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Presidio of Santa Barbara

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Title: Presidio of Santa Barbara  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: The Californias, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Natural Bridges State Marine Reserve, WikiProject California, Casa de la Guerra
Collection: 1782 Establishments in California, 1782 in Alta California, 1966 Establishments in California, Archaeological Sites in California, Buildings and Structures in Santa Barbara, California, California Historical Landmarks, California Presidios, California State Historic Parks, Forts on the National Register of Historic Places in California, Government Buildings Completed in 1782, History Museums in California, History of Santa Barbara County, California, Museums in Santa Barbara, California, National Register of Historic Places in Santa Barbara County, California, Parks in Santa Barbara, California, Places on the Juan Bautista De Anza National Historic Trail, Protected Areas Established in 1966, Spanish Colonial Architecture in California
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Presidio of Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Presidio
A view of the main restored portion of the Presidio in 2005, with the chapel in the center
Location Santa Barbara, California
Built April 21, 1782
Architectural style California mission
Governing body Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation
NRHP Reference # 73000455[2]
CHISL # 636[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP November 26, 1973
Designated CHISL 1958

El Presidio Real de Santa Bárbara, also known as the Royal Presidio of Santa Barbara, is a former military installation in Santa Barbara, California, USA. The presidio was built by Spain in 1782, with the mission of defending the Second Military District in California. In modern times, the Presidio serves as a significant tourist attraction, museum and an active archaeological site as part of El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park.[3]

The park contains an original adobe structure called El Cuartel, which is the second oldest surviving building in California;[4] only the chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano, known as "Father Serra's Church", is older. The Presidio of Santa Barbara has the distinction of being the last military outpost built by Spain in the New World.[5] The Presidio became a California Historical Landmark in 1958 and was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1973.


  • Contemporary setting 1
  • History 2
  • Mexican-American War 3
  • Preservation 4
    • Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail 4.1
  • See also 5
  • References 6
    • Notes 6.1
  • External links 7

Contemporary setting

The current El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park site sits between Anacapa and Garden Streets on East Canon Perdido Street in downtown Santa Barbara. The main portion of the site is across the street from the Santa Barbara city Post Office, and is about two blocks from city hall, De la Guerra Plaza and two other museums, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum and the Casa de la Guerra.

Only two portions of the original presidio quadrangle survive to this day: the Cañedo Adobe, named for José María Cañedo, the Soldado de Cuera to whom it was deeded in lieu of back pay when the Presidio fell to inactivity, and the remnants of a two-room soldiers quarters, called El Cuartel.[6] The Cañedo Adobe is currently the visitor’s center for the state park, and El Cuartel is largely unmodified. The site’s operator, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP),[7] reconstructed the rest of the site, with the most recent construction—two rooms in the northwest corner of the site—finished in May 2006. The reconstruction is ongoing, with the construction of two more rooms in the northwest corner beginning in December 2007.[6]


Interior of the reconstructed chapel.

The site of the Presidio was chosen by Felipe de Neve, the fourth governor of Las Californias. Perceiving that the coast at Santa Barbara was vulnerable to attack, he located a spot near a harbor which was sheltered from severe storms. In addition, there was an ample supply of both building materials and water nearby.[8] Construction began on April 21, 1782, and Padre Junípero Serra blessed the site.[8] By the next year, a temporary facility had been completed, and a wheat field planted by the local Chumash Indians of Chief Yanonalit. The early Presidio consisted of mud and brush walls around a quadrangle 330 feet on a side.[9] The post had 61 officers and men in 1783.

