The Miramar No One Remembers

Before the white-washed walls and blue roofs, before the two-storied stucco boxes, before the cottages began moving over the property like pieces in a demented game of chess, there was the Miramar of the Doultons. One contemporary writer described this Miramar as “a group of cottages shaded by trees, embowered in roses, and encircled by mountains with the music of the quiet sea upon the beach singing the cottages to sleep.” This Miramar resembled a rustic village of brown clapboard and shingle cottages capped by moss green roofs and set in a rambling English garden.

The Miramar’s genesis was accidental. In 1887, the same year the railroad pulled through to Santa Barbara, a friend of Josiah and Emmeline Doulton begged to spend the summer on their simple farm. Reluctantly, they agreed. The following year, their “Ocean View Farm” became the “Miramar Hotel.”

Before the Hotel

This oceanfront land in Montecito had seen many uses before its transformation into a popular hotel. Before and during the Spanish days, the Chumash Indian village of Salaguas, also known as Rancheria San Bernardino, was located in the general area. During the Mexican period, it was the site of the matanza. The local rancheros would herd their cattle to the sea where the animals where slaughtered and skinned for the profitable hide and tallow trade. The meat was left for the sharks and carrion eaters, the detritus of their repast swept clean by the rising tide.

Starting in 1851, the Common Council of Santa Barbara offered the vacant portions of Montecito, for a very modest price, to anyone who wished to claim them. This started a virtual land rush as speculators laid claim to lands they never intended to use. The Miramar lands saw several absentee owners until 1867 when Elwood Stanton purchased the property and actually built a farmhouse and planted hay and barley.

In 1876, Josiah Doulton, a son of the English pottery pioneer who developed what would become Royal Doulton China, purchased a portion of the Stanton farm and set about raising swede, barley, corn, beans and fruit. Like most farmers of this period, he had trouble finding a profitable crop so he had to find work outside the farm. He became a reporter for superior court and went into the real estate and insurance business for a time to make ends meet. After the summer-long visit of their friend, however, the Doultons realized they had found their cash crop, tourists.

Each passing year saw improvements and additions to the hotel. The first few cottages were shake and cloth structures, little more than tents placed on wooden platforms. Soon after 1889, the first permanent cottages, among them “Rose,” “Tak It Izi” and “#1,” were built. The main house grew bedrooms and sheathed its red-painted tongue and groove Victorian façade with shingles, added arched porticos, and sprouted a glass tea room. Later still, a large separate dining room and kitchen was built, and the Doultons instituted boat service to Santa Barbara six times a day. In 1902, the Doultons constructed a large livery barn that housed 50 horses and carriages. In 1918, with the ascendancy of the horseless carriage, the stable became a garage.

Early Days

In these early, halcyon days, guests gathered in the old drawing room for an evening of music, pleasant conversation and games. Mr. Doulton often read aloud or recited stories. In 1893, their daughter Ethel organized a dramatic troupe, made up of guests and friends, and presented rousing performances. The Doultons organized tea parties, impromptu beach picnics and driftwood campfire evenings on the sands. Departing guests were showered with pink geraniums.

Jessie Porter Whittacker’s 1906 letter reveals the details of her idyllic sojourn at the Miramar. She wrote, “We sit around on the cool piazza or under the shade of the great trees and watch the tennis players work; go to the cliff and laugh at the bathers fighting the billows of the old ocean, or swing in a hammock under the pines and breath the spicy odors while gazing at the purple mountain tops.” When roused from languorous stupor, she walked along the beach and watched dolphins “somersaulting through the waves” and sanderlings “playing their game of tag with the surf.”

When feeling especially energetic, Jessie would find 15 cents in her porte-monnaie for a train ride to town. The little Miramar depot was now a regular stop although it had been a flag stop with a primitive platform since about 1890. Other times, Jessie retreated to her cozy cottage, which was “embowered among nasturtium vines where hummingbirds made daily calls.” Evening entertainment included such Audubon moments as watching the birds being fed. When the garbage from the hotel was dumped on the sand below the high water line, Jessie reported, “there gathers a motley crowd – hens and seagulls, pigeons and turkey vultures, all feeding together.” Bird watchers could also marvel at little Cyril Doulton and the two pet chickens which he carried about, one under each arm.

Despite the amenities of the hotel and cottages, the Miramar’s main attraction continued to be the beach. In 1890, the Doultons built a short wharf, and by 1893 they had constructed bathhouses in an area against the bluffs. Eventually, 250 changing rooms lined a boardwalk above the sand because guests were not allowed to pass through the property in their bathing suits. As popular as the beach was with vacationers, it was equally popular with the locals who gathered there in large numbers on sunny days. They often arrived by train because it was easier than using a horse and buggy, and they also rented cabanas. A restaurant and a bar on the waterfront provided refreshments. In 1906, Emmeline extended the pier 500 feet to facilitate the large flotilla of boats that anchored in the bay. Visitors could fish off the pier or get up at four in the morning and go out on a small boat with the Miramar’s fisherman who provided fresh seafood for the table.

Nearing the End of an Era

After Josiah died in 1903, Emmeline continued to build and perfect the hotel. Overnight excursions to Cold Spring Tavern (another Doulton property), overnight camping along the Santa Ynez River, and day trips along Mountain Drive were popular. When Emmeline died in 1910, her son Harold Josiah continued the traditions and implemented a few of his own. In the 1920s, he added a nine-hole golf course and another tennis court south of the rail tracks. Harold maintained the colorful flower borders and took care of the ancient trees like the old magnolia that had served as a lighthouse and his father’s special pride, an English oak.

Harold Josiah Doulton died in 1928, and his son Harry Stevens Doulton tried to keep the hotel afloat during the Depression years, but he was not successful. The bank foreclosed in 1938 and the Miramar was sold at auction in 1939 to Paul Gawzner who created the Miramar that everyone remembers. The brown-clad cottages were painted white and the green shingled roofs became blue. A new era began.

(The files of the Montecito Association History Committee and of the Santa Barbara Historical Society. A fully footnoted version of this article exists.)