Cristal's Blog

The Richness of Santa Barbara History

April 16, 2020

Back to Articles


Historical Adobe (1836) at Santa Barbara Historical Museum.

Historical Adobe (1836) at Santa Barbara Historical Museum. Creative Commons

The founders of the City of Santa Barbara were among the first in the nation to realize the cultural and economic value of preserving historic buildings. This early intervention, so to speak, is the reason why today, those of us fortunate enough to live here, get to enjoy the original Spanish Colonial and Mexican-era adobe structures found all over town. Just look at the architecture of our fine city and you will appreciate the richness of Santa Barbara history at every turn. 

Native Americans Arrived First

That history began approximately 13,000 years ago when the first Native Americans arrived. For more than 10,000 years, the Canalenos (coast dwellers), or Chumash, lived in this region and enjoyed the rich abundance of nature that we, too, appreciate today.

In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo explored the “Baja” and “Alta” California coast and claimed it for Spain. A trade route was then established between Mexico and the Philippines, as safe harbors were needed for treasure ships. That prompted further expeditions to explore California.

Santa Barbara Gets It’s Spanish Start

In 1602, explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno sailed here from Spanish-ruled Mexico. After surviving a huge storm on the eve of Saint Barbara’s feast day, the explorer christened the city in that Saint’s honor and voila, Santa Barbara was born and the richness of Santa Barbara history in the modern era began.

It took 167 years for the Spaniards to return. That is when Gaspar de Portolá and a Franciscan priest named Junípero Serra arrived from Mexico. They shared the goal of establishing missions and forts in “Alta” California, securing the region for Spain. The area became part of Mexico following the Mexican War of Independence. Even today, our streets, such as De la Guerra, Cota, Gutierrez, Ortega, Carrillo and, yes, Junípero Serra, memorialize those early settlers.

Mission Santa Barbara with red roses in the foreground

The Queen of Missions

The renowned Santa Barbara Mission, known as the “Queen of the Missions,” was established in 1786: the tenth in a line of more than 21 missions was originally used to Christianize the Indians and to teach them farming and other skills. The mission has evolved into its beautiful appearance of today, famous for being the only mission with two bell towers.

California Joins the United States

In 1848, the expanding United States acquired the town, along with the rest of California, after defeating Mexico in the Mexican-American War. Slowly, Santa Barbara transformed from a dusty cluster of adobes into a Victorian-era resort town, a center of film production, an oil boom town, somewhat of a military town during World War II, and finally the economically diverse and exceptional resort destination of today.

Devastating Earthquakes in Santa Barbara History

Santa Barbara architecture was subject to two devastating earthquakes. The first in 1812 and then again in 1925. Each time, the city rebuilt itself in a Spanish Colonial style reminiscent of its past.

The strong 1812 earthquake, felt throughout the region, frightened residents of the Old Mission. Padres, Indians, and soldiers rushed out of the buildings during a foreshock. Luckily for them, they were too afraid to reenter the building because just fifteen minutes later, a strong earthquake struck. The shaking was so intense that the mission's church bells rang out, while the adobe walls of the buildings were shattered. Severe damage from the earthquake was reported from Mission Santa Ines, Mission Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Presidio, Mission San Buenaventura (Ventura), and Mission San Fernando; covering a distance of over 100 miles.

In 1925, the entire downtown area was shaken to rubble by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake. The silver lining at that time was that, architecturally, the earthquake was a big win for the city because civic leader Pearl Chase convinced city planners to rebuild in a unified Spanish Colonial Revival style. She used the Old Mission and the Lobero Theatre for inspiration. Her creative efforts, seen in the iconic red-tile roofs and whitewashed adobe walls, are remembered in a delightful beachside park named in her honor.

Many buildings that stand here today date back to that era, like the Santa Barbara County Courthouse with its Moorish flourishes. Then there are the hidden fountains and courtyard of El Paseo, along with countless white stucco buildings adorned with ornamental ironwork, painted tiles, and arched doorways.

Old Spanish Days

To commemorate the richness of Santa Barbara history, each August, a five-day city-wide fiesta celebrates Santa Barbara’s “Old Spanish Days” with parades, performances, and a rodeo. ¡Viva España!

