29 October 2012

Destinations - Santa Barbara: one thing well known and two things obscure

A trip this past week to Santa Barbara will provide fodder for a few blog posts.  It was a mix of transportation: train from Chico to Santa Barbara, Hertz car rental while in Santa Barbara, and then United Airlines (well, United Express) from Santa Barbara back to Chico via SFO.  Everything went smoothly.

The reason for the trip - if one really needs a reason to visit Santa Barbara - was to get a tour of a grand hotel that is in the latter stages of renovation; I'll address that in a subsequent post.

But as the title of this post sets forth, I'm going to write about one feature of Santa Barbara that is quite well known, and then two other less known things.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

The courthouse competes with the Mission for the title of most photographed landmark in Santa Barbara.  Completed in 1929, it replaced an earlier courthouse destroyed in the devastating earthquake that took place in June 1925 and leveled most of downtown Santa Barbara.  In the aftermath of the earthquake, the city intentionally rebuilt in the Spanish Colonial Revival style.

Not unlike Yosemite where you can just point your camera and shoot, knowing that any shot will be spectacular because of the subject, the same is true of this manmade structure landscaped in a commensurately beautful way.  I never tire of this building and its surroundings.

Here is a selection of exterior and interior photos I took.  Is it Spain or is it California? - you decide.

From the El Mirador tower looking to the Santa Ynez Mountains

An interior stairway

Two obscure things about Santa Barbara

From the sublime courthouse we'll switch the light on to illuminate two major enterprises that began in Santa Barbara.  One of them is no longer major, but the other one remains so and continues to grow.  Both of these are American commercial cultural touchstones.


Coming of age in the mid-1970s, my crowd's hangout in late high school and early college years was the Sambo's in Los Gatos, Calif.  I remember little about the food, but I do know that the 10¢ coffee was the big draw.  (Yes, younger readers, even in the 70s ten cents wasn't much money.)  Most of the waitresses were around our age, and familiar in dealing with vexatious, loudmouthed teens.  It was a fun place.

Sambo's began modestly in Santa Barbara at one beachfront location in 1957.
Drawing on the Sambo's website, I learned that by 1981 the chain had expanded to 47 states with 1117 restaurants.  But a year later, all but the original location in Santa Barbara had closed.  (A Wikipedia article gives background on the chain's demise.)  Thirty years later, the first and last Sambo's is going strong under the ownership of the grandson of one of the original Sambo's founders.
Located on Cabrillo Boulevard in the West Beach area of Santa Barbara, it is the last surviving outpost of what once was a huge chain of restaurants.
Motel 6
Santa Barbara is known for its upscale hotels.  The Four Seasons Biltmore and the San Ysidro Ranch quickly come to mind.  Even modest to midscale motels and hotels in this town go for higher rates than in other locales.  So it will come as a surprise to learn that the nation's best known budget chain, Motel 6, began in Santa Barbara in 1962.
The original Motel 6 was built in the East Beach area of Santa Barbara.  While not on oceanfront Cabrillo Boulevard, it is set back only one short block from the beach.  Its original $6 per night rate (and reason for the chain's name) is history, victim of inflation and high-demand.
For many years the headquarters of the Motel 6 chain was in Santa Barbara.  It was acquired by the French hotel giant Accor in 1990, but sold this year to The Blackstone Group.  It is now run by G6 Hospitality based in Carrollton, Tex.  Fifty years after the chain's founding, it consists of about 1100 properties in the U.S. and Canada. 

The original property has held up well over the years, and sports a kind of Polynesian effect what with its palm trees.  Quite appropriate for a motel that opened in 1962.
Wikipedia's entry includes a good history of Motel 6's development and ownership changes over the years.

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