Eucalyptus Hill History
By Terry Tyler ©2013, All Rights Reserved
The Eucalyptus Hill area of Santa Barbara occupies the eastern flank of the foothills known as the “American Riviera.” It is one of the few places in the world where coastal mountains face in a southerly direction. This geographic position provides exceptional sun exposure during the winter months because the low sun reflects off the ocean onto the hillside. The area lies between a natural sea level lagoon known as the Andree Clark Bird Refuge and the prominent Montecito Peak at 3,214 feet.
Most of Eucalyptus Hill lies within the city limits of Santa Barbara, but the eastern most portion falls within the unincorporated area called Montecito. The area is best defined by the following roads as boundaries: eastern boundary, Summit Road and Camino Viejo; southern boundary, Old Coast Highway; northern boundary, Salinas Street and Sycamore Canyon Road, western boundary; and East Valley Road. The area changes in elevation rapidly from about fifty feet above sea level along Old Coast Highway to several hundred feet above sea level on various hilltops. Several roads provide entrance and exit to the neighborhood. They include Eucalyptus Hill Road, Alameda Padre Sierra, Barker Pass Road, Alston Road, and Camino Viejo. Summit Road, which travels through the Montecito Country Club provided access for many years, but was closed to through traffic in the 1980s.
Today, Eucalyptus Hill includes about 1,000 residences, but it was largely uninhabited until the late 1800s, when several “titans of industry” discovered the area and started building mansions on the many hilltops within the area. One historian refers to the group as the “Hilltop Barons.”
The area takes its name from the forests of eucalyptus trees that were imported and planted by Frederick Forest Peabody on the road leading to his mansion named Solana, which he built at the top of what came to be known as Eucalyptus Hill. Over 7,000 eucalyptus trees were imported from Australia and planted on his property. Logically, this road came to be known as Eucalyptus Hill Road. Solana means “sunny place” in Spanish. The original property included forty acres, but it was expanded by the purchase of twenty more. The property was bounded by Alston Road on the south, Eucalyptus Hill Road to the west, and Camino Viejo Road to the north and east. The Peabody’s finished construction and moved into Solano in 1915.
Mr. Peabody was originally in the shirt collar business, which expanded into the shirt business, becoming Arrow Shirts (which used the Sanforizing process in the manufacturing of shirts to help eliminate shrinkage). The mansion was designed by Francis Underhill and measured 150 x 110 feet. Massive planting of acacia trees provided beautiful yellow blossoms all year long, and the property was one of the show places of Montecito.
Mr. Peabody was a generous philanthropist to the City of Santa Barbara. In 1924, he built the football stadium for Santa Barbara High School for $100,000, and the stadium was named Peabody Stadium in his honor. In addition, he donated the land for the property where Peabody Charter School is located. He also made generous donations to the Lobero Theater, Cottage Hospital, and to the city for the acquisition of ocean front property along its east and west beaches after the 1925 earthquake.
His widow remarried a gentleman named Hale, and they later gave the thirteen acre property now known as Hale Park to the City of Santa Barbara. In 1959, Solano was sold to the Fund for the Republic, which used it for its Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a liberal think tank, until the late 1970s.
George Owen Knapp purchased a seventy acre parcel known as Arcady on Eucalyptus Hill in 1911. Knapp was one of the founders of Union Carbide Co. which resulted from the mergers of Electro Gas, People’s Gas Light, and Lake Superior Carbide in 1898. He expanded the house and moved in during 1912. He also purchased an additional fifty acres and planted incredible gardens which displayed 397 plant types from around the world. The rose garden alone featured ninety-nine different varieties. During the Great Depression, Knapp employed local Italian stone masons to build sand stone walls around his property. Many of these walls a still in place today, and can be seen along Alston Road. Knapp was also a great supporter of Cottage Hospital, and recruited Dr. William Sansum, of Sansum Clinic, to the area in 1920. Knapp's son William planted lemon tress on the property, and by 1940, seventy-five acres of the estate were planted with over 9,500 trees. The property was subdivided and developed after World War II.
Cornelius Billings, also a founder of Union Carbide, purchased 104 acres above and to the west of the then new Montecito Country Club in 1917. He also purchased an additional forty-seven acres south of Alston Road, expanding his holdings to 151 acres. Billings was extremely wealthy and was know as a “millionaire’s millionaire.” He built a huge mansion (also designed by Francis Underhill) on a knoll overlooking the lagoon now known as the Bird Refuge. The main entrance to the property was then on what is now known as Woodland Drive. He also built three large guest houses on Cima Linda Lane, and two servants quarter facilities west of the main house. In addition, he built two large guest houses on Rametto Road directly above the new country club. The guest houses were designed by Carleton Winslow.
Billings was a prominent horseman, and built extensive stables below his property in the area of Old Coast Highway and Salinas Street. He owned a world champion trotter (1903–12) named Lou Dillon, and a street in the area is named after this horse.
William Hutchinson Cowles purchased forty-four acres on the west side of Eucalyptus Hill from James Barker in 1913, both of whom have roads named after them.