MOntecito home with Santa Barbara's red roof tiles

Spanish Colonial Architecture

Today, potential home buyers will find a wealth of beautiful estate properties, condominiums and townhomes, and exceptional residences that are beautifully designed with our Spanish history in mind. Take the Quintessential Mediterranean-style Montecito View Estate pictured above. Resting on just under an acre and behind dramatic iron gates, this amazing property from Award-winning architect Don Nulty, AIA features many of the touches from Spain referenced in this blog. Besides the red tiled roof, there are open-beam ceilings, rich wood floors, and arched doorways. The pièce de résistance is the unobstructed ocean and mountain vistas from most rooms.

Spanish Colonial Revival Beauty for sale on the Santa Barbara Riviera

Or perhaps you’d be interested in another one of my exclusive listings, the Spanish Colonial Revival Beauty on the Santa Barbara Riviera pictured here. The estate was originally built in 1949 by noted architect Chester Carjola. Locals may be familiar with that name. His other works include the Fleischmann Auditorium and Gladwin Planetarium at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, as well as the original University of California at Santa Barbara Library. Subsequent owners worked with the highly respected international architecture, landscape and interior design firm, Harrison Design to update the property, keeping the original Spanish flair intact.

Find out more about these listings on my comprehensive website. While there, you can check out my portfolio of other fine homes in Santa Barbara, Montecito, Hope Ranch or any of the nearby communities, please call at +1 (805) 886-9378 or email me at

To learn more about the richness of Santa Barbara history or the Santa Barbara real estate market, please don’t hesitate to connect with me – Cristal Clarke – your leading luxury Santa Barbara Realtor. With more than two decades of knowledge and experience in this market, I look forward to sharing my expertise with you.

Back to Articles

Client Reviews

“It was an emotional experience selling our mother’s home in Montecito that we all loved so much but Cristal made the process easier on our whole family by guiding us through the transaction every step of the way. She knows the market so well and everything she recommended was on point including the asking price, painting, and staging the home, which looked beautiful and helped the buyer envision her new home. We sold it the first day it hit the market with an offer above asking! Cristal did an incredible job communicating with us and the buyer to ensure that the transaction would run smoothly. We highly recommend using Cristal, she was a pleasure to work with! ”

- J & A

“Cristal is a pleasure to work with! Her knowledge of the local real estate market coupled with her amazing listening skills resulted in her showing us an array of homes that were all excellent choices. Her low-pressure patient attitude made us feel extremely comfortable with the whole process. I cannot recommend her highly enough.”

- M.F.

“Cristal Clarke is #1 in her field - and you don't become #1 by luck. Cristal works harder, and longer, and with more charm and patience than any real estate agent I have ever worked with in the past; her calendar has no weekend, her days have no clocks, her only concern is selling your property as soon as possible and for the best price on the market. Am I a fan? You bet!”

- P.B.

“We have used Cristal now several times and cannot express how grateful we are for her expertise, dedication, and unwavering support throughout the entire home-buying process. Cristal is knowledgeable, patient and attentive. Her attention to detail is remarkable, and she consistently went above and beyond to provide us with all the information and resources we needed to make informed decisions. Cristal is a skillful negotiator and advocate. She can navigate complex negotiations with professionalism and grace and felt like a true partner to us in the home-buying process. Cristal has a genuine passion for real estate and a deep commitment to her clients' satisfaction. I cannot speak highly enough of Cristal and her exceptional service. She is a true expert in her field and her dedication to excellence, combined with unwavering support is the reason we choose to work with her for all our real estate buying needs.”

- T.C.

“Cristal is a top-notch realtor who sold my home before it ever went on the market. I had two competing offers that enabled me to get top dollar for my home. Not only is Cristal superb but her team is extraordinary. I cannot say enough about Cristal and her team. They are simply phenomenal, the consummate professionals, who took care of every possible detail, making the sale and transition period, smooth from our end. They are also lovely, caring people, who knew all the right professionals, to get the job done. Thank you, everyone!”

- D.R.

“I could list lots of cool adjectives to describe Cristal. All good by the way. But, that is not why I or anyone should hire Cristal. My reason for hiring her, which proved to be correct, is very simple. She got the job done. And, she does it time and time again and with zero issues. And, that is why she is one of the top agents in the country. End of subject. ”

- M.A.

