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Santa Barbara

The Town’s First Magazine


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Santa Barbara was a short-lived publication of the Chamber of Commerce of Santa Barbara County. The first issue appeared in January 1906, the last early in 1907. There is no relation to our current Santa Barbara Magazine, which began publication in 1975. The earlier magazine offers a fascinating insight into the Santa Barbara of more than 100 years ago.

The origins of the Chamber of Commerce may be traced back to the founding of a group to promote tourism and settlement in 1872. The chamber’s birth went hand in hand with the advent of civic boosterism, which promoted population growth, improvements in transportation, and increased commercial opportunity to foster a dynamic and growing local economy. In May 1899, the Santa Barbara County and City Chamber of Commerce officially incorporated.

Charles M. Gidney was the moving force behind the new magazine. In January 1906, he was secretary of the chamber and head of its Committee on Publication. He had arrived in Santa Barbara in 1886, and during his years here he operated insurance and real estate firms, managed a newspaper, served two terms as a city councilmember, and was acting mayor for eight months. In 1917 he co-authored the two-volume History of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties California.

S.B. Historical Museum

The first issue of Santa Barbara led off with a salute in verse to the California missions by western writer Bret Harte, followed by the cover story on our own “Queen of the Missions.” The rest of the issue included news of the recent doings of the chamber and a discourse on Santa Barbara’s numerous amenities. The climate was compared favorably to such places as Naples, Nice, and Rome in “a city that transcends in its natural beauty, anything that Italy can produce.”

This approach continued in subsequent issues — a cover story followed by songs of praise to the South Coast. The magazine always included something about agriculture. The cover story for the second issue was on walnuts, and the June issue began with a story on olive culture. In October, an article entitled “What Will Grow in the Valley of Santa Barbara” listed hay, lima beans, barley, oats, wheat, corn, potatoes, onions, walnuts, olives, lemons, apples, pears, quinces, persimmons, guavas, cherimoyas, strawberries, and loganberries as just some of the crops that thrived in the rich soil of Santa Barbara County.

“The Cost of Living in Santa Barbara” was addressed in September in the form of a response to a letter that claimed that Santa Barbara was “for wealthy people only.” Gidney riposted that food costs were at the very least comparable to, if not lower than, prices on the East Coast and that a two-bedroom house could be rented for a very reasonable $200 a year. An ad in the same issue listed a 100-acre chicken ranch near town for a $2,000 asking price.

Additional ads in the magazine gave a glimpse into commercial life. Veronica Springs Mineral Water was bottled “for the benefit of suffering humanity.” The Collins-Walton Co. equipped folks for “salt sea bathing” with “suit, cap, shoes, and water wings.” The Club Stables offered “gentle saddle horses” and “up-to-date rubber tired rigs.”

The final, undated issue of Santa Barbara appeared in early 1907. The reason for cessation of publication remains a mystery. Perhaps Gidney’s resignation as chamber secretary to return to real estate played a role. The magazine had consistently trumpeted that more was better for the county — more settlers, more tourists, more growth in the cities, agriculture, and business. An advertisement for Show and Hunt Grocers in the March 1906 issue urged readers to “Cast Your Lot with Fair Santa Barbara!” — a concise summation of the philosophy driving the first Santa Barbara magazine.

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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.