[Noozhawk’s note: Last in a series. Click here for previous columns.]
Over the past several months, Noozhawk has generously published a weekly column that I have written on the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation and its various projects, with special emphasis on its adobe world.
In this final column, I think it worth considering the totality of what the nonprofit SBTHP had achieved in its 53-year history up to the time I stepped down as executive director in 2016.
First, there are its real estate successes. SBTHP acquired sections of four blocks of downtown properties over this time period, for and with California State Parks. All of the parcels were purchased from willing sellers.
In 1995, SBTHP also purchased the Santa Inés Mission Mills property in Solvang, also from willing sellers.
SBTHP turned the gift of El Paseo/Casa de la Guerra into a “real estate” success by its sale with conditions on the property. The result was the complete restoration both of El Paseo and the casa — the former by the new El Paseo owners under the guidance of SBTHP and the latter by SBTHP itself.
At El Presidio de Santa Bárbara, SBTHP was responsible for rebuilding 18 of the original presidio rooms (one an observation tower), and the Presidio Chapel, Santa Barbara’s first church. More than 100,000 adobe bricks were made, mostly on site, for the presidio reconstruction and the Casa de la Guerra restoration.
Through its half-century history, SBTHP undertook numerous archaeological investigations and produced professional reports recording these efforts.
SBTHP also undertook important repair work of the Pico, Rochin and El Cuartel adobes. It restored five of the buildings at the old Santa Barbara City College site — some of them in cooperation with tenants. It was responsible for the first greened buildings of a historic building in a state park.
The trust conducted research and published numerous articles, books and a quarterly newsletter that only missed one issue over a period of 50 years. It created a model Presidio Research Center with books and archival materials available to the public.
It created a living history soldiers group that added a special dimension to the SBTHP and El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park celebrations and events, which was especially important during the royal visits of Spain’s Prince Felipe, now King Felipe VI.
It created 20 rooms of museum space — including the rich interior of the Presidio Chapel designed by noted art historian Norman Neuerburg.
SBTHP expanded its interpretation to include the Asian history of the presidio area.
With all of these achievements one must add good financial management. When I left in 2016, SBTHP had no debt, but it also had a solid income flow in large part due to sound investment of its cash assets and earned income from state property rental properties made possible by a unique operating agreement. The board included some very smart business people overseeing SBTHP’s operations.
At the same time, SBTHP had to build a staff to operate and interpret its various sites.
For me personally, I derived great satisfaction being part of this amazing development, but it was not without its stresses and strains. The two-year-plus escrow of the El Paseo sale caused many sleepless nights.
Then, one of our sales to the state was stopped cold within a week of closing when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger shut down much of the state government due to a fiscal crisis. This happened at a time when we really needed the funding to pay off another mortgage. Six months later, a check for $1.5 million finally arrived, and we could exhale.
And then there were the extended years of presidio political controversy and the uncertainty of how it would all turn out.
On the other hand, there were plenty of positive acknowledgments of our work.
SBTHP received many awards — from the National Trust for Historic Preservation at its conference in Buffalo, New York; a Take Pride America award received on the White House lawn in 1988; and a special DeWitt Partnership award from California State Parks.
Best of all were awards from the king of Spain and the California State Parks Rangers Association.
In 2016, the California State Parks Rangers Association named me honorary Ranger of the Year. This award came as result of my work at the presidio and Santa Inés Mission Mills, but also because I had served for many years on the board of the California League of Park Associations, including four as president. In addition, I had visited all 280 of California’s state parks.
I was honored to be among such notables as Ansel Adams, Walt Disney, Clint Eastwood and legendary Santa Barbara civic leader Pearl Chase to have received this high honor. The ranger hat was presented to me in a ceremony at Morro Bay State Park in November 2016.
Meanwhile, I was named a commander in Spain’s royal Order of Isabel la Católica with a document signed by King Felipe VI, who when a prince had visited us twice. The civil designation was in recognition of my work in promoting Spanish history, especially at the presidio.
I had also made three trips to Spain, one on a research grant for various archives that included a trip to Sevilla and the Archivo de Indias for research on presidio Comandante Felipe Goicoechea. Another trip was to visit the birthplace of Don José de la Guerra, the presido’s first comandante and the founding patriarch of the family here.
My award ceremony was held in May 2016 in the Mural Room of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, where Spanish consul-general Javier Vallaure presented the decoration. It was a splendid affair and, in my acceptance speech, my main point was that I stood on the shoulders of people like Chase, Jeremy Hass, Richard Whitehead, Russell Ruiz and many more, including SBTHP board members and my loyal staff who were in attendance.
With the help of David Bolton of the California Missions Foundation, my wife, Michele, and event planner-daughter Renée Longo made many of the arrangements. The Soldados del Presidio de Santa Bárbara, the city’s colonial militia, were part of the ceremony. De la Guerra descendant Jeannie Davis commemorated the event by making special tiles for all in attendance. The ceremony ended with professional baritone Eduardo Villa singing “The Impossible Dream.”
When all is said and done, I am grateful. It was a very difficult job and there were times when I felt overpowering stress, but my mentor from UC Santa Barbara, history professor Harold Kirker, kept supporting and encouraging me.
My wife, Michele, was also a huge supporter. I am sure my tenure at SBTHP would have been over rather quickly except for her; she kept advising me on best leadership and nonprofit management practices, because that was what she did as a business consultant. She was of invaluable help to me and the SBTHP as a 35-year volunteer.
When did I know I was lucky to have been hired by the SBTHP? One of those moments was a swim in the outdoor pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, made possible because a park staffer admired SBTHP and offered my staff and me the opportunity to visit. Other great moments were watching those adobe walls rise at the presidio.
I don’t know when the presidio reconstruction will resume, but I know someday it will, and I predict that the site will even achieve UNESCO World Heritage status, similar to Saalburg, the rebuilt Roman fort I used to take my students to when I was teaching in Germany.
Viva El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. ¡Siempre adelante!
— Jarrell Jackman is the former executive director of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. After receiving his Ph.D. in history from UC Santa Barbara, he taught for six years in Europe and Washington, D.C. In 2015, he was honored as a knight of the Royal Order of Isabel la Católica by Spain’s King Felipe VI and was named an honorary state park ranger by the California State Park Rangers Association in 2016. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.