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Having walked every street in the city limits of Santa Barbara (all 256 center-line miles), we have a fascination for our city streets and neighborhoods and care about what becomes of them.
With the City Council’s recent vote to create a bike lane on Micheltorena Street from the overpass to State Street, we thought we’d explore this quintessential downtown neighborhood.
The bike lanes will surely change the character of this mixed-use and eclectic neighborhood, and we wanted to refresh our memories about the unique qualities of these four city blocks.
On a late Sunday afternoon, we put on out hiking shoes and set off.
First walking west on Sola Street and then walking east on Micheltorena, we were able to confirm one of our suspicions – that Sola Street is definitely wider and better suited to bike lanes than is Mitcheltorena Street.
The history of both streets is important to know, and helps to explain why West Sola is wider than Micheltorena.
In order to verify our facts, after our Sunday stroll we made a trip down to City Hall to check out the massive map displayed in the halls of the hall.
Just as suspected, we found that the old streetcar used to traverse Sola from State Street to Bath Street.
The 1914 map beautifully illustrates the early 1900s streetcar route, which traveled up State Street, turned onto West Sola, turned again up Bath Street, ultimately arriving at Oak Park.
Santa Barbara’s streetcar system operated for 54 years, from 1875 until 1929. The system covered ground from Oak Park to the bottom of Quarantina and State Streets, to the Riviera and back to State Street.
If you want to learn more about Santa Barbara’s streets and property owners in 1914, go down to City Hall and spend some quality time with the big map. But we digress…
Following the old streetcar route, we rediscovered that there are two nice examples of mid-century architecture.
The first building of interest is the old I. Magnin store, which is now home to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Growing up in Santa Barbara, we have always admired this mid-century masterpiece.
The next building down the block on the right-hand side is the old Sovereign Life building which is now the Green Hills software company.
Across the street and on the right is the magnificent Edgerly Apartments and cottages, built in 1910 and home to many.
The Upham Hotel is down the street and on the right. Santa Barbara’s longest-operating hotel, it’s been there since 1871.
It’s probably the reason the streetcar took that route. From there to Bath Street, Sola has multiple historic bungalows and Victorians.
Continuing on past the corner where the streetcar turned up Bath Street, we noticed a narrowing of the street.
We turned up Castillo Street and made our way home after a detour over the overpass where we purchased dinner fixings from the meat counter at Super Cuca’s.
This little carniceria is one of the little gems we found as we made our original hikes through the streets of Santa Barbara.
Heading eastbound along Micheltorena, the first historic building we came to is on the left-hand side of the street at 302 W. Micheltorena.
The Baxter House was built in 1875, and has an interesting and unique double-pitched roof.
This house is featured in several publications, including the iconic Capra Press’ Santa Barbara Architecture and Santa Barbara Historical Society’s “Survivors, Santa Barbara’s Last Victorians.”
On the other side of the street, on the corner of Bath and Micheltorena Streets, sits La Bamba Market, a neighborhood store.
These “corner stores” are relics from old Santa Barbara, prior to the proliferation of modern supermarkets.
Back in the day, residents would walk to the corner market to pick up provisions, learn the news and socialize with their neighbors.
Sadly, in Santa Barbara most of these markets are extinct due to progress.
We think it would be a shame if this neighborhood market bites the bites the dust as a result of an ill-conceived traffic plan.
The block between Bath and De la Vina Streets is unique in that it is home to three separate bungalow courts, all of which were built in the early 1900s, when automobile ownership was rare.
The first court we came to is on the ocean side of the street at 221 W. Micheltorena.
Included in Santa Barbara Architecture, this property is described as being built in the “Hopi revival style”.
We love the fact that our city is home to a diverse tradition of architecture, which includes Native American style and design.
The other two “house courts” are on the other side of the street. One court consists of at least eight tidy bungalows, and the other looks like a tropical getaway and recycler’s paradise.
House courts are home to many individuals and families, who unlike their predecessors have the luxury and necessity of owning a vehicle.
Further east, on the corner of De la Vina, sits one of downtown’s most recognized Victorians.
It sheer size, striking architecture, and elaborate pink paint job set this home apart from any other.
Aside from its monumental presence, we know almost nothing about it.
We do suspect, however that in this day and age, it requires more on-street parking than was planned for when this old girl was constructed.
Eastbound from De la Vina, we came to the historic 1890s carriage barn.
