Thursday, November 27, 2014

No. 125 – November 26, 2014 – The Wealthy Find Santa Barbara – The Potter Hotel

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

The final section of the Southern Pacific's coastal railway - Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo - was finally completed in March, 1901. Finally, trains could roll unimpeded from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

This changed much about the character of Santa Barbara. Suddenly, it was possible for the wealthy to travel in the comfort of their private rail cars to a town which, to the Eastern privileged, was cloaked in perpetual summer.

Such travelers expect something extraordinary, and Milo Potter saw that they found it.

The Potter Hotel was build on the slight rise of Burton's Mound, providing a glorious view of the Pacific, just steps from the sand. Construction started on Sunday, January 19, 1902 and was completed exactly one year later, 1903.

The Mound been the site of a Chumash village. The last village Wot (Chief), was Yanonali. A street was named for him. The Mound passed to Lewis T. Burton, an otter hunter who bought it in 1860, selling to the Seaside Hotel Association, a group of local investors. Nothing was build until Miles Potter bought the land in December, 1901.

The result was glorious.

The Potter stood six-and-a-half stories high with 390 guest rooms. The main Potter dining room sat 700 in a town of 7,000 inhabitants. The Potter Farm in Goleta, provided suckling pigs, chickens, eggs and dairy products. Potter's Squab Ranch, also in Goleta, laid claim to being the largest in the world with "60,000 milk fed squabs" intended for the exclusive use of the Potter tables.

Potter had a touch for the business of catering to the wealthy, many staying for a month or more, spending the winter there. The Railway station was steps away and provided tracks where posh private cars could be kept secure.

The Potter changed Santa Barbara. The wealthy and famous came and many never left. The primacy of trains would soon be displaced by the automobile. The Potter Hotel exactly spanned the twenty years in which this shift took place.

And in 1906 the first circuit panorama camera was used to capture the magnitude of the Potter. The camera's inventor, Arthur C. Pillsbury, the previous April had recorded the death of San Francisco by earthquake and fire.

Potter sold the hotel in February of 1919. It burned, not to be rebuilt, on April 13, 1921. The Potter was gone – but its impact on Santa Barbara remained.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

No. 124 – November 22, 2914 - A Cat Cafe for Ashtabula?

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

Cat Cafes started in Taiwan, caught on, and moved into Japan where small apartments leave little room for even a smallish cat. One article on the subject quoted German philosopher Albert Schweitzer as saying, "The only escape from the miseries of life is music and cats."

Taiwan now hosts 150 and they are spreading far and wide. One is about to start in Australia. North America's first opened in Montreal recently.

In a cat cafe the patron must make an appointment to spend an hour interacting with the kitties who have their run of the cafe. Patrons have been observed on the floor enticing attractive cats with purchased cat treats and tossing mouse toys. Naturally, cafes in Japan feature tea rather than coffee for patrons. The cost is generally around $10.00 an hour. The cat treats are extra, costing around $3.00.

While it is unlikely this edgy form of commerce will be popping up in Ashtabula any time soon the innovative spirit for answering an unfilled niche leads this writer to consider a business which might prosper, and bring a trickle of prosperity with it, to Ashtabula.

What Ashtabula needs are businesses which make it attractive to live here. Other towns nearby, for instance Geneva, have managed this.

Why not fill a niche which has been emptying due to the give away of washers and dryers to needy families and the exodus coming with the collapse of the job market here? These factors have caused at least one laundromat owner to consider closing up shop entirely.

Consider for a moment our need to bring in young people and give them a reason to stay. One of the greatest assets we have is the Ashtabula Kent State Campus. More students would likely come in from other places to attend if housing and student life was more attractive. So, what about building student housing? Student housing which works economically is sturdy, well insulated, well designed, and attractively located with gathering places to draw students to other businesses.

A combination Internet Cafe with laundromat set up in the Star Bucks mode would be very attractive to students. Add niches with tables for conversation so students can chat as they do their wash, enjoy a latte, and dig into their school work. Place this near that student housing.

