Jarrell Jackman: Rebuilding Santa Barbara Presidio, a Local Project of Global Importance | Homes and Lifestyle

[Noozhawk’s note: Fifth in a series. Click here for the first column, click here for the second, click here for the third, and click here for the fourth.]

In the previous columns, I have described the 18th century building of El Presidio de Santa Bárbara and the Spanish soldiers and their families who occupied it. We now begin to move towards the eventual reconstruction of the fort and the founding of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, the organization that initiated the reconstruction.

As the American period in Santa Barbara unfolded after 1848, what remained of the Presidio was used as a residence, with the exception of the original chapel which continued as the town’s parish church until its destruction by the Fort Tejon earthquake in 1857.

Part of the comandancia was still occupied and there were a few other rooms which were, literally, in the way of the wheels of progress – that is, a gate was drawn to cut streets through the fortress of adobe, and these streets were actually plowed in the 1880s, resulting in the demolition of some of the original adobe pieces.

A classic example of this destruction was to take half of one of the rooms and then seal the wall facing the street. This left the half piece attached to a complete piece which was eventually called the adobe of Valenzuela and was to become known as El Cuartel.

The oldest building in Santa Barbara and the second oldest in California, El Cuartel was one of the last two local buildings to survive into the 1950s.

The Santa Barbara earthquake in 1925 destroyed what was left of the comandancia, and a row of presidio adobes behind El Cuartel was demolished in 1937 for a parking lot for the new US Post building at 836 Anacapa St. One story I have heard often is that some of the citizens praised this “improvement” because these adobes were supposed to be the city’s red light district.

The earthquake of 1925 was a critical moment for the future of the Presidio. With most of the State Street buildings razed to the ground, city rulers decided to rebuild the city center in the Spanish and Mediterranean colonial architectural style for which it is known today.

This is a well-known story recounted in detail in architectural historian David Gebhard’s catalog for the exhibition he organized at the UC Santa Barbara Art Museum in 1982 titled ” Santa Barbara: The creation of a New Spain in America ”.

Among the leaders involved in this architectural renaissance was Santa Barbara’s senior citizen, Pearl Chase, who, through the Planning and Planting Committee, helped guide Santa Barbara through this unique town-planning process. As Gebhard pointed out, the highlight of Santa Barbara’s return to its architectural past was the reconstruction of the Presidio, and it would be Chase who would spearhead the project.

I think without Chase the project probably wouldn’t have happened; as one of her admirers told me, she was a “force of nature”. By the 1970s, she had become a national and national figure, being named Honorary Ranger of State Parks by the California State Parks Rangers Association and receiving special recognition from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

There had been talk of preserving and rebuilding the presidio for many decades in the 20th century, with plaques placed on the sidewalk around various spots identifying the area as the former site of the fort. But as we approach the founding of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, I don’t think there were many in town who really believed the presidio would ever be rebuilt.

There was one man who had studied and promoted the presidio: Russell Antonio Ruiz. A direct descendant of various soldiers in the presidio, Ruiz’s best-known relative was Commander Felipe Antonio de Goicoechea. He even went so far as to suggest that Pershing Park be renamed Goicoechea, which never happened.

Ruiz’s voice will become more prominent after the founding of the Trust for Historic Preservation in 1963. A future column will focus on him, as well as on the volunteers of the Presidio.

It was Chase, however, who knew what it would take to get the rebuilding of the Presidio off the ground, an interesting turn of phrase since the project is rooted in the earth, so to speak.

But the task was difficult. In the 1950s only two separate buildings remained intact, the aforementioned El Cuartel and the adobe Cañedo across East Canon Perdido.

The situation in Santa Barbara, however, was not much different from that of the other three presidios in California.

In San Francisco, the Spanish presidio had been incorporated into the American military fort and there is a small row of adobe buildings of uncertain date of construction, probably built in the Mexican period compared to the Spanish period.

The presidio of Monterey had completely disappeared except for the original chapel, the version there dating from its extension and the replacement of the roof with fired tiles in the 1790s.

In San Diego, all that remained of El Presidio Reál of San Diego was a foundation in a park above Old San Diego. It could be much more easily rebuilt than that of Santa Barbara, because the city owns this land and there are no buildings standing in the way of rebuilding.

But one thing was missing in San Diego: a Pearl Chase, or at least the will to make it happen.

In all honesty, I do not want to diminish the efforts and commitment of others towards the presidio of Santa Barbara project. They were proud to have enabled the reconstruction and contributed to the success of the project. There have been hundreds of people who have made key contributions, and I look forward to giving many of them well-deserved accolades in the full manuscript to be published in the future.

This brief overview of other California presidios highlights the fact that this important part of the physical heritage of California’s Spanish colonial history has been more or less lost unlike the missions, all of which are major historic tourist sites today. .

This point became evident to me when I was first hired by SBTHP in 1981. The presidio project is founded on Santa Barbara’s particular commitment to preserve and interpret his birthplace, but its importance transcends our community.

It is a key part of the history of our first state and has national ties as part of the expansion of northern New Spain to California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mississippi and in Florida, not to mention its international ties to the history of Mexico and Spain.

My next column will describe the important relationship between the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation and California State Parks, which led to the presidio becoming El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Park.

Another major event in the history of SBTHP is the donation of the famous El Paseo complex to the organization in 1971. As SBTHP mainstay Jerry Hass told me, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation was no longer. a “non-profit mom and pop”.

– Jarrell Jackman is the former executive director of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. After obtaining his doctorate. in UC Santa Barbara history, he taught for six years in Europe and Washington, DC In 2015, he was honored as a Knight of the Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic by the Spanish King Felipe VI and was named Honorary State Park Ranger by the California State Park Rangers Association in 2016. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Edward K. Thompson