We tested Santa Barbara before moving there, by taking a small apartment near the beach. The apartment was at the uphill (northwest) end of Burton Circle, on Natoma (a paved tangent of Burton’s circle), on the second floor of the keystone-shaped building in the center of this map here. At the time we had no idea that we had plunked ourselves at a kind of Ground Zero of the city’s history.
The first clue came under the apartment across the street. The place was for sale, so we went over to take a look during an open house or something. Our tour paused in the basement laundry room, next to which was an open crawl space floored by loose sand. When I ran my hands through the sand, my skin was blackened by ash. This was a familiar experience for me, since I grew up spending summers in New Jersey’s pine barrens, a sandy expanse of pitch pine and scrub oak that had burned so often since the Pleistocene that the top layer of sand was tinted gray with ash. So I said to the real estate agent, “there’s been a fire here.”
“Oh yes,” he replied. “A huge one. This was the site of the Potter Hotel. It burned down in the Twenties.”
When I dug into local history, I found that our apartment not only sat across the circular driveway of the grand hotel’s entrance but at the crest of Burton Mound, which had been the very center of the Chumash settlement displaced by the Spanish after serving as the closest thing to a native city for perhaps thousands of years before.
All this comes to mind again reading historian Neal Graffy’s excellent article in Edhat on the Potter Hotel and the city that grew up around it. Continue reading there.
[Later…] Note to selves: the Potter Hotel deserves a Wikipedia entry. Let’s make one.