Pixel Tracker

Friday, March 22 , 2019, 6:18 pm | Fair 59º

 
 
 
 
Good for Santa Barbara

Early Philanthropists Set Tone for Tradition of Giving That Has Been Good for Santa Barbara

Thanks to many names you know, and some you don’t, roots of nonprofit community run deep and strong

Among the pantheon of civic leaders and philanthropists who left an indelible mark on Santa Barbara are, from left, Frederick Forrest Peabody, Pearl Chase and Maj. Max C. Fleischmann. Click to view larger
Among the pantheon of civic leaders and philanthropists who left an indelible mark on Santa Barbara are, from left, Frederick Forrest Peabody, Pearl Chase and Maj. Max C. Fleischmann. (Santa Barbara Foundation photos)

Peabody School. Fleischmann Auditorium. Dwight Murphy Field. Chase Palm Park.

The names attached to these Santa Barbara locales evoke an era, early in the last century, when well-heeled philanthropists, many of whom arrived from big cities in the East, fostered a culture of giving in the community that endures to this day.

              |  Good for Santa Barbara  |  Complete Series Index  |

More than 100 years later, Santa Barbara and surrounding communities today are renowned for their generosity as subsequent generations have stepped up to do their part.

Exact figures are hard to come by, but consistent estimates put the number of nonprofit organizations serving Santa Barbara County at some 1,200.

Likewise, the dollars raised are difficult to pinpoint, but it’s safe to say the total runs into the hundreds of millions, and seems to get larger every year.

So, how did philanthropy become so embedded in Santa Barbara’s DNA?

Erin Graffy, a local author and historian, asserts that the giving train really got rolling locally after two key events — the completion of the West Coast railroad route through Santa Barbara and construction of the Potter Hotel and other large accommodations catering to Eastern visitors.

“It wasn’t until right after the turn of the century that the train goes all the way through,” Graffy told Noozhawk.

With that development — and with construction of the Potter, on the waterfront, and the Arlington Hotel on State Street — wealthy tourists “had a big special place to stay” to escape the cold Eastern winters and an easy way to get here.

Author and historian Erin Graffy traces the significant expansion of Santa Barbara’s charitable giving to the arrival of the railroad and the establishment of preeminent local hotels, both of which catered to wealthy visitors from the East. She jokingly refers to the influx of the monied classes as the “original snowbirds.” Click to view larger
Author and historian Erin Graffy traces the significant expansion of Santa Barbara’s charitable giving to the arrival of the railroad and the establishment of preeminent local hotels, both of which catered to wealthy visitors from the East. She jokingly refers to the influx of the monied classes as the “original snowbirds.” (Elite Henenson / Noozhawk file photo)

It didn’t take long before many of these “original snowbirds” decided that sleepy little Santa Barbara — with a population of about 6,000 — could be more than a winter refuge, Graffy said.

Many put down roots, and through a combination of need and altruism, set about funding and creating the community amenities — hospitals, schools, parks, the arts, and the like — their stations in life required.

Ed Birch, president and CEO of the Samuel B. and Margaret C. Mosher Foundation, which oversees the fortune left by the late oil tycoon Samuel Mosher and his wife, said he believes Santa Barbara’s early philanthropists have left an indelible mark on the community.

“They established a pattern of commitment that I don’t think is matched in most other places,” said Birch, a community leader and retired administrator at UC Santa Barbara and Westmont College.

“These were people who gave because they cared,” he said. “That’s kind of a trite phrase, but I think they truly cared for the community at large, and did things to benefit the greater community.

Part of the early philanthropists’ legacy, Birch said, is “they established a kind of partnership and a commitment to the best interests of the community, without regard to personal benefit or recognition.”

“They gave not only their personal resources, but their time, taking on leadership roles,” he explained. “They were not just tilling the soil, but buying the fertilizer for the soil.”

It takes only a drive around town to realize how abundant were the fruits of their labors.

Peabody Stadium at Santa Barbara High School is named after Frederick Forrest Peabody, an industrialist and former chairman of the school board who oversaw construction of the campus in the early 1900s.

Ed Birch, president and CEO of the Mosher Foundation, credits early philanthropists with the vision to establish lasting partnerships and commitments in the best interests of the community. “They gave not only their personal resources, but their time, taking on leadership roles,” he says. “They were not just tilling the soil, but buying the fertilizer for the soil.” Click to view larger
Ed Birch, president and CEO of the Mosher Foundation, credits early philanthropists with the vision to establish lasting partnerships and commitments in the best interests of the community. “They gave not only their personal resources, but their time, taking on leadership roles,” he says. “They were not just tilling the soil, but buying the fertilizer for the soil.” (Noozhawk file photo)

He also donated the land for what is today Peabody Charter School in the San Roque neighborhood.

