People, Places and Things

Planes, Trains, Surfboards and Summer Fun

“Hammond’s” is a name which is synonymous with Southern California beach and surf culture and has been for several decades. Much of the modern history of the real estate between Olive Mill Road and Eucalyptus Lane (which is essentially San Ysidro Road on the beach side of the 101) is dominated by the name Hammond because it was the Hammond family who once owned much of that land. More specifically, between the years 1910 and 1955 the Hammond family occupied the property that is bordered by the freeway and the Pacific Ocean, Olive Mill, and Eucalyptus Lane. And up […]

“Hammond’s” is a name which is synonymous with Southern California beach and surf culture and has been for several decades. Much of the modern history of the real estate between Olive Mill Road and Eucalyptus Lane (which is essentially San Ysidro Road on the beach side of the 101) is dominated by the name Hammond because it was the Hammond family who once owned much of that land. More specifically, between the years 1910 and 1955 the Hammond family occupied the property that is bordered by the freeway and the Pacific Ocean, Olive Mill, and Eucalyptus Lane. And up until the 1980s a member of the Hammond family lived on a nearby property which he and his wife dubbed “Flaps Down.” But perhaps the main reason for the Hammond’s enduring mark on local history is the fact that the great surf point known simply as Hammond’s was named for them.”

In 1893, Esther Fiske, the granddaughter of a Boston retail tycoon, married fellow-Bostonian Gardiner Hammond. Together they produced six children, but separated around 1910 and soon divorced thereafter. Mrs. Hammond was concerned about the ill effects of the Boston winters on her children, so she moved the family to various locations within the U.S. that afforded them a warmer winter climate. Eventually, she and her six children landed in Montecito where Esther rented the beach-front estate known as “Bonnymede” for the winter of 1910. Bonnymede, which was built in 1906 by William Davidson, occupied a choice spot in the edge of what is now called Hammond’s Meadow, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The family loved the home and location so much that in 1912 Esther Hammond purchased the property. This is the meadow; the second shot shows approximately where the house would have been located on the property.

Methodically and patiently, Esther Hammond purchased much of the surrounding properties until her estate encompassed much of the land bordered by Olive Mill Rd., Eucalyptus Lane, the ocean, and the train tracks. She also acquired an adjacent 15-acre parcel of land north of the railroad tracks and south of Jameson Road, which later become known as Flaps Down. In all, Mrs. Hammond’s estate encompassed 61 acres of prime Montecito coastal land.

The 61 acres had plenty of room for amenities. Besides the mansion, there were several outbuildings and recreational facilities. There was a bowling alley, several workshops, a bathhouse, a giant swing, a polo field and best of all, an airfield. All are visible on the picture above if you are able to “zoom” in on what is an insurance company’s map from that era.

One of Esther’s sons, George Fiske Hammond, loved all things mechanical. In 1927 he learned to fly at Earl Ovington’s airfield off Las Positas Road on land that is now the Municipal Golf Course. (See our story Urban Hike: Samarkand – It’s All About the History for more information about Earl Ovington – he was truly one of the greats of American aviation history).

In 1932, George built a hanger and two airstrips on his mother’s Bonnymede estate from whence he could fly wherever his heart desired. In order to keep the dust down during construction, George planted grass and had an elaborate irrigation system installed to keep the meadow and airstrip green and healthy. Conveniently, this irrigated and mowed meadow also made for a splendid seaside golf course. For many years, George Hammond used the airfield to fly far and wide. One of his regular aviation ventures was to fly mail and supplies to Herbert Lester and his family who were living and ranching on San Miguel Island. It was during the years preceding World War II that Herbert Lester and his family raised sheep on the island. As an aside to those who enjoy reading about SB history, local author and all-around colorful personality, T.C. Boyle has written a novel about the activities on the island, including the years the Lester’s ranched there. The book, due to be released in September of this year is simply called San Miguel. The novel is the second of Mr. Boyle’s books about the Channel Islands.

In 1955 at age 87, Esther Fiske Hammond died, closing a long chapter of Montecito history. In 1958, 46 acres below the railroad tracks were sold, and in 1966 the westernmost part of the property (off Olive Mill Rd.) was developed as a condominium complex. In keeping with the local history of the property, the developers cleverly named the condo complex Bonnymede.

