Santa Barbara Enters the 1920s


The Selling of a Dream

For many years, Santa Barbara County was the winter playground of those who could afford to escape winter’s cold – and many other unpleasantries of life. They came from places like St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and New York. These lucky few spent the darkest months of each year reveling in sunshine and daytime temperatures that rarely dipped below the mid-60s.

A spate of luxury hotels drew them to Southern California where outdoor activities kept them entertained. There were several in Santa Barbara County, among them the Potter Hotel, the Arlington Hotel, the Miramar, El Encanto, and the San Ysidro Ranch. Sea-bathing, hunting, fishing, yachting, and long afternoons touring the magnificent canyons, valleys, beaches or islands in the area were favorite pastimes. Opulent accommodations and fine dining rivaled many in the Midwest or East Coast. Soon, a number of the wealthiest built large, fabulous estates throughout the area, though most were sited in Montecito.

Health sanitariums, too, offered places the well-to-do might seek treatment for tuberculosis. The incurable disease was said to be improved by  leisure, fresh air, sunshine, and frequent trips to natural hot springs, all of which were found in Santa Barbara County.

But by 1920, Santa Barbara County began to draw thousands of dreamers, adventurers, hopefuls, regular people who responded to the relentless advertising campaign waged for more than a decade. Hoping to dodge life’s harsher elements in a place where promises seemed to grow on trees like oranges – said to be free for the picking – even real winter could not reach here. In this place, anyone’s past – and their troubles – could be left behind in favor of a new start at life.

At the time, 8.9% of California homes were wired with electricity, but that was greater than in many areas of the nation. The state was also first advertised as a car-culture, although only 6.5% of residents owned cars. In 1920, this was a modern world filled with possibilities for the future.

Not for Profit

The pamphlet, California, Where Life is Better, was published in 1922 by Californians, Inc, a group of entrepreneurs w

ho encouraged Americans to begin anew in California and create a better life than the one left behind. For those who were disappointed the harsh realities of life, the words and photos in the pamphlet became the stuff of dreams:

Whoever you are, if the spirit of the pioneer is in you – if you are a worker, a dreamer, a builder – there is a place and a chance for you in California. There is a chance for you to live healthfully…among people who are almost universally friendly and helpful to the stranger…California stands forth as a tremendous reservoir of power and productivity, of health and youth and hope.

At the time, for many, it seemed that California was truly a place of health, youth, and hope – vague words and promises that, nevertheless, resonated with many readers.

The end piece of the publication lists as the officers and directors of the incorporation the President of Standard Oil Company, the Vice-President of Crocker National Bank, the President of the Bank of California, Vice-President of Cornwall & Banker, and other men of great influence.

Their organization, as stated in the publication, “is the outcome of the desire of hundreds of business firms, associations, and individuals to establish for the state an impartial, non-profit-making body for the dissemination of exact, unprejudiced, authoritative facts.”

Like some of the more prominent civic clubs of the time, this “impartial, non-profit-making body,” was anything but.