Maj. Max C. Fleischmann, another wealthy industrialist, came to Santa Barbara in the 1920s.

His generosity helped restore the Santa Barbara Mission after the 1925 earthquake, and he donated $500,000 to build the breakwater that made the Santa Barbara Harbor possible.

He also made many donations to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, where Fleischmann Auditorium bears his name.

And he was a founder of Santa Barbara Foundation, which today is a powerhouse among the ranks of local nonprofit organizations.

“Their level of generosity was extraordinary,” said Ron Gallo, president and CEO of Santa Barbara Foundation. “If converted into today’s dollars, what these people did would be awesome.

“They established the character of Santa Barbara as a place that loves its nonprofits and demands a level of culture and education far beyond what might be expected.”

Another wealthy patron, Dwight Murphy, worked closely with preservationist Pearl Chase, and was instrumental in rebuilding Santa Barbara in the architectural image of its Spanish forebears following the 1925 earthquake.

Besides his namesake park, he played key roles in the development of Earl Warren Showgrounds, East Beach, Stearns Wharf, the El Desfile Histórico (the historic Fiesta equestrian parade), Lake Cachuma and nearby Bradbury Dam, and a bevy of public parks, including the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, Cabrillo ballpark, Mission Park, Franceschi Park, Pershing Park and Chase Palm Park along the waterfront.

The list of noteworthy individuals who built Santa Barbara’s philanthropic foundation goes on and on, but the city was not alone in having generous citizens.

Ron Gallo is president and CEO of the venerable Santa Barbara Foundation, which was founded early in the last century by industrialist Max Fleischmann and other philanthropists to enrich and strengthen communities throughout Santa Barbara County. “Their level of generosity was extraordinary,” he says. “They established the character of Santa Barbara as a place that loves its nonprofits and demands a level of culture and education far beyond what might be expected.” Click to view larger
Ron Gallo is president and CEO of the venerable Santa Barbara Foundation, which was founded early in the last century by industrialist Max Fleischmann and other philanthropists to enrich and strengthen communities throughout Santa Barbara County. “Their level of generosity was extraordinary,” he says. “They established the character of Santa Barbara as a place that loves its nonprofits and demands a level of culture and education far beyond what might be expected.” (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Moore, Fabing, Buell, Adam, Twitchell, Rice and Foxen — all are names of families that contributed to building their communities in Lompoc, Santa Maria and throughout the North County.

These early philanthropists contributed “in a huge way” to the culture of giving that permeates the community today, said Anne Smith Towbes, who with her husband, Michael Towbes, is among today’s giants when it comes to giving.

“They came in large part from large cities and brought their sophistication and understanding with them,” she said.

Towbes arrived in town in 1991 with her first husband, the late Bob Smith, and the couple owned the Santa Barbara-based KEYT television station.

“I had no idea when I came here how amazingly philanthropic this town was,” she recalled.

Gallo noted that one question on the mind’s of today’s philanthropists is what will happen in the future.

He foresees possibly new approaches to doing good works as the millennial generation takes on the leadership mantle, but doesn’t think Santa Barbara will lose its generous streak.

“I’m actually very optimistic about the future,” Gallo said. “I think there’s always a tendency of the current generation to think the next generation is self-absorbed, not as interested in the community, and not as philanthropic.

“I don’t think that’s the case, but it may look very different. We’ll likely see a change in the patterns of philanthropy.”

Asked whether they think the commitment to giving will continue, both Birch and Towbes also were optimistic.

“I’m probably more comfortable with that today than I may have been five or 10 years ago,” Birch said. “The schools are doing a better job of emphasizing community involvement, and I think families are, too.”

Towbes concurred.

“I feel honored to live in a place with such heart,” she said. “We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that we did our jobs and the next generation will pick it up and carry on.”

              |  Good for Santa Barbara  |  Complete Series Index  |

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today!

Our professional journalists work tirelessly to report on local news so you can be more informed and engaged in your community. This quality, local reporting is free for you to read and share, but it's not free to produce.

You count on us to deliver timely, relevant local news, 24/7. Can we count on you to invest in our newsroom and help secure its future?

We provide special member benefits to show how much we appreciate your support.

Email
I would like give...
Great! You're joining as a Red-Tailed Hawk!
  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >