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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 3:50 am | Fair 46º

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With New Book Set, John Gherini Provides a Vivid Picture of Santa Cruz Island’s History

Santa Barbara author digs deep into archives of historic landmark to compile hundreds of photographs, many of them never before published

(channelislandsnps video)

A local attorney with deep ties to Santa Cruz Island has just released a two-volume book chronicling — in images — the history of the nearly 100-square-mile island about 30 miles south of Santa Barbara.

John Gherini’s impressive compilation, Santa Cruz Island: An Illustrated History, features nearly 600 photographs and maps of the island, the largest of a chain of eight Channel Islands off the coast of California. Many of the images have never previously been published anywhere, he said.

In 2015, Gherini published a written version of the history, Santa Cruz Island: A History of Conflict and Diversity. But he said he felt a more comprehensive book was needed that incorporated the visual elements of the island.

“I was swimming in pictures in maps,” he said. “I wanted to combine the history with those images.”

Gherini’s own history with the island extends not just to his childhood, but several generations further back. He is the great-great-grandson of Justinian Caire, a San Francisco entrepreneur who purchased the island with several partners after the California Gold Rush of 1849. At the time, much of the island was devoted to sheep ranching.

Over the course of the next 20 years, Caire bought out the other nine shareholders to become sole owner of the Santa Cruz Island Co. in 1869. Strategically using the island’s varied topography and micro climates, he divided his holdings into satellite ranches on the east and west ends with a third at Prisoners Harbor on the north shore, along with seasonal ranches in other areas.

Caire also diversified from sheep, adding cattle and growing fruit, nuts and even wine grapes. He oversaw the construction of distinctive French country-style brick and stone ranch buildings, and linked the far-flung ranches with one of the nation’s first telephone networks.

After Caire’s death in 1897, protracted legal battles among his heirs resulted in a majority of the island being sold off to Los Angeles oilman Edwin Stanton, although the family retained 6,000 acres for its own ranching operation on the east end.

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Gherini said he visited the island often as a youth, helping out with his family’s ranch business.

“When we went over there, we had jobs to do, whether they were to round up sacking wool, mending or repairing fence lines, or shipping wool from the island to the mainland,” he said. “There was a lot of work.”

In 1980, the Gherini family turned over its holdings to the National Park Service, which now owns about a quarter of the island. The remainder is owned by The Nature Conservancy, under a transfer arrangement orchestrated by Stanton’s son, Carey, who died in 1987.

Santa Cruz Island is now part of Channel Islands National Park, along with four sister islands: Anacapa, Santa Barbara, San Miguel and Santa Rosa.

The legacy of ranching on the island is finished, but Gherini said he has always supported the concept of a national park as a means of long-term preservation.

“It is not in any way, shape or form a working ranch now,” he said. “But the cultural history of the ranching operations going back over 130 years has been preserved. That’s kind of what I was trying to do in the book.”

Gherini clearly remains devoted to and fascinated by the island, which is such a distinctive part of the horizon from all along Santa Barbara County’s South Coast.

“The south side of the island looks like it could be in the Caribbean,” he said, “while the north side looks like it could be in Hawaii, with volcanic cliffs and caves.

“It’s a magnificent island.”

Noozhawk intern Shomik Mukherjee 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.

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