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Life on California's beautiful Central Coast

Miramar memories

“Cursed be he who removes his neighbor’s landmark.”

Deuteronomy 27:71

“God bless America. Let’s try to save some of it.”

Edward Abbey

Yesterday I ran down to Montecito and took a break down at the ocean end of San Ysidro Road. I hadn’t been down that way in awhile and the stretch of beach that runs down to Perko’s Point is one of my favorites on the South Coast. Of course, my favorite thing about it used to be the fenced off, boarded up, falling apart old Miramar.

When I was a very young kid the Miramar was still functioning, albeit with the quirks and fallacies of an aging property not meant to survive into the present time. My friend Shauna’s mother took us to play at the beach there one day in the mid-1980’s, and I remember being overwhelmingly impressed by the fact that they had a railcar on the grounds that had been converted to a restaurant. A place where you could eat lunch in an old train? To my young brain, already programmed to see history and antiquity as the best stuff on earth, that was a mark of an impressive establishment. I immediately decided that the Miramar must be very distinguished and awesome indeed.

I never got to eat in that railcar, but I made it back to the Miramar once before it shuttered down forever. William H. Webster was in town giving a chat to a local club. By then, it was 1995 and I was a 16-year-old newspaper intern. Covering a rubber chicken speaker luncheon featuring the only man to ever head up the FBI and CIA felt like the most important assignment on earth. He talked about the Cold War. I remember thinking: “I’ve got to get more knowledgeable about history if I’m going to do this journalism stuff.”

That fascination with history has always been rooted locally. So when I ran down to the beach Sunday and could see the gaping hole where the Miramar once was, I felt a little pang of sadness in my heart. I don’t actually curse Rick Caruso – I just wish that there could have been more opportunities to save some of those old buildings. But they were in awful disrepair and not worth anything other than pure sentiment, I’m sure. Someday there will be a very nice fancy hotel there. It won’t mean much.

Here’s a few photos I took back in November 2012.

Miramar canopy.

Miramar canopy.

Best views of any hotel in SB.

Best views of any hotel in SB.

Last call.

Last call.

Looking down the beach from San Ysidro.

Looking down the beach from San Ysidro.

For some background on the Miramar, here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote for Edhat back in 2009:

Whether you stayed for a weekend, had a honeymoon or just went to the beach and ate in the railroad car afterwards, it’s safe to say that the Miramar experience was a memorable one for over 100 years.

According to David Myrick’s, “Montecito and Santa Barbara – Volume 1”, the original property owners of the Miramar site bought 50 acres 1858 from the Community Council of Santa Barbara for $40. What a deal!

The hotel became a resort gradually when it was under the ownership of the Doulton family, English natives who maintained the resort for three generations (incidentally, they also owned Cold Springs Tavern on San Marcos Pass until 1941).

It’s not known how much the Doultons paid for their portion when they purchased the site, but they started bringing in guests around 1887, Myrick writes. The railroad had just established a route in the front yard of what was then known as Ocean View Farm, and the Southern Pacific train stopped there starting in 1892. Train fare from Santa Barbara was 10 cents.

The Doultons developed the resort from the ground up, taking special pride in their gardens and adapting to guest demands. Four cottages were added in 1901, at the cost of $4,500. There was a wharf where boats could dock, and a small golf course. Traveling salesmen sold shoes and suits at the hotel. After the end of Prohibition, one of the cottages was converted into a bar.

Boom times kept up until the 1930s, when many of the traditional clientele were hit hard financially. And at the same time, the Miramar’s classic white sand beach began to disappear. The sand movement was the result of the building of the city breakwater, which was completed in 1930.

The Doultons took the city to court over the loss of the beach, which resembles historic Waikiki in early photographs, but they lost the lawsuit. The hotel was foreclosed in 1939, and picked up by a man named Paul Gawzner, an experienced hotelier according to the Montecito Journal.

Gawzner made improvements, adding 150 more rooms in hotel-style buildings and cottages, an auditorium and the famous two railroad cars as a dining spot. Essentially, he created the Miramar that is remembered by everyone who went there over the last 59 years.

Ian Schrager purchased the Miramar from Gawzner in 1998 for $31.7 million, closed it in 2000, had serious financial problems in 2003, and went into bankruptcy protection.

Beanie Baby billionaire and Montecito mogul, Ty Warner bought the Miramar from Schrager as part of his spree of local property acquisitions in the late 1990s and early 2000s (he also picked up the San Ysidro Ranch, the Biltmore, San Marcos Golf Club, Coral Casino, Sandpiper, his own mansion near the Santa Barbara Cemetery, and the Montecito Country Club). Despite plans for a 213-room family-style resort, Warner sold the property and project to Los Angeles developer, Rick Caruso in 2006. He is thought to have made a healthy profit over the $43 million he paid.

Caruso, the developer of several major Southern California shopping malls, came into the community on a mission to overcome concerns, and charm his way into the hearts and minds of Montecito neighbors. He succeeded in getting many on his team.

A few, however, were not impressed. The project suffered some setbacks, including controversy over questionable emails before it was finally approved.

The project was approved by the Montecito Planning Commission, then appealed by the Citizens Planning Association. The appeal was subsequently denied by the County Board of Supervisors. After overcoming that hurdle, the project was hit with an appeal by Jean and Stan Harfenist and other neighbors, who expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of the project in a lawsuit and appeals to the Coastal Commission. The appeal was resolved in April 2009.

Here is the project description in the words of the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department: “All new buildings of approximately 385,296 gross (164,849 net) square feet, including a main building with a lobby, meeting rooms and conference facilities, back-of-house areas, and underground parking; a ballroom; a spa, a Beach and Tennis Club; 192 guest rooms; two restaurants and a beach bar; two pools and two tennis courts; new landscaping; new 10-foot high sound wall; four employee dwellings; and abandonment of the north-south segment of Miramar Avenue with approximately 36,300 cubic yards of cut and 46,100 cubic yard of fill with 10,000 cubic yards to be imported. All existing buildings would be demolished.”

Here is the link to all county documentation available on the Miramar project.

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