The first comandante, José Francisco Ortega, planned the fortifications and irrigation works. He obtained livestock for the presidio from Mission San Buenaventura, established orchards, and began large-scale farming. In 1784, Felipe de Goicoechea took over as comandante, supervising construction of the fortifications and living quarters for the soldiers and their families. Two years later, construction of the nearby Mission Santa Barbara began in 1786. The pueblo or town of Santa Barbara developed around the Presidio, which offered protection for the residents.[10] The chapel in the Presidio was the primary place of worship for the residents of early Santa Barbara, until its destruction by the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake. The mission, located a mile and a half inland, was mainly intended for use by the native Chumash (Barbareño) neophytes after their conversion to Catholicism.[6]

The Presidio was built to standard plans for a Spanish colonial military headquarters, using locally available materials, so the buildings forming the outer square were constructed with thick, solid adobe outer walls. The main gate opened into an open parade ground/plaza in the center of the square. The chapel stood at the center of the back of the square, facing the gate across the plaza. While it was never attacked by a strong military force during its sixty years of operation, the Presidio was subject to the assaults of nature. Several devastating earthquakes in the early 19th century destroyed much of the structure.[11]

In 1855 the Presidio Chapel grew into the Apostolic College of Our Lady of Sorrows, which soon became Our Lady of Sorrows Church at the corner of Figueroa and State Streets, and then at the corner of Anacapa and Sola streets in 1929. However, both still stand separately as vibrant churches of a richly Catholic history.

Mexican-American War

At the time of the Mexican-American War in Alta California, very little of the fortress remained in usable condition,[8] and on December 27, 1846, John C. Frémont crossed San Marcos Pass during rainy weather and came up on the Presidio and the town from behind. The Presidio surrendered without a fight, as the garrison was far south in the Pueblo de Los Angeles. Frémont had heard that the Mexican army was lying in ambush for him at Gaviota Pass, the only other sensible route over the mountains at that time, and had crossed the difficult muddy track on San Marcos Pass to outflank them, but this move turned out not to have been necessary. Mexican General Andrés Pico later surrendered his force to Frémont, recognizing that the war was lost.[12]


In 1963, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) was founded, with the primary mission of restoring the Presidio. In 1966, the land on which the Presidio is located became a State Historic Park.[6] On December 27, 2006, the SBTHP renewed their ongoing agreement with the California State Parks Department to manage the Presidio.[13] Work on the restoration is currently taking place. On November 26, 1973 the Presidio of Santa Barbara was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.[2]

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

The Presidio of Santa Barbara is one of the designated tour sights of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, a National Park Service unit in the United States National Historic Trail and National Millennium Trail programs.

See also


  • Tompkins, Walker A. (1975). Santa Barbara, Past and Present. Tecolote Books, Santa Barbara, CA. 
  • Tompkins, Walker A. (1976). It Happened in Old Santa Barbara. Sandollar Press, Santa Barbara, CA. 


  1. ^ a b "Royal Spanish Presidio". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  2. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  3. ^ "Archaeology". Santa Barbara Trust for Historical Preservation. Retrieved 2007-08-24. 
  4. ^ "El Presidio de Santa Barbara SHP". California State Parks. Retrieved 2007-08-24. 
  5. ^ Tompkins, 1975, p. 8
  6. ^ a b c d "El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park". Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  7. ^ Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation
  8. ^ a b c "Presidio de Santa Bárbara". Historic California Posts. Retrieved 2007-08-24. 
  9. ^ Tompkins, 1975, p. 8-9
  10. ^ For the Juan Vicente Revillagigedo Census of 1790, see The Spanish Census of 1790, Las Californias, California Spanish Genealogy. Retrieved on 2008-08-04. Compiled from William Marvin Mason. The Census of 1790: A Demographic History of California. (Menlo Park: Ballena Press, 1998). 75-105. ISBN 978-0-87919-137-5.
  11. ^ "El Presidio de Santa Barbara". Retrieved 2007-08-24. 
  12. ^ Tompkins, 1975, p. 33-35
  13. ^ "State Parks Department Enters Agreement With Historic Trust". KEYT. Retrieved 2006-12-27. 

External links

  • Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation: El Presidio de Santa Barbara
  • California State Parks: El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park
  • Travel Itinerary: Early History of the California CoastDiscover Our Shared HeritageNational Park Service
  • National Park Service: Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
  • Our Lady of Sorrows Church
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