structure of its
kind in California." The Indian population of the mission was at its
maximum in 1803, numbering seventeen hundred and ninety-two souls. The
secularization decree took place in 1834, at which time the property was
valued at a little in excess of one hundred thousand dollars. So notably
was the Mexican program a failure at Santa Barbara that ten years later
the property was restored to the padres; but the Indians were scattered,
the wealth dissipated, and the building in a sad state of disrepair.
Less than three hundred natives remained and these gained a living with
difficulty. Three years afterwards the governor sold the property to a
private party for seventy-five hundred dollars; but after the American
occupation it was returned to the church.

From Photograph by Pillsbury]

The arcade fronting the sea, the cloisters partly surrounding the
garden, and a few other portions of the original buildings remain, but
the present dormitory is modern. The decree authorizing the college
was issued by Rome more than fifty years ago and the restoration work
proceeded but slowly, being done largely by the fathers and their
students. Father O'Keefe, the kindly old priest whom we met at San
Luis Rey, directed much of the work and pushed it to completion. His
excellent record here resulted in his transfer to the southern mission
where, as we have seen, he was also singularly successful.

Before we departed we purchased a copy of Father Engelhardt's history
and left our modest contribution as well, for the Franciscan fathers,
who have so faithfully labored to restore and protect this beautiful
old mission and who show such courtesy to the visiting stranger, have
no source of income except voluntary gifts.

Coming out, we paused awhile to admire the sunset bay from the arcade
and then wended our way along flower-bordered walks to our hotel.

There is no other town of the size in California—or scarcely of any
size, for that matter—that has about it such a wonderful series of
drives and walks as Santa Barbara.

At the time of our first visit some of these were closed to motors and
as a guide seemed almost a necessity, we decided to abandon the car
for the novelty of a horse-drawn vehicle. We had no trouble at all in
finding one for there were a host of Jehus on the street who recognized
us as tourists at sight and eagerly hailed us as possible customers.
We chose the oldest fellow of all, partly out of sympathy and partly
because we liked his face, and it proved a more fortunate selection
than we suspected at the time. He was an old-time Californian, having
crossed the plains with his parents in 1854, when a child of six. He
had an adventurous career, beginning with that time, for he was stolen
from the camp by a band of Indians and recovered two days later by the
pioneers after a sharp fight. He had been in the midst of the mining
maelstrom and was rich and poor half a dozen times—poor the last time,
he declared, and now the condition had become chronic. He had lived in
Santa Barbara thirty years and not only knew every nook and corner of
the town and vicinity, but could tell who lived in the houses and many
bits of interesting history and gossip as well.

In the forenoon he took us among the fine homes of the millionaire
residents, some of which reminded us not a little—though of course on
a smaller scale—of great English estates we had visited. But in Santa
Barbara they have the advantage of shrubs and trees which flourish the
year round and from nearly all there is a perennial view of summer sea,
always beautiful and inspiring. The grounds of many of these places
are open to visitors and some are marvelously beautiful; the climate
admits of great possibilities in landscape-gardening in the free use of
semi-tropical shrubs, palms, flowers, and fruit trees.

Our guide then took us through the grounds of the Miramar Hotel Colony,
if I may so describe it. Here a wooded hill on the shore is covered with
a group of cottages, which are rented by guests who get their meals at
a central building—a plan that affords the advantages of privacy and
outdoor life without the cares of housekeeping.

Of course we visited the Gillespie house and gardens—"El Furiedes,"
which may be roughly translated as "pleasure garden"—which, after the
mission, is probably the most distinctive attraction of Santa Barbara.
The gardens cover about forty acres and contain a great variety of
rare flowers, shrubs, and trees from all parts of the world. In places
these form tangled thickets where one might easily lose himself if not
familiar with the winding paths. Quiet pools play an important part
in the decorative scheme, and these were beautified with rare water
plants, among them the Egyptian lotus. In the center of the grounds is
the house, built along the lines of a Roman villa. It is not open to
visitors, but our guide declared that it contains a costly collection
of antiques of all kinds. The main doors are remarkable examples of
carving, dating from about 1450, and were taken from a Moorish temple
in Spain. The owner of this beautiful place, a New York millionaire,
said our guide, spends only a small part of his time in Santa Barbara.
In the meanwhile the gardens are maintained at his expense, and are as
easy of access to visitors as a public park.