“Working with Cristal was a complete pleasure. Cristal was extremely patient with us as we evaluated nearly 2 dozen homes over a span of 2 years. Her knowledge of the market is unmatched. Cristal provided us with exceptional counsel as we evaluated opportunities and negotiated pricing. The closing process was handled thoroughly and efficiently. We could not be happier with our purchase and even more happy to now call Cristal our friend.”

- D.K.

“Cristal Clarke has conducted numerous real estate transactions for me beginning 13 years ago with the purchase of a Lemon Ranch. She has handled both large and small purchases and sales with equal dedication. As a negotiator, you can’t find anyone better. Her transactions are always conducted in the most appropriate and professional manner. Cristal has considerable knowledge of the Santa Barbara market.”

- S.N. Decker Ph.D.

“Living in Europe, we were to say the least, unaccustomed to the nuances of Real Estate acquisition in California and Cristal steered us through the process with absolute professionalism and personal attention to detail at every turn. Her in-depth knowledge of the market place combined with enthusiasm and drive was the only reason we secured the property of our dreams and will be forever grateful. If you are looking for personal discrete and private representation of the highest quality we suggest you look no further than Cristal Clarke.”

- Johan and Paula van den Berg

“Cristal is very straightforward, cheerful, helpful, professional and trustworthy….we felt very lucky to work with her.”

- John and Lacey Williams

“After considering our many choices, we are grateful it was Cristal Clarke of Sotheby’s International who represented the sale of our Montecito cottage. We are familiar with Cristal’s reputation of hard work and dedication to clients, but it was her attention to detail that made our experience so positive. She offered suggestions for staging the property, worked in harmony with potential buyers and was even able to secure back up offers. The sale of our cottage was completed much sooner than we expected, due in great part to Cristal’s professional skills and support. We highly recommend Cristal as a first choice for anyone needing representation with real estate.”

- Michael & Nancy Lee

“Our experience in working with Cristal Clarke resulted in the successful and discrete acquisition of a property which was not yet on the open market. Her knowledge of the Montecito/Santa Barbara area and vast expertise blended with her passion for real estate and architecture, provided us with the very highest level of professionalism and personalized services. Cristal exhibited a rare combination of excellent communications, attention to detail, creativity and patience.”

- Richard and Catherine Frinier

“Cristal really breaks the mold. She knows every nook and cranny of this real estate market, understands value, and follows up on everything, all the time. She was incredibly patient with our two year quest to find the perfect house. Every house hunting trip from across the country was well planned, and our time was never wasted. On top of her professionalism and expertise, she is delightful to spend time with. We are thrilled with the home we purchased, and grateful to Cristal for so wisely advising us through this process, right through to the close and beyond.”

- Laurie Siegel

“We met Cristal first in the course of renting a winter home (for three years), then buying a house using her as our agent. She was amazingly good at listening to our wants and showing us homes that fit our needs. Her mastery of the paperwork was perfect. Most importantly, there was never a situation where we doubted her straightforwardness or integrity. If we do another real estate transaction in Montecito (which I doubt, we’re happy with what we purchased), without question we’d use Cristal again.”

- Ken Saffir

“Susan and I just want to thank you for your efforts in the sale of our home. You are really quite amazing. Your competence, persistence, optimism and humor made the entire process effortless. Every problem that arose, you somehow fixed; any obstacle, you overcame. We have bought and sold many homes. It has never been such a painless and enjoyable process!”

- Michael & Susan Marquart

“A little something about “our” realtor, Cristal Clarke. My wife and I came to Santa Barbara about fifteen years ago looking for a seasonal home from which to enjoy the weather and amenities of the central coast. Being in the real estate business myself I was familiar with agents and brokers so entered the market with open eyes. We “flipped” a few houses in the early years, dealing with various agents and finally ended up in Montecito. That’s when good fortune put us together with Cristal. To say we were impressed is to put it mildly. Cristal really knows the market. She is familiar with the area, its history and trends. When we have questions about a particular property she either has the answers immediately or gets back to us by phone or email. There is no waiting or wondering with Cristal. She is an agent who is “on top of it.” Her recommendations as to price points, contractors, inspectors and title agents have proven to be exceptional, showing great insight and the highest professional standards. We consider ourselves exceedingly fortunate to say that Cristal Clarke is our realtor and would recommend her services to any serious buyer or seller.”

- Rob & Judi Kelch