Frank Flournoy literally left his mark upon the land of the South Coast in a surveying and engineering career that spanned more than 70 years. A colorful character who loved a good story, he was known to his friends as “Rattlesnake Pete.” He acquired this nickname because he often wore a Stetson adorned with the rattles of snakes he had killed in the hills of Santa Barbara County.
He was born on a Missouri farm in 1868, the son of a physician. In the mid 1870s, the family headed west, settling for a time on a sheep ranch in Colorado. In the mid 1880s, the family moved again, this time to California’s Merced County, where Frank’s father doctored the locals and ran a pack train business. It was here that young Frank first picked up the rudiments of surveying.
Frank and a brother soon journeyed to Carpinteria, where they opened a general store. Sitting behind a counter was not for Frank, however, and he moved to Santa Barbara to make surveying his life’s work. There was to be no lack of opportunities.
Among his commissions was work on some of Montecito’s grandest estates, including Riven Rock, the home of Stanley McCormick; Henry Bothin’s Piranhurst, with its spectacular tea gardens perched high above Mountain Drive; and the beautiful Armour estate, El Mirador. One of Flournoy’s areas of expertise was the creation of water systems for many of these magnificent properties.
Flournoy also had a hand in laying out the golf courses at Montecito Country Club and La Cumbre Country Club in Hope Ranch. He became friends with the yeast king, Max Fleischmann, whose largesse was greatly responsible for construction of the breakwater at Santa Barbara Harbor. Fleischmann was an avid polo player, and in the 1920s, Flournoy surveyed a field for him at Serena, east of Montecito. Today, the field is part of the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club complex.
In addition to his private business, Flournoy also served in a number of official capacities. He was engineer for the City of Santa Barbara for four years and county surveyor from 1895-1915. He was also a deputy U.S. surveyor for a number of years.
Flournoy worked on the final stages of Mission Tunnel connecting Santa Barbara with Gibraltar Reservoir. The construction of the tunnel took nine years of arduous labor and was a milestone in the history of the city. At almost 20,000 feet in length, at the time of its completion in 1912, it was one of the longest water tunnels in the world.
Flournoy planned roads over the Santa Ynez Range through the Refugio and San Marcos passes, he worked on irrigation systems in the Lompoc and Santa Maria areas and designed elements of a new sewer system for Santa Barbara. In the early 1920s, he managed the Devereux estate of Colin Campbell in the Goleta Valley, where he oversaw the construction of 16 buildings.
He was a member of the area Elks Club for 58 years and was also a member of the Rancheros Visitadores. He enjoyed hunting and loved to tell the story of a gun once owned by Fleischmann. It was reportedly the world’s largest shotgun. It weighed 26 pounds, and one blast from its double barrels could bring down almost 200 ducks at one time.
Frank Flournoy passed away at the age of 91 in 1960. His achievements as a surveyor and engineer had truly shaped the contours of Santa Barbara County.
Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, will answer your questions about Santa Barbara’s history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.