Before returning to our hotel we made the round of the city and our
driver pointed out some of the older and more historic buildings.
Of these the de la Guerre mansion is the most notable aside from the
mission itself. Here took place the marriage of Donna Anita to Senor
Noriega y Carillo, so vivaciously described by Dana in "Two Years Before
the Mast." It is a typical old-time Spanish residence, low, solid,
and surrounding the inevitable court. We were also shown the homes of
several people of more or less celebrity who live in Santa Barbara,
among them Stewart Edward White, and Robert Cameron Rogers, the poet
and author of "The Rosary," whose death California so sincerely mourned
a little later.

There are many famous "Little Journeys" out of Santa Barbara which
it would be superfluous to describe in detail. There are several good
local guidebooks with maps to be had and the services of the Southern
California Auto Club branch are always available. You can do most of
these excursions in two or three days, including a round trip via the
San Marcos Pass, to the Santa Ynez Mission, returning via Los Olivos and
the Gaviota Pass. I shall describe the drive which we made on our first
visit—and we made it in an old-fashioned surrey, for the road was then
closed to motors. I am glad that we were forced to adopt that good old
method of locomotion, as it gave us leisure to contemplate the beauties
of the scenery that we should scarce have had in our car.

"Take the sixteen-mile drive," says the old driver. "It's one of the
best; it is closed to autos and you can do all the rest in your car."

From Original Painting by J. M. Gamble]

So it's the "sixteen-mile drive" for us, and a wonderful panorama of
green hills, wooded canyons and calm, shining sea it proves to be. The
road has many steep pitches and follows the edges of the hills like a
narrow shelf; vehicles can pass in but few places and all are required
to go in the same direction. From the summits we have many far-reaching
views of hill and valley, whose brilliant greens are tempered by the
pale violet bloom of the mountain lilac. It is a view very much like
some we have seen and many more we are to see, but we shall never weary
of it. We have gained something of the spirit of the good old John Muir.
"Climb the mountains," he urges, "and get their good tidings. Nature's
peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into the trees. The winds
will blow their own freshness into you, while cares will drop off like
autumn leaves." And so, as we slowly wind about this green-bordered
mountain trail, we pause at every vantage point to contemplate the
view and finally the most glorious scene of all breaks on our vision, a
panorama of wooded hills sloping down to the summer sea—wonderfully calm
to-day, with a curious effect of light and color. Across its mirrorlike
surface bars of steely blue light run to the channel islands, Santa
Cruz and Santa Rosa, whose mountainous bulk looms in the amethystine
haze of sunset some twenty miles away. Of the channel before us Mr. John
McGroarty writes in his delightful "History and Romance of California":

"Nor is this all that makes the charm, the beauty, the climatic peace
and calm and the fascination of Santa Barbara. Twenty-five miles
out to sea a marine mountain range, twin sister of the Santa Ynez on
shore, rears its glowing peaks from the tumbling billows in a series
of islands. So it is that Santa Barbara faces not the open sea, but
a channel or a strait of the sea. Up into this channel flows the warm
ocean current from the south and so adds its beneficence to complete
the climatic combination that keeps the spot snug and warm and free
from all violence in winter, the selfsame combination leaving it cool
and refreshing through the long, sunny summers. So, also, do the twin
mountain ranges—the one on land, the other out at sea—give Santa Barbara
a marine playground as safe and as placid as Lake Tahoe. The channel is
a yachtsman's paradise. To its long sweep of blue waters—a stretch of
seventy miles—come the Pacific-Coast-built ships of the American navy
to be tried out and tested for speed and endurance."

Returning to the city, we followed Sycamore Canyon—rightly named,
indeed, for throughout its length is a multitude of giant sycamores,
gnarled and twisted into a thousand fantastic shapes like trees of
Dante's Inferno. Scattered among them were a few majestic live-oaks,
which gradually increased in numbers as we came into the beautiful
suburb of Montecito, with its handsome residences and flower-spangled
lawns. Our driver enlightened us on the value of some of the places
offered for sale, also of numerous vacant lots just on the edge of
the town. Three to five thousand per acre seemed to be the average sum
that a millionaire was asked to invest should he desire to establish
an "estate" here—prices quite as high as was then demanded for similar
property in the neighborhood of Los Angeles. And it is not likely that
values will cease to advance.

The completion of the new highway has put Santa Barbara into easy

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Online LibraryThomas D. MurphyOn Sunset Highways → online text (page 13 of 25)