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Our History

Founded in 1963 by Dr. Pearl Chase and other concerned community leaders, SBTHP is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization and the primary force in the reconstruction and preservation of El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park — Santa Barbara's 18th century birthplace — and Casa de la Guerra — the 1820s home of Santa Barbara patriarch José de la Guerra. Today the Casa is an historic house museum featuring original furnishings and temporary exhibitions. In 2008, SBTHP signed an agreement with California State Parks to operate and develop the Santa Inés Mission Mills in Solvang, California — two 1820s fulling and grist mills which are part of a National Historic Landmark District — as a future California State Park. SBTHP recently purchased the building that housed Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, providing an opportunity to interpret the history of Santa Barbara’s Asian community in the presidio neighborhood. With the help of continuing education activities and exhibits, SBTHP strives to encourage community involvement and foster an appreciation for Santa Barbara’s distinct history.


Since its founding, the primary long-range goal of SBTHP has been the reconstruction of the Santa Barbara presidio, the eighteenth-century Spanish colonial fort that is Santa Barbara's birthplace. About the size of a city block in the center of Santa Barbara’s vibrant downtown district, its singular location gives the presidio an important opportunity as a living history site to interpret the city’s Hispanic heritage for students, the local community, and visitors from around the country and all over the world.

In 1966, SBTHP pioneered a unique strategy for private-public partnership to develop the presidio as a state historic park. Only two parts of the original fort remained; the rest of the site lay under buildings constructed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As it acquired each of these properties over the years, SBTHP deeded them to the State of California. An enabling law passed by the State Legislature grants SBTHP the privilege of reconstruction, and allows it to operate the site on behalf of California State Parks. SBTHP raises private funds to acquire and develop the property, working closely with state, county and city agencies. The State gives SBTHP the rental income from the properties to help support its operations. 


In gradual phases since the 1980s, SBTHP has reconstructed the northern quadrant of the presidio, following exhaustive archaeological and documentary research. The outgrowth of this research has led to the formation of the Presidio Archaeology Lab, which curates the tens of thousands of artifacts excavated from the site, and the Santa Barbara Presidio Research Center, which houses the thousands of books, journals, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and blueprints that have been collected over the years to support SBTHP's preservation and reconstruction work. Our curatorial collection includes several hundred objects that span the years from the Spanish colonial period to the present, recording and reflecting the many facets of our history. Many of these objects are on display throughout El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park.

Since its founding, SBTHP has evolved from an all-volunteer organization to having seven full time and fourteen part-time professional and support staff. In addition, more than 140 individuals volunteer for everything from docenting to processing bulk mail to making adobe bricks for use in reconstruction. Other historic properties that we currently preserve include Casa de la Guerra (1828) and Rochin Adobe (1857), both in downtown Santa Barbara; and the Santa Inés Mission Mills (1818-21) in Santa Barbara County.

SBTHP has active programs in exhibits, education, research and publication. While permanent exhibits at El Presidio and Casa de la Guerra have focused on the Spanish colonial period, temporary exhibits reflect such later historical topics as the Japanese American community in the presidio neighborhood until World War II internment. This community-based, temporary exhibit program provides the opportunity to collaborate with local organizations. Following California public school curricula, our educational program offers age-appropriate activities and tours for students from second through sixth grades, with special emphasis on fourth-grade California history classes; older students participate in our junior docent program. Living history, craft demonstrations and other special events focus on families. An evening lecture series includes both scholarly and popular interpretations of our past. Off-site, slide presentations are offered at area retirement facilities, enabling our docents to deliver enrichment programs to seniors who are not readily able to visit the presidio. In cooperation with the University of California, Santa Barbara and other local colleges, SBTHP supports internships in museum collections management, archives, and archaeology; undergraduate and graduate history research seminars; and symposia. As a result of ongoing research, SBTHP has published numerous archaeological reports, as well as seven books about California history geared toward a general readership.

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