Following World War II, a bohemian community of free spirits began on the hillsides above Santa Barbara, where they made wine, music, and art for nearly twenty years. Named “Mountain Drive” for the road that wound through the enclave’s heart, this unique neighborhood is celebrated in a new exhibit now on view at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
Inspired by recently digitized oral histories from residents recorded in the 1980s, “Memories of Mountain Drive” features photographs, video, crafts, and more and is on view through February 28, 2023. For more information, visit sbhistorical.org.
“Memories of Mountain Drive” was inspired by the Museum’s collection of oral histories from 26 individuals who lived on Mountain Drive from the 1940s to the 1960s. The oral histories, recorded in the 1980s, were recently digitized. Oral histories are accessible in the exhibit, and the full interviews held by the Museum’s Gledhill Library, can also be found at gledhilloralhistory.org.
“Our goal is to create a feeling for what life was like during that time at that place,” says Museum Executive Director Dacia Harwood. “This exhibit was inspired by the work of our library, which is continuously collecting and preserving our unique local history.”
Chris Ervin, the Library’s head archivist, oversaw the digitization of the oral histories, and put out a call to the community for Mountain Drive images. He also collaborated with Elias Chiacos, author of the 1994 book “Mountain Drive: Santa Barbara’s Pioneer Bohemian Community,” in obtaining donations of photographs and other items.
The images depict Mountain Drive residents involved in revelry, winemaking, pageantry, creating art and pottery, music-making, and everyday life.
“[A] family with open-hearted generosity and freedom from convention allowed the blossoming of a lifestyle that has become legend,” writes Chiacos. “The beginnings of the hot-tubbing phenomenon, the Renaissance Faire, the revival of early music, crafts and pageantry – all mounted with a rowdy humor and uninhibited sexuality – [are hallmarks] of Mountain Drive’s contribution to the California dream.”
Comprised of teachers, builders, artists, writers, musicians, and dancers, this community pioneered the California Bohemian lifestyle well before the counterculture hippie movement of the 1960s.
The Santa Barbara Historical Museum is located in downtown Santa Barbara at 136 East de la Guerra Street. Admission is free. Hours are currently Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from noon to 7 p.m.