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The Two Very Unlucky Arlington Hotels, Santa Barbara California History

I've lived in Arizona for 70 years. I have a passion for writing about historical places, especially old hotels & collecting old postcards.

The First Arlington Hotel Santa Barbara California 1876-1909

The first Arlington Hotel in Santa Barbara was a luxury hotel on the Road of 1000 Wonders when it opened in 1876

The first Arlington Hotel in Santa Barbara was a luxury hotel on the Road of 1000 Wonders when it opened in 1876

Disappointment of Not Finding any Grand Old Hotels in Santa Barbara California

I grew up in Tucson Arizona where tourism was and still is a driving force in Tucson's economy. Many of the important events, on a business and personal level, were held in the old hotels in the downtown area. Most homes in the 1950s and 1960s were very tiny by today's standards, but building lots were larger and most days the weather was so mild that entertaining could take place in back yards. However, most "dress up" events such as banquets, weddings, proms, the Tucson Rodeo breakfast, political events, and other large gatherings were held in hotels. Everything changed after a disastrous and deadly fire on December 19,1970 at the Pioneer Hotel downtown Tucson injured 35 and killed 28 people. Thereafter, the safety standards in Arizona hotels were upgraded. Hotels were required to install fire retardant carpets, sprinklers and to have updated fire fighting equipment to prevent any disaster like the fire at the Pioneer Hotel from ever happening again. By 1970, most visitors were choosing motels over hotels and instead of lengthy stays visitors rarely stayed longer than a night or two. The downtown hotels were either converted to other purposes or torn down. I didn't want the history of the hotels and events held in them to be forgotten, so my first book was How Arizona Sold its Sunshine, the Historical Hotels of Arizona.
The book was published in 2004, but by then, my interest in historical hotels was stoked, and whenever possible, we stay in historical hotels and motels when we travel. So in 2007 for our first trip to Santa Barbara and the surrounding area, I was not disappointed in beautiful Santa Barbara, but disappointed that I didn't find any upscale old hotels. I recently purchased a postcard lot of California cards and I was delighted to discover an advertising postcard for the Arlington Hotel in Santa Barbara "to be completed in 1911." The back of the postcard mentioned that the "new" Arlington was being built of steel, cement, brick and tile. My curiosity of what happened to the first Arlington, and what had happened to the second Arlington, prompted me to find answers.

The First Arlington Hotel Opened for Guests in February of 1876

The first Arlington was built at a cost of $170,000, which included the building materials, the landscaping and the furnishings. Built on five acres off State Street, the ninety room hotel was advertised as Santa Barbara's first luxury hotel. It was a luxury hotel, but advertising the Arlington as Santa Barbara' first luxury hotel wasn't exactly true, since the Potter Hotel Hotel with 390 rooms had opened in 1903. The original Arlington, a three story building had speaking tubes, gas lighting, gas fireplaces, 2 billiard rooms, a reading room, a smoking lounge, a dining room and lush gardens of roses and palms.

When the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in 1887, visitors to Santa Barbara increased, and an annex was added to the hotel which increased the number of guest rooms to 250. The beautiful Arlington attracted many important guests including United States presidents: Harrison, McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. Unfortunately, a fire broke out the evening of August 16, 1909 after which the only part of the Arlington still standing was the brick chimneys. Fortunately most of the guests were at dinner and there weren't any casualties.

The Second Arlington Hotel Built in 1911 Santa Barbara California

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A Hotel That is Different

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The New Five Story Arlington Hotel Was Built in a Mission Style

The new or second Arlington Hotel was designed by Arthur B Benton at a cost of 1.5 million. Benton traveled to the missions in Carmel, San Gabriel and San Juan Capistrano to see first hand what elements would be considered a "proper" mission style. Since visitors to Santa Barbara came to see the historic Santa Barbara Mission a mission themed California style hotel was the perfect choice.

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Since the first Arlington Hotel had burned, the second Arlington Hotel was built of steel, cement and brick and a water tower was placed on the six story Bell Tower in case of a fire. A garage for automobiles was placed underground near the entrance. The gardens that had been so popular had withstood the destruction of the fire, and the ambiance and service at the New Arlington was said to be superior to the old hotel. The New Arlington opened in 1911, and was in operation until June 29th 1925 when an earthquake struck and was followed by several aftershocks. It is estimated by seismologists today that the quake was about 6.3 on the Richter Scale. Ironically, when the water tower on top of the hotel's Bell Tower in case of fire fell, two guests of the New Arlington were killed. The earthquake also destroyed many of the buildings along State Street in Santa Barbara.


The New Arlington Hotel Showing Arches Over Sunken Driveway and Garage

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Lobby and Office of the Second Arlington

Note brick and cement construction Materials

Note brick and cement construction Materials

The Arlington Theater & Sources for Hub

By 1931, the downtown area of Santa Barbara was being rebuilt and the "Magnificent" Arlington Fox Theater was built at 1317 State Street for performance arts and films. The theater was built in a Mission style and had 2018 seats. I didn't find a connection to the Arlington Hotel which was never rebuilt.

In addition to the information on the back of my postcard images, I would like to credit the University of Southern California Libraries and the California Historical Society.



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