This structure is a reminder of the old day in Santa Barbara, when horses were the primary mode of transportation.
In fact, our 8-block walk reveled several sandstone horse hitches, representing but a fraction of Santa Barbara’s surviving hitching posts.
This eclectic neighborhood includes modern architecture along with the old Victorians and the early 1900s structures.
The old Danica House building is another of Santa Barbara’s more notable buildings, due to its downtown location and uniqueness.
Built in 1969, with an addition in 1973, this International style building is now home to a number of businesses.
This building is also featured in Santa Barbara Architecture.
Kitty-corner to the old Danica House is the very hip and very popular South Coast Deli.
We noticed that this sandwich shop, which relies heavily on take-out, lacks much on-street parking on Chapala Street.
In fact, it is probably safe to say that South Coast Deli customers who arrive by car almost certainly park on Micheltorena Street.
If parking along Micheltorena is removed in favor if bike lanes, customers at the deli will have one helluva time finding a place to park.
This will place a burden not only on the proprietors of the business, but also on hungry people in search of a great sammy.
Across from South Coast, toward the mountains, sits an 1890s home, formally known as the Storr House. Like several other buildings along this 4-block stretch, it’s noteworthy enough to have been included in Santa Barbara Architecture.
Continuing on, in the first block of West Micheltorena, we found a George Washington Smith, built in 1926.
A Downtown George Washington Smith simple and beautiful building has served many local businesses for nearly a century.
Its elegant and Andalusian architecture is quintessentially Santa Barbara, and of course, it too found its way into Capra Press’ Santa Barbara Architecture.
Despite knowing little about the cottages next to the George Washington Smith, we think they are wonderful examples of Santa Barbara style.
We have heard that like their neighbor, they were designed by Mr. Smith, but we have not been able to confirm this.
The last of the Mitcheltorena Street buildings to mention are across the street.
They serve as professional offices to physicians, dentists and others and round out the mixed-use neighborhood that is West Micheltorena Street between State and the freeway overpass.
The viability of these offices is essential to our community and very likely will suffer without adequate on-street parking and accessibility.
In a town that appreciates and promotes alternative modes of transportation, cyclists are highly regarded.
We certainly appreciate and support the need for more biking, urban hiking and all other transportation options that reduce congestion, pollution, expense and global impact.
We are all for bike lanes that keep cyclists safe and traffic running smoothly.
But we believe our urban planners have made a mistake with their current proposal to wipe out all on-street parking along the four blocks of West Micheltorena between State Street and the 101 overpass.
We suggest that they look instead to the wider, less utilized West Sola Street.
We believe that Sola Street can safely accommodate both on-street parking and bike lanes. In fact, over the years we have cycled and walked very safely and efficiently along West Sola as we head to and from the Westside.
There are no traffic signals to slow our progress – only stop signs. We have found that the stoplights on Chapala and Victoria, as well as those on De la Vina and Micheltorena, create natural traffic breaks to safely cross De la Vina and Chapala on Sola St.
Supporters of the bike lanes suggest that streets are intend for transit alone, not parking. However history clearly disputes this.
Even before the advent of the automobile, city streets were equipped with horse hitches to allow those using horses and carriage to park, and we found clear evidence that this was the case on the blocks of West Micheltorena Street in question.
In addition, a morally questionable aspect of the proposed plan discounts the impact the removal of on-street parking will have for the less-abled and the disabled, in favor of others who are able to utilize a bicycle as their mode of transportation.
Like it or not, there are folks in that neighborhood who require the use of an automobile to live a healthy and meaningful life.
During our hike, we happened upon one such individual and worried about the impact the loss of parking this plan would have on residents with disabilities, the elderly and those with small children.
As anyone who lives downtown like we do can attest, parking restrictions create ongoing challenges that at times are incredibly difficult to deal with. We live on a street with a part-time bike lane.
On the weekdays, during designated times, there is no parking. This affects delivery services, home repair services, gardening services, visitors and things as simple as carrying the groceries into the house.
As complicated as these part-time restrictions are to our neighbors and us, we can hardly imagine the poor people who live along West Micheltorena Street, and how incredible complicated and difficult their lives will become with zero on-street parking.
All this, because our city planners failed to take a positive look at Sola Street as an alternative and more suitable cross-town bike route.
— Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright make up the Urban Hikers team. Any opinions expressed are their own.