This photo, which appeared in the Santa Barbara News Press in November 1964, shows the development of the property. The photo, taken by local professional photographer Tim Putz, was snapped from the passenger seat of an airplane piloted by Edhat Subscriber John Ryan. Thank you John for helping us share and preserve this old Santa Barbara image.

George Fiske Hammond, who had built his home Flaps Down on the 15 acres north of the railroad tracks in 1937, remained living in the home with his wife Katherine until his death in 1982. George had become something of a local legend, mostly for his aviation activities. It’s been reported that some of the guests and members of the nearby Coral Casino were not amused by his apparently intentional strafing of the club and pool’s high dive. Likewise, George didn’t appreciate the placement of the 30- some-odd-foot high dive, which was located at the end of his airstrip. This is a photo taken by Hal Boucher, date unknown.

Montecito Shores, which appears from the street to be an extension of Bonnymede, was completed in the mid 1970s.

In fact, Montecito Shores is distinctly different from Bonnymede and is a completely separate development. The only thing the condos have in common is the gated entry and the look-a-like signage.

We did not try to venture into Bonnymede or Montecito Shores for the purpose of this story but have been inside the gates many times throughout the years. You’ll just have to trust us when we tell you the developments are significantly different. Bonnymede, the more secluded of the developments, is more difficult to photograph from a public vantage point. Montecito Shores is much less secluded. We managed to get a shot of Montecito Shores from the Coral Casino showing its very distinctive architecture, which is much different than the condominiums of the Bonnymede development.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the remaining 22 acres, which extended from the Montecito Shores development to Eucalyptus Lane, were developed by Charlie Munger -Warren Buffet’s right hand man. Known simply as “Mungerville” by locals, “Sea Meadow” was built in a style similar to the French Normandy style of the Saint Malo Beach colony near Carlsbad California.

This development, which encompassed Hammond’s Meadow, created public uproar and controversy over the use of open space, beach access and the preservation of what had been the ancient Chumash village, Shalawa. After much controversy and litigation, public beach access and three acres of Hammond’s Meadow were designated as open space.

Today a simple marker denotes the spot that had previously served the Chumash for thousands of years. Ironically, if you look closely, you can see Mr. Munger’s house behind the monument. Rather than Photoshop the photo to protect the family’s privacy, we arranged to have a tent placed over the home…

Shalawa, an important coastal village is extremely significant in Native American culture for a number of reasons. This historically important place would most likely have been simply bulldozed over and developed if it hadn’t been for the efforts of a Chumash elder, who in 1979, began a movement to protect the sacred nature of the site. Joined by surfers and area residents, a part of the meadow was spared development, and a marker was installed. Presently, the meadow, which shows evidence of the Chumash people’s inhabitance is pitted with gopher holes and is covered with the invasive, non-native weed named malva or more commonly known as mallow. We think it would be much more appropriate and historically correct to have the open-space part of Hammond’s Meadow planted in native bunch grasses, which dominated the California landscape prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Anybody out there in Edhatland want to spearhead that project?

Before we tell you about the public access routes that were created during the development of Sea Meadow, we’ll show our best efforts at capturing a photo which shows all three housing developments on that part of the coastline – in the far distance is Montecito Shores, next is Bonnymede, and farthest to the right of the photo is Sea Meadow, all very different indeed.

Public access to Hammond’s involves two distinct paths, one of which is split. The westernmost path is the more humble of the two accesses, starting at the railroad tracks more toward Olive Mill Road. It’s one we used to take as kids to access the meadow and one still used by many today. We hear that in her youth, world famous surfer girl Lakey Peterson used to regularly use this route to access the break at Hammond’s. We think it’s a pretty cool way to get to the beach.

The other access, down the beach toward the Miramar, intersects Eucalyptus Lane (where there is also a public access to Miramar Beach that long pre-dated the access to Hammond’s). This access takes one down a pathway and meets the beach at the same location that Montecito Creek flows into the ocean. As long as we’re shamelessly dropping names, we may as well include the fact that Jack Johnson has used this path to get to Hammond’s.

And now we’ll head back up the beach toward the location of the old Biltmore Pier, or possibly Biltmore Piers. But first, we’ll tell you just a tiny bit more about the Coral Casino and share a couple of images of this classic Santa Barbara landmark.

