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Santa Barbara Presidio
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
A view of the restored portion of the Presidio in 2005
Location: Santa Barbara, California
Coordinates: 34°25′21.24″N 119°41′49.56″W / 34.4225667°N 119.6971°W / 34.4225667; -119.6971Coordinates: 34°25′21.24″N 119°41′49.56″W / 34.4225667°N 119.6971°W / 34.4225667; -119.6971
Built/Founded: April 21, 1782
Architectural style(s): California mission
Governing body: Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation
Added to NRHP: November 26, 1973
NRHP Reference#: 73000455

The El Presidio Real de Santa Bárbara, also known as the Royal Presidio of Santa Barbara, was a military installation in Santa Barbara, California. It was built by Spain in 1782, with the mission of defending the Second Military District in California. In modern times, the Presidio serves as a significant tourist attraction, museum and an active archaeological site as part of El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park.[1] The park contains an original adobe structure called El Cuartel, which is the second oldest surviving building in California;[2] only the chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano, known as "Father Serra's Church", is older. The Presidio of Santa Barbara has the distinction of being the last military outpost built by Spain in the New World.[3] The Presidio was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1973.


Contemporary setting

The current El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park site sits between Anacapa and Garden Streets on East Canon Perdido Street in downtown Santa Barbara. The main portion of the site is across the street from the Santa Barbara city Post Office, and is about two blocks from city hall, De la Guerra Plaza and two other museums, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum and the Casa de la Guerra.

Only two portions of the original presidio quadrangle survive to this day: the Cañedo Adobe, named for José María Cañedo, the Soldado de Cuera to whom it was deeded in lieu of back pay when the Presidio fell to inactivity, and the remnants of a two-room soldiers quarters, called El Cuartel.[4] The Cañedo Adobe is currently the visitor’s center for the state park, and El Cuartel is largely unmodified. The site’s operator, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP)[1], reconstructed the rest of the site, with the most recent construction—two rooms in the northwest corner of the site—finished in May 2006. The reconstruction is ongoing, with the construction of two more rooms in the northwest corner beginning in December 2007.[4]


The site of the Presidio was chosen by Felipe de Neve, the first governor of the Californias. Perceiving that the coast at Santa Barbara was vulnerable to attack, he located a spot near a harbor which was sheltered from severe storms. In addition, there was an ample supply of both building materials and water nearby.[5] Construction began on April 21, 1782, and Padre Junípero Serra blessed the site.[5] By the next year, a temporary facility had been completed, and a wheat field planted by the Chumash Indians of Chief Yanonalit. The early Presidio consisted of mud and brush walls around a quadrangle 330 feet on a side.[6] The post had 61 officers and men in 1783.

The first comandante, José Francisco Ortega, planned the fortifications and irrigation works. He obtained livestock for the presidio from Ventura, established orchards, and began large-scale farming. Four years later, construction of the nearby Mission Santa Barbara began. The town of Santa Barbara developed around the Presidio, which offered protection for the residents.[7] The chapel in the Presidio was the primary place of worship for the residents of early Santa Barbara until its destruction by the Fort Tejon earthquake in 1857. This is because the mission, located a mile and a half away, was mainly intended for use by the native Chumash Native Americans after their conversion to Christianity.[4]

The Presidio was built as a fortress, and therefore included a strong outer wall with an open parade ground on all sides affording clear visibility. While it was never attacked by a strong military force during its sixty years of operation, the Presidio was subject to the assaults of nature. Several devastating earthquakes in the early 19th century destroyed much of the structure.[8] At the time of the Mexican-American War, very little remained in usable condition,[5] and on December 27, 1846, when John C. Frémont crossed San Marcos Pass during rainy weather and came up on the Presidio and the town from behind, the Presidio surrendered without a fight. No fight was necessary; the garrison was away, in Los Angeles. Frémont had heard that the Mexican army was lying in ambush for him at Gaviota Pass, the only sensible route over the mountains at that time, and had crossed the difficult muddy track on San Marcos Pass to outflank them, but this move turned out not to have been necessary. Mexican General Andrés Pico later surrendered his force to Frémont, recognizing that the war was lost.[9]

In 1963, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) was founded, with the primary mission of restoring the Presidio. In 1966, the land on which the Presidio is located became a State Historic Park.[4] On December 27, 2006, the SBTHP renewed their ongoing agreement with the California State Parks Department to manage the Presidio.[10] Work on the restoration is currently taking place. On November 26, 1973 the Presidio of Santa Barbara was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.[11]


  • Tompkins, Walker A. (1975). Santa Barbara, Past and Present. Tecolote Books, Santa