How famous is Santa Barbara? People who live here, like myself, may think that we are just a city in California, that we are not all that important compared to the big cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco. However, contrary to this train of thought, there have been many interesting and exciting events in Santa Barbara.
Long before the arrival of Spanish settlers in California, and even long before the Chumash tribe called Santa Barbara their home, there may have been an altogether different species of human living here. In 1959, a man named Phil C. Orr discovered the remains of a prehistoric human, later dubbed the “Arlington Springs Man.” The remains were estimated to be 10,000 years old. In 2006, the remains were discovered to be more than 13,000 years old, making this skeleton the oldest known human remains. The Arlington Springs Man would have been alive around the end of the last Ice Age, and his existence proved to scientists that early humans had watercraft technology and the ability to travel between islands and mainland.
Skip a couple thousand years to the early 16th century. Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed to California and became the first explorer to navigate across the western coast of what would become the United States. He landed on all eight of the Channel Islands and became the first European to contact the Chumash natives.
In the 1700’s, Spanish explorers and Jesuit priests returned to California in order to establish the mission system. The Santa Barbara mission was originally constructed in 1786, becoming the tenth mission built in California. The mission served as a religious base for the fathers who converted the native Chumash to Christianity. There was a dramatic event in 1812, when an earthquake caused a tsunami so powerful it knocked down the original mission. The same tsunami was reported to push a Spanish ship up the Refugio canyon half a mile. The mission was rebuilt on a much larger, grander scale, and today remains the best preserved mission in California.
When California was acquired by the United States, settlers rushed into Santa Barbara. By 1851, it was a thriving city. Downtown Santa Barbara was unfortunately marred by its architect, who mistakenly measured the city blocks, creating a misaligned street system. Santa Barbara was even under the control of a highway robber at one point, Jack Powers.
Stern’s Wharf became a major improvement for Santa Barbara. The massive structure was constructed in 1872. Before its construction, tourists and supplies had to come to the city via rowboats, since large transport ships could not come into the shallow waters of the channel. Roads were also built leading into Santa Barbara, and the tourist industry boomed. Many writers advertised the city as an excellent destination for rest and relaxation. Offshore oil drilling was also invented just off the coast on the Summerland Oil Field, bringing in extra revenue and jobs into Santa Barbara.
In 1942, after WWII had struck, Japan and the USA were fighting in the Pacific. A Japanese submarine surfaced off Ellwood beach and shelled the pier and coastline of Santa Barbara, the first place attacked on US soil since the War of 1812.
Twenty-seven years later, another dangerous situation arose in Santa Barbara. In 1969, Union Oil’s Platform blew out and released about 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the surrounding waters. This caused an environmental disaster, killing thousands of marine animals and destroying undersea and beachside environments. The sheer scale of the spill was immense, prompting organizations such as GOO (Get Oil Out) to form and rally against oil companies. President Nixon also considered a complete ban on oil drilling in the US, but he decided against it. It is ironic that the place where offshore oil drilling began is where it almost ended.
All in all, our city has had more famous events than most of its citizens know. From 13,000 years ago to the present, Santa Barbara has remained exciting and dynamic. .