Archive » January 25, 2007
Eye on Santa Barbara
By John Watson
Santa Barbara Railroad Station
Prior to 1887, the only land-based transportation to the South Coast was along the Rincon Coast (which allowed travel only during low tide) and to the north by an arduous trip over the Santa Ynez Mountains. As a result, the few affluent visitors who came to Santa Barbara arrived by boat. And it wasn’t until 1872 when Stearns Wharf was built that even these few visitors did not have to wade ashore. Then in 1887, the railroad connected Santa Barbara to the railroad system to the south, and by implication, to the rest of the United States. For the first time, Santa Barbara had safe, reliable, clean and relatively inexpensive transportation to the rest of the world. With it came individuals of all economic classes, but the ones that would set the tone for the great architecture of the South Coast were the wealthy from the East Coast and Heartland (notably Chicago). The well-endowed (financially speaking of course) initially stayed at the Arlington or Potter hotels. Sensing the beauty, charm and magnificent climate, this group of people began buying land and building the magnificent estates that characterized the first golden age of architecture on the South Coast. As quality projects required highly skilled architects and craftsmen, the region attracted the best California had to offer. These people, along with the materials necessary for building not only the estates but also the middle class and worker class housing, were also brought here by the railroad.
The railroad matured in Santa Barbara between 1887 and 1905. During that period, Southern Pacific Railroad built three railroad stations to accommodate differing track alignments and increased traffic volumes. Finally in 1905, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company commissioned Francis W. Wilson to design the Mission Revival Style station we see today. As with all buildings of this age, it has undergone remodeling. Then at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, a restoration to bring the then tired building into closer conformance to the original design was undertaken and the result is the station we see today.
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