In our previous story we told some of the early history of the club, but left out a few interesting details and a few photos we think you’ll enjoy. Specifically, we failed to mention that when the pool was first opened in 1928 it was part of the Biltmore Beach Club, and included among other things a pool and cabanas that lined the beach along Channel Drive. (This was less than twelve months after the grand opening of the Biltmore Hotel). Rumor has it that when the pool was under construction, the Biltmore big-wigs feared that it may be appropriated as a venue for the 1932 Summer Olympic trials since the event was being held in Los Angeles. To insure against this possibility, they ordered that the pool be built to a specification of 167′ by 60′, with seven lanes. Olympic sized pools must be exactly 50 meters by 25 meters (164′ X 82′) and accommodate 10 lanes.

As you’ll recall from our previous story Muy Rico Channel Drive, the Depression took its toll on the Biltmore Hotel . In 1936, under foreclosure, the Biltmore Hotel and its accompanying property, the Biltmore Beach Club, were purchased by Pacific States Saving and Loan. At the time, the majority shareholder of the bank was the Robert O’Dell family.

The Biltmore Hotel re-opened on July 1, 1937, and about three weeks later the newly renovated and improved pool/beach club opened as the Coral Casino. Over the years, the Coral Casino has undergone many changes, but today it remains very much as it was in the 1930s. At one point, sand was brought in and placed around the pool. (CAPTION: Photo by Hal Boucher, 1950

At another point, the pool was converted to salt water and a few years later it was a highly chlorinated one. Today it is “just about right,” as newer technology and chemistry have allowed for a chlorine-free pool that is clean and safe. This is a postcard photo of the Coral Casino taken probably during the 1960s.

And this is how the club looks today.

No local landmark has given us as much trouble as has the Biltmore Pier. Both of us Urban Hikers spent many a summer day down at the pier in the early to mid 1970s. Sometimes the weather and conditions were so superb (and the “pier” pressure so great) that we would jump from the end of the pier into the ocean with friends cheering us on. Then, more often than not, we’d swim over to the Coral Casino raft for a little ‘”R and R” before swimming back to shore and rejoining the crowd at the end of the pier. Oh, those were the days…In fact, this photo, taken in January 1983, shows one of the UH “sittin’ on the wall” shortly before the old girl was wiped out in a winter storm.

Looking back, we have a photo taken from around the turn of the century that clearly shows a pier in the background. As far as we can tell, this photo was taken near the entrance of the property that was to become known as “The Breakers.”

By the 1920s, photos of the Biltmore and Channel Drive no longer show a pier. So we wonder when the original pier – which we be believe was located approximately across the street from the current exit of the Biltmore Hotel (shown here)- disappeared and under what circumstances that occurred. As you can see from this postcard photo printed in 1933, it shows a coastline without a pier. We know that it wasn’t until 1936 at the very earliest (after the O’Dell family took possession) that a new pier would have been constructed at or near that site.

We believe it was Robert O’Dell who commissioned a pier to be built for use by the guests of the Biltmore Hotel and that this is the approximate location upon which it was built.

Frustratingly, we have been unable to put an exact date on the construction of the pier. In an effort to narrow down a timeframe, we have spoken with “old-timer” locals who are certain that there was no pier on Channel Drive during the early 1950s. Therefore, our best guess is that the original Biltmore Pier was build around 1962 and later destroyed by a winter El Nino storm in 1983. Ultimately, it was probably removed by 1984. But then again, this image, taken from the Biltmore pier, seems to have been taken much earlier than the 60s. You can see now why we are puzzled and a bit frustrated by this fascinating part of SB history.

These images provided by Bill Etling were taken circa 1975. The first one shows Marco Del Masso, a talented and natural athlete diving off the pier, in rare form for sure. He was a classmate of Bill’s at Santa Ynez High. The second shot, also taken circa 1975 is a great example of the break that made surfing the Biltmore Pier so legendary. If you’d like to see more of Bill Etling’s historic photos, you’re in luck – here is his website.

It’s wonderful that before the proliferation of the iPhones and other pocket cameras (which most of us are never without these days), some souls were insightful enough to prepare and make the effort to capture our history. And thankfully some of those people are happy to share their shots with the rest of us, who were probably just too busy having fun to give a darn.

As always, we encourage you to go out to explore your town, meet your neighbors, keep your eyes, ears, and minds open to all that you encounter. Above all, expect the unexpected.

About Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright

We are two "fifty-something" year olds who are lifetime residents of Santa Barbara. Together, we have decided to walk each and every street within the City limits of Santa Barbara just for the fun of it. Peter is a dentist, and Stacey is a long-time County employee who helps the elderly without family to look after them. Read more

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