Santa Barbara Station

The Surfliner was an hour late and I would have even less time to spend with Santa Barbara’s beautiful station. I had to catch the number 14, Coast Starlight back to SLO at 12:40 PM. So I figured I had time for a quick 45 minute sketch and an even shorter lunch but I couldn’t wander too far from the station. Revisiting the “Queen of the Missions” was out of the question.

I walked around the station, “shaking hands”with the place. The Santa Barbara passenger station was completed in 1905 and designed in a Spanish Mission Revival style, very much reminiscent of Burlingame Station. This building has all the hallmarks of Mission Revival: arches, a star window (in imitation of Mission Carmel), and adobe tiled roof.

The woman’s waiting room at Santa Barbara Station. Above the fireplace is a base relief representation of Father Serra, founder of the Alta California Missions. He is spreading his arms wide, waiting to hug any neophytes that happen to be in the Station’s waiting room.

Santa Barbara Station was one of seven stations that the Coast Daylight served. The route parallels El Camino Real, the Royal Road, that connected 21 of the Spanish Missions along Alta California’s Coast.

GS-5 Number 4458, pulls into Santa Barbara Station at an unspecified date. The loco pulls train No. 99, a northbound Daylight to San Francisco. There were only two GS-5 locomotives built. Numbers 4458 and 4459. (Union Pacific Museum Collection: SP photo)
Golden State-4 number 4443 taking on water at Santa Barbara in January 1948. The train stopped in Santa Barbara for only four minutes before heading south towards Los Angeles. (Alan Miller Collection: Frank Peterson photo)

The train station served the ever growing resort town on the Pacific Ocean that catered towards the high-end.

A sign of the wealth and affluence of this area is the Pullman car that is on static display near the train station. Pullman passenger cars where a huge improvement in comfort and safety from the rickety, wooden cars that were uncomfortable and sometimes downright dangerous. They were the height of luxury at the time, for the well-off passengers who could afford to ride on one.

But the Pullman car at Santa Barbara is something very different. In the later part of the 20th century, Pullman produced passenger cars for the extremely wealthy, that could cost up to half a million dollars, which was twenty times the cost of a standard Pullman passenger coach. These cars were considered “mansions on wheels”. They where coupled to the end of a passenger train and at Santa Barbara there were siding tracks where these luxurious cars would over-winter as their owners stayed in nearby posh hotels.

After my sketch I walked down State Street toward the Pacific Ocean and I was passed by a twenty-something driving by in a brand new Rolls Royce, a modern Santa Barbarian mansion on wheels.

Some things like the station and mission remind us of a very different time while others show us that things remain very much the same.

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