The Theme

“Santa Barbara Vintage”: 1870 to 1910

To celebrate the blossoming of our love and the fair city that made it possible, we dedicate our wedding to the reenactment of the time when Santa Barbara blossomed from a rustic adobe town into a world-class American city and leisure destination.

In the latter half of the 19th century, many California cities were expanding rapidly, with enterprising newcomers and fortune-hunters arriving in droves from around the globe. But for decades, the remote locale (and lack of gold) left Santa Barbara a sleepy and unnoticed little town, where little had changed since the days of Mexican rule. Yet it could not remain so—wealthy leisure seekers soon discovered this small bit of paradise and came in throngs to enjoy the mild climate, mountain vistas, and healing waters. As eastern elites arrived and mixed with rough-and-tumble ranchers, daring entrepreneurs, established Mexican families, Chinese immigrants, and Chumash descendants, Santa Barbara’s colorful and unique personality developed.

As you consider how to come in character, it may be helpful to think of America’s Gilded Age, or late Victorian, the styles and manners of which are discussed in our Fashion & Etiquette sections.

A secret no more

Santa Barbara Mission, 1876

The year is 1871. Esteemed Harper’s Magazine contributor, Mr. Charles Nordoff, published a thrilling account of his Santa Barbara exploits in a report on California entitled For Health, Pleasure and Residence.  Nordhoff’s duly praised compendium raved about Santa Barbara’s temperate climate. Tantalizing anecdotes attracted health-seeking tourists. With all eyes upon this golden jewel, Santa Barbara was ready to mesmerize.  Yet beyond the rugged stage coach roads there was no convenient transport available.  At this time, Santa Barbara’s wealth came from the cattle trade that increased the wealth of the ranching families, such as the renowned Hollister family that owned five ranches and parcels of land in and around the city. Ranchos were supposedly limited to 48,000 acres, but the true value of the land was measured by the cattle that roamed it.

With the construction of Sterns Wharf and the arrival of the first passenger ship in 1872, Santa Barbara was poised to accept health seekers and tourists ready to taste her spring waters.  But Santa Barbara, now home to Jose Lobero’s first opera house south of San Francisco, the famed Cabrillo Bath House and of course the historic 1786 Mission, had little to offer for new arrivals by way of lodging except for the dated adobe Lefevre Hotel.

Soon the burgeoning hotel industry emerged. In 1876, a hotel of the finest caliber, the Arlington Hotel opened its doors at the site of today’s Arlington Theatre.  A number of tourists stayed in this fine paradise, bringing with them new skills, businesses, and horticulture endeavors. Agriculture remains an important industry today.

A decade later, the arrival of the first train from Los Angeles marked a new era. In 1910 the Southern Pacific railway stretch to San Luis Obisbo was completed.

For generations, the healing waters of local hot springs had been enjoyed by the Chumash. Eve ntually, a Chumash maiden who had been baptized with the name Veronica revealed the source of this sacred spring. By the 1880s, the Veronica Springs Mineral Water Company tapped local mineral springs and capitalized on Santa Barbara’s fame as a health resort. By 1895, this water was being exported as far as St. Louis, in turn attracting more tourists to venture west! So dare you ask what was so magical about this water? It cures disease—Blood, Kidney and Bladder Stomach and Letter so guaranteed upon the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

The grand Potter Hotel opened in 1903 with 390 guest rooms, roof gardens, a zoo, and elaborate cactus gardens whose blooms mesmerized visitors from cold climates.  The waterfront resort attracted wealthy tourists, some of whom purchased local estates, especially in neighboring Montecito.

For more information, we encourage you to peruse the Santa Barbara Historical Museum displays before our reception.

