Until about 200 years ago, Chumash people thrived in the Santa Barbara area, living in villages along the coast and in the Santa Ynez Mountains. In 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo entered the channel, put up a Spanish flag and went on his way. Sebastián Vizcaíno, a cartographer for the Duke of Monte Rey, landed in the harbor on December 4, 1602 (the feast day of St Barbara), and literally put Santa Barbara on the map. But being claimed and named by Spain didn’t affect Santa Barbara’s Chumash until the arrival of missionaries in the mid-1700s.
As elsewhere in California, the padres converted the Chumash, virtually enslaved them to construct the mission and presidio, and taught them to wear clothing and to change their traditional diet of acorn mush, roots and fish to meat. The Native Americans contracted European diseases and were decimated, though today the tribe is again very much alive and well.
Easterners started arriving in force with the 1849 gold rush, and by the late 1890s Santa Barbara was an established vacation spot for the rich, famous and creative. The American Film Company, founded at the corner of Mission and State Sts in 1910, was the largest in the world for about three of its 10 years in existence.
A disastrous 1925 earthquake proved ultimately to be an opportunity: tough laws were passed requiring that the town be rebuilt with its now characteristic faux- Mediterranean look. These dictates have mostly stayed in force.