Researching Historic Properties in Santa Barbara County
We have compiled this list of resources to help you research and find out more information about historic properties in Santa Barbara County.
These plans can provide construction dates, name of builder, name of owner, name of architect, parcel information, and project statistics. To request building plans from the City of Santa Barbara, see instructions on this page.
Permits provide all of the information above as well as refined information about subcontractors and dates for inspections and final approval of the various permit review bodies (Building Department, Public Works, etc.). To search for City of Santa Barbara permits go to the City of Santa Barbara Property Records Database and for County of Santa Barbara permits visit this page.
A variety of historic maps are available that may include information about your property, neighborhood, and region. These include 18th century plans of the Presidio, 18th and 19th century Diseños (Spanish and Mexican land grant maps) for the Santa Barbara Mission and surrounding Ranchos, U. S. Coast Survey maps from the mid-19th century, USGS Quadrangles, as well as 19th and 20th century property ownership maps. See the inventory of the Maps and Plans collection at SBTHP’s Presidio Research Center. For Spanish and Mexican period Diseños, visit the collection on Calisphere. Also check the collections of SBHM’s Gledhill Library.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps document Santa Barbara’s built environment between 1886 and the early 1960s. They document construction type as well as nearest water source for fighting fire, flammable materials, etc. for the purposes of providing Fire Insurance. The maps provide important details about construction details such as door and window location as well as risk factors for fire such as gas lighting, fireplaces, stoves, boilers, etc. The SBTHP Presidio Research Center has original Sanborn map books for the City of Santa Barbara from 1982 corrected to 1903 and 1930 corrected to 1958. The Santa Barbara Public Library has Sanborns from the late 1800s to the early 1900s on microfilm. The SBHM’s Gledhill Library has Sanborn maps for 1886, 1888, 1892, 1907, 1930, and 1950 on microfilm. Selected Sanborns for Santa Barbara County are available on the Library of Congress website including maps for the communities of Carpinteria (1919), Goleta (1930), Lompoc (1886-1921), Los Alamos (1886-1909), Montecito (1918), Orcutt (1909), Santa Maria (1886-1920), Santa Ynez (1895-1909), Solvang (1921), and Summerland (1930).
City directories are searchable by name or address and are valuable sources of information regarding occupancy and ownership of properties. SBTHP's Presidio Research Center has many years between 1931 and 1991, SBHM's Gledhill Library also has an extensive collection of directories, and the Santa Barbara Public Library has 1875 - 1989.
Designated Historic Resources
Check to see if your property or nearby properties have been designated as a historic structure. Related reports could reveal interesting information about your property.
on the City of Santa Barbara's Historic Resources webpage
in the County of Santa Barbara
Property Ownership at the Santa Barbara County Hall of Records
You can search for properties using the online database, and visit the Hall of Records to request documents related to ownership history.
Historic photographs are located at numerous repositories around town including SBHM’s Gledhill Library, SBTHP’s Presidio Research Center maintains a finding aid to the photo collection. Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library, and Santa Barbara Public Library also hold photograph collections.
Look Closely at Your House
Be your own historic archaeologist. Look for date stamps, inspection records, different size bricks, different types of windows, etc.
Talk to People
Talk to your neighbors, local business owners, contractors, the mailman or anyone else that may be able to tell you the history of the building over time.
Learn More about the History of the Area
Learning the history of your neighborhood, town, county, and state can help put the history of your building in a greater context.
The census can also provide important information about the names and numbers of people living in a property at the date of the census. See the census homepage at the National Archives for more information. You can also check with Santa Barbara Genealogical Society collections.
Check out the University of Maryland University Library’s webpage on researching historic houses. You’ll find the information there can be applied to places nationwide.