A Brief History of Santa Barbara

  • 13,000 BC: Ancestors of the present-day Chumash settle on the coastline and the Channel Islands.
  • 1542: Portuguese explorer João Cabrilho sails along the coast.
  • 1602: Sebastian Vizcaino names the channel for the Catholic Saint Barbara.
  • 1769: Explorer Gaspar de Portolá & missionary Padre Junipero Serra visit on first overland expedition.
  • 1782: Royal Presidio of Santa Barbara built. Its guard house is the second oldest building in California.
  • 1786: Mission Santa Barbara completed. Becomes known as the “Queen of the Missions.”
  • 1812: Earthquake & tsunami level much of the town; water reaches to present-day Anapamu Street.
  • 1822: With Mexican Independence, Spanish rule ends and California becomes part of Mexico.
  • 1840: Life in early Santa Barbara described in Two Years Before the Mast.
  • 1846: The city falls bloodlessly to a battalion of American soldiers under John C. Frémont.
  • 1848: After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, California becomes part of the United States.
  • 1850: With the Gold Rush, the city grows quickly, but becomes a haven for bandits & gamblers.
  • 1851: Salisbury Haley lays out the street grid, botching measurements & misaligning streets.
  • 1860: Stagecoach service to the isolated city established over treacherous San Marcos Pass.
  • 1861: Irishman Thomas Hope buys the mesa for grazing sheep. Later becomes upscale Hope Ranch.
  • 1870: English becomes official language of Santa Barbara.
  • 1871: Writer Charles Nordhoff promotes the town as a health resort & destination for well-to-do travelers.
  • 1872: Stearns Wharf constructed to serve passenger & cargo ships.
  • 1873: Lobero Opera House completed, now the oldest continuously operated theater in California.
  • 1876: The luxurious Arlington Hotel opens and attracts prestigious clientele from far and wide.
  • 1887: A rail line connects Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, making the city more accessible.
  • 1891: Cottage Hospital, the area’s first, and Anna Blake School, prerunner of UCSB, are founded.
  • 1893: “Medicinal water” from Veronica Springs bottled. Soon, 500,000 bottles are sold annually.
  • 1897: Electric streetcars serve State Street & waterfront and operate for over 30 years.
  • 1901: Los Baños del Mar bathhouse opens. Men & women bathe separately in two saltwater pools.
  • 1903: The magnificent Potter Hotel opens on the waterfront, becoming a world-renowned resort.
  • 1910: Flying A film studio opens, the world’s largest at the time. Within a decade, it produces over 1200 movies.
  • 1912: Loughead Aircraft Co. founded on State Street, testing seaplanes off East Beach. Later renamed Lockheed.
  • 1920: Another luxury hotel opens, the Persian-styled Samarkand (“the land of heart’s desire”).
  • 1924: Old Spanish Days celebration inaugurated. The annual “Fiesta” becomes city’s most popular event.
  • 1925: An earthquake levels much of the city, which is enthusiastically rebuilt in “Spanish Colonial” style.
  • 1929: New Santa Barbara Courthouse completed, described as the country’s most beautiful public building.
  • 1931: The Arlington Theater, an Andalusian-themed “movie palace,” built on the site of the Arlington Hotel.
  • 1936: Santa Barbara Bowl amphitheater constructed as a WPA project, with a revolving wooden stage.
  • 1942: Japanese submarine shells Ellwood oil field, first wartime enemy attack on U.S. mainland since 1815.
  • 1969: Union Oil offshore derrick explodes. Resulting oil spill is largest in U.S. history at the time.
  • 1970: Oil spill inspires the creation of Earth Day by Senator Gaylord Nelson.
  • 1974: Governor Ronald Reagan buys Rancho del Cielo. Later hosts Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth & Mikhail Gorbachev there.
  • 1984: NBC launches the soap opera Santa Barbara, which runs for 9 years.
  • 1988: Michael Jackson builds his Neverland Ranch in Santa Ynez, with zoo & amusement park rides.
  • 2004: The movie SIDEWAYS, set in Santa Barbara wine country, becomes a sleeper hit.
  • 2005: Mr. Clark & Miss Steinfeld both arrive in Santa Barbara.
  • 2006: Miss Steinfeld answers an advertisement for lodging on Laguna Street, meets Mr. Clark.
  • 2011: Mr. Clark & Miss Steinfeld are wed amidst most splendid celebrations, consider staying a while.

Sources: Wikipedia & Neal Gaffy’s Historic Santa Barbara, An Illustrated History (2010).


Sources: Wikipedia & Neal Gaffy’s Historic Santa Barbara, An Illustrated History (2010).