Mesa

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Mesa is a Spanish word meaning “tableā€. The Santa Barbara Mesa neighborhood once extended from Arroyo Burro to the Santa Barbara Cemetery. At some remote point in geologic time, the central segment of this coastline, a block two and a half miles wide, sank below sea level, allowing a gulf of saltwater to surge inland as far as the Old Mission.
When the Spaniards arrived in 1782 to build their Royal Presidio, the Mesa headland overlooking West Beach and the Santa Barbara roadstead was fortified with embrasures equipped with four cannon. This armament, it was believed, could discourage any fleet from landing invasion forces. No such threat ever materialized, however, so the four cannon wound up as garden ornaments in the patio of Casa de la Guerra. They remained there as curiosities for tourists until World War II, when in a burst of patriotic fervor, these irreplaceable mementos at our Hispanic past were melted down during a scrap metal drive.
In 1850 the Americans annexed California to the Union. In March of 1856, a Mexican War veteran named Captain Albert Johnson Williams arrived by steamer with orders to build a government lighthouse on a 27-acre federal reservation on the Mesa. He waded through the surf from a small boat, carrying his pregnant wife Julia in his arms. The beacon lamp was first lighted on the historic night of December 19, 1856, and not once in the following 65 years did the oil-burning lamp fail.
Captain Williams chafed under the monotony of being a lighthouse keeper so in 1866 he turned the job over to his wife. Julia missed only one night in 40 years climbing the spiral stairs to trim her lamp wicks. That absenteeism can be excused by the fact that she was busy downstairs giving birth to another baby. Williams died in 1882 but his widow carried on alone. She, the lighthouse and her famous flower garden were tourist attractions second only to the Old Mission when she died in 1906.
The earthquake of June 29, 1925, destroyed the Mesa’s two best-known landmarks, the lighthouse and Dibblee’s Castle. The lighthouse tower toppled like a bowling pin and was replaced by an automated beacon on a steel tower. Dibblee’s mansion had been sold in 1908 to Frederick W. Leadbetter, a papermill baron from the Columbia River, who had converted the flat area above La Playa Stadium into a private polo field. The beach below is still known as Leadbetter Beach. The quake damaged the Castle so badly that it was razed in 1932 and WPA workmen used its stone blocks to build the revetment along the wall of Cliff Drive from Montecito Street to the City College entrance. The Leadbetters did not choose to rebuild the landmark, and moved to Montecito. In 1954 the estate became the campus of Santa Barbara City College.
City weather records show that the Mesa’s winter temperatures are 10 to 12 degrees warmer than downtown, and 10 to 12 degrees cooler in the summer. This climatic attraction, plus the spectacular marine views, caused a housing boom after World War II. The first subdivisions, Grandhurst and Fair Acres, broke the trend away from farmland use in 1929. The Pacific Estates tract east of Washington School was the last major development.
Shoreline Park, a magnificent 15-acre strip between Shoreline Drive and the beach, was dedicated in 1967 after the city voters approved a bond issue to buy the land. Many regard it as the finest public park in Santa Barbara.

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