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Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Marks 125th Birthday with Celebrations and Reflection

Over the past century and a quarter, the hospital has become an iconic institution in the city

Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital kicked off a year of celebrations on Thursday to mark its 125th anniversary.
Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital kicked off a year of celebrations on Thursday to mark its 125th anniversary. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk file photo)

Even in historically well-off cities like Santa Barbara, few institutions remain continuously open to the public for a century or more.

The Granada and Arlington theaters opened in the 1920s and 1930s, respectively, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History only celebrated its centennial this year.

On Thursday, however, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital kicked off a year of celebrations as it marks the big 125.

“I think that by California standards and West Coast standards, an institution that’s been around for 125 years and has really never closed its doors is really a moment to celebrate,” said Dave Dietrich, Cottage’s vice president of development.

The idea for a top-notch health center came to local Mary Ashley way back in 1888, when the city’s population had yet to hit 6,000.

Ashley was elected its first board president when Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital opened three years later, on Dec. 8, 1891.

Tens of thousands of Santa Barbarans were born at the hospital, which aided the South Coast’s own battle with the 1918 flu pandemic and the aftermath of the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake.

The hospital’s first superintendent, Dr. Jane E. Spaulding, was a pioneer for women in the medical field, managing the hospital, training nurses, treating patients and growing food for the hospital on its own farm before retiring in 1911.

A third woman to play a fundamental role in the development of Cottage Hospital was Alice Keck Park, daughter of William Myron Keck, who founded Superior Oil Company and the W. M. Keck Foundation.

Park donated often to the hospital, and after her death in 1977, the hospital was a beneficiary of her estate. The Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Foundation was established five years later to look after and grow her gift.

After a century and a quarter, Dietrich said, Cottage Health’s flagship institution at 400 W. Pueblo St. has become the most comprehensive hospital between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“We’ll weave that history theme into almost all the activities that we do in the coming year,” he said.

Those activities will include publications and stories celebrating the movers and shakers from the hospital’s history, and videos and interviews with hospital caregivers and leaders.

In February, the black-tie Tiara Ball fundraising gala will raise money for critical-care services featuring a “vintage, 125-year theme.”

“When we think about the history and we think about our role, I think one thing that we’re really mindful of is that it’s really a team effort” between the board of directors, hospital management, care-giving and support staff and volunteers, Dietrich said.

Part of that team includes the Barkas family, three generations of whom work for the hospital or attend its programs.

First to join 34 years ago was clinical nurse specialist Diane Barkas, who works in critical care. Her husband, Don, is an echocardiographer who joined after a career in firefighting.

Three generations of the Barkas family work at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital or make sure of its services. They are part of the team celebrating the hospital’s 125th anniversary. Click to view larger
Three generations of the Barkas family work at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital or make sure of its services. They are part of the team celebrating the hospital’s 125th anniversary. (Contributed photo)

One daughter, Amanda, is a nurse in the medical intensive-care unit, and her sister, Ashleigh, teaches at the hospital’s Orfalea Children’s Center. Both were born at Cottage and attended the center.

Now it’s Amanda’s two children, Emma and Jacob, who attend the center.

“One of the things that keeps me interested is that we get to do some really interesting things here,” Don Barkas said. “Each one of us has a different perspective over this whole umbrella of what they call patient care.

“We can feed off of each other, we can share different stories and experiences of ‘what I saw today’ — within the realm of HIPAA, of course.”

The flexibility and hours of their schedules differ, but that doesn’t mean they don’t see each other throughout the 450-bed facility.

“One day, they all ended up in my office at lunch time and we took a selfie,” Diane Barkas said.

“I can just walk in and go to the cafeteria and half the time I see part of my family,” Ashleigh Barkas added. “It’s nice. I live down here now, and they all live in Santa Ynez, and I get to come to work and see my family.”

The dedication and often-life-saving work of staff like the Barkas family, Dietrich said, has been made possible by past hospital leaders like Ashley and Spaulding.

“I think we really are feeling a sense of respect and admiration for what they built and what they passed on to us, and the hospital’s ability and readiness to care for the community,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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