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South on 101: Intriguing histories behind Santa Barbara street names
South on 101

South on 101: Intriguing histories behind Santa Barbara street names

  • Updated

The street names in Santa Barbara are downright confusing. Why in the world are downtown streets named Cabrillo, Castillo, and Carrillo? (All three have Highway 101 offramps.) What or who are Arrellaga and Anapamu? How about the street named Indio Muerto (Spanish for Dead Indian)?

It starts with a survey which was required for the fledgling city to become incorporated following California’s statehood in 1850. That survey was conducted the following year by Salisbury Haley, the only person to apply for the job.

Myth has it that the resulting misaligned streets and inconsistent block sizes were because Haley tied his survey chains with rawhide which shrunk or swelled depending on the weather. Those bewildering one-way streets downtown? His fault. In spite of this, Haley got a street named for him.

But he can’t be blamed for the survey’s alignment with the hills, and not compass points, as is the norm. His bosses instructed Haley to start at the crossing of two major streets, one now called State, and the other Carrillo (for the owner of the nearest adobe, one of Haley’s bosses). The original 52 street names were selected to reflect local geography and botany, and to honor the Chumash, early explorers, settlers, and dignitaries.

Historian Neal Graffy’s pocket-sized “Street Names of Santa Barbara” is an engaging guide to the backstories of the city’s roads, byways, and boulevards. His research clears up mysteries and provides good stories.

Cabrillo was the first European to explore California, Castillo refers to an ocean-front Spanish fort where its namesake street once led, and Carrillo was a prominent citizen. Arrellaga is named for a distinguished Spanish California governor and Anapamu for a famed Chumash chief.

Quarantina Street reaches the beach near where ships were placed in quarantine in the 1790s, first for scurvy (even though it is not contagious) but more notably for small pox found aboard the ship Conception from Mexico City. After only three weeks (rather than customary 40 days), with no new cases and the victims recovered, Presidio Comandante Felipe de Goycoechea allowed the ship to depart. California’s governor threatened to hang Goycoechea if the disease spread. Luckily, it did not. But there is no Goycoechea Street.

Four West Side streets all relate to a Mexican-American War battle of 1846. San Pascual is for the battle’s name and Chino comes from the rancho where it was fought. San Andres commemorates (and deifies) Andres Pico who commanded the Californio troops, and Gillespie honors Archibald Gillespie, a Marine who led the Americans.

The Santa Barbara City Council will soon vote whether to change Indio Muerto to Hutash Street (“earth mother” who created the Chumash people). Graffy acknowledges that the name can be taken as offensive. But it reminds us, he says, that the remains of Native Americans lay beneath much of the region. “I see it more as an honor, like the Tomb of the Unknown Chumash,” he says. “It is a piece of history and time that should be kept.”

Julia McHugh can be reached at


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