Cat Cafes happen where there is prosperity and leisure. Let's start with the prosperity. Meow.

Friday, November 14, 2014

No. 123 – November 13, 2014 – A Mystery and Photographer George Fiske

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

Everyone knew George was not well and was experiencing intense pain. Hoping for his recovery they were saddened when he shot himself on October 20, 1918.

His still existing collection of glass negatives was acquired by Curry Company, soon to be the Yosemite Park and Curry Company, YP & CC in 1923. Most of his collection had been lost in a fire which destroyed his studio and cameras in 1904.

As a photographer Fiske, had earned the esteem of the international community who had viewed the haunting beauty of his work.

One of these photos, among the most famous, was titled, “Half Dome on Christmas Morning.” The image was titled, “The Domes of Yosemite in Winter,” when it appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1902.

The image shows Half Dome, draped in snow with winter closed in around it. The image is haunting in its poignant power, the stillness of the moment sinks into the mind as you view it. It is also unmistakable. Mountains do not change. The configuration of snow and leaves in the foreground are never the same. A later image would have revealed human artifacts.

The glass plates remaining in Fiske's depleted collection when he died was sold to Curry Company. In the early 30's the collection of Julius Theodore Boysen, another early Yosemite photographer, also acquired by Curry, was stored with it. But in 1934 a fire enveloped the barn and these early images were lost. At least we thought so. Now, the jury is out on this question.

Caches of glass plates and early film have been surfacing.

Rick Norsigian, a house painter from Fresno bought a box of negatives at a garage sale. Looking through the box he was was astonished at the beauty of the images, mostly of Yosemite. Hoping they were by Ansel Adams he launched an effort to have them recognized by the Adams family, which ended in a settlement with the Adams estate in 2010.

The same year a Fiske, undoubtedly the famous Half Dome on Christmas Morning image surfaced from the stored work of another, nearly unknown, photographer. J. M. Garrison. The image came with the accounting for sale of the image, for use as a post card, by the Yosemite Park & Curry Co., dated December 10, 1958.

It is a mystery now resolving into answers, piece by piece. Expect the unexpected and remember George Fiske.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No. 122 – November 6, 2014 – When 'Change' Delivers More of the Same

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

'Wag the Dog' is an expression which denotes, “to purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance, to something else of lesser significance. By doing so, the lesser-significant event is catapulted into the limelight, drowning proper attention to what was originally the more important issue.”

Now, the Dog has been Wagged. Feel better? If you were voting for someone with an R beside their name you probably feel good. If you went for the big D, you are sad. No matter. The present trajectory is not going to change unless or until we take control of our own lives and our own communities.

What you just witnessed was a cast change of no real significance. One team of professional liars 'D,' is just giving liars team 'R' their turn. This is intended to distract us so we remain passive where it matters, here, where we live.

I understand why it happens. When we are hungry for hope, any hope, elections are very seductive. The fiery speeches and promises make things seem possible. But in the end nothing changes except the names of the rascals who are taking and spending your money and transferring more of your personal life to their direct control. Solving problems in our own community, ourselves, recedes into the distance again.

Several months ago I interviewed the candidate for Ohio's 14th Congressional District. A classical Conservative was running. He answered every question asked just as President William Howard Taft or Senator Barry Goldwater would have done. He loved Barry's line on gays in the military. “You don't have to be straight to shoot straight.” He and Barry shared the same view on abortion, too, and on preserving the environment.

You had a chance to vote for him last Tuesday. No, it was not the Libertarian. The candidate was Michael Wager. He sounded shocked when I told him.

William Howard Taft, the president who went down to defeat in 1912, would have stopped the FED, nixed the IRS and made sure the Hetch Hetchy was not converted into a water supply for San Francisco. His views were known. He was a Conservative.

Oh. And the pledge of allegiance was written by a socialist whose goal was to stop the study of our founding documents in schools.

Direct governance by the people was the original form of government intended by our founders. We still need it.