Montecito’s Hilltop Barons

Lecture by Neal Graffy

What do Gas Lamps, Newspapers, Shirt Collars and Model ‘T’ Fords have in common?  Five magnificent Montecito estates, five commanding hilltop views and five families whose philanthropy to their ‘adopted’ city remains unmatched to this day.

Montecito’s Hilltop Barons profiles the backgrounds, the estates and the philanthropy of C.K.G.Billings of Union Carbide and his estate Asombrosso, George Owen Knapp (Arcady, Pres.Union Carbide), Frederick Forrest Peabody (Solana, Pres. Arrow Shirts), David Gray (Graholm, Vice-pres. Ford Motor Co.,) and William H. Cowles (Eucalyptus Hill, publisher).

These men and their families “adopted” Santa Barbara, and dramatically improved our health care, enhanced our schools, preserved our beachfronts, and helped rebuild the city after the earthquake.

Cottage Hospital, Sansum Clinic, Santa Barbara Medical Foundation, Santa Barbara High School, the Cabrillo Pavilion, the Girls Club, Santa Barbara Girls School, Montecito Trails, the Scenic Highway, Montecito Garden Tours, East Beach, the Santa Barbara School for the Arts, and the Santa Barbara Art Museum are just a few many institutions and places that benefited from Montecito’s Hilltop Barons.

There is so much of Santa Barbara that we enjoy and benefit from and simply take for granted. Whether it’s the beach, the hospital or a park, it’s there when we need it and not much, if any, thought goes in to how or why it got there.  And any name attached to a particular place is just a name.

So, what is a Sansum and why is there a Sansum Clinic? Is Peabody School any relation to Peabody Stadium or the site of the longest remodeling in Santa Barbara History – Peabody’s Bar & Grill? From 1919 to 1929 how did Cottage Hospital more than quadruple in size?  Who was Knapp and why did he build a castle in the middle of nowhere? Where did the Cabrillo Pavilion come from? Who was Lou Dillon? Though East Beach was sub-divided and a number of cottages built, why are there no houses or apartments on East Beach today?

The answers to all these questions and waaaay more will be revealed when Santa Barbara historian, author and lecturer, Neal Graffy XNGH presents “Montecito’s Hilltop Barons” Wednesday, May 17 at 7pm (doors open at 6:30) in the meeting room at El Montecito Presbyterian Church 1455 E. Valley Rd. The cost is only $10 and the proceeds benefit the newly formed Montecito Historical Archive.

Montecito’s Hilltop Barons profiles the backgrounds, the magnificent hilltop estates and the philanthropy of five men and their families who ‘adopted’ Santa Barbara and dramatically improved our health care, enhanced our schools, preserved our beachfronts, and helped rebuild the city after the earthquake.

The “barons” are: C.K.G.Billings – and his estate “Asombrosso”. George Owen Knapp – “Arcady” (both men headed Union Carbide). Frederick Forrest Peabody – “Solana”. Mr Peabody was president of Arrow Shirts. David Gray – “Graholm” (Vice-president of Ford Motor Co.,).  William H. Cowles – “Eucalyptus Hill” (publisher) and also Buell Hammet son-in-law of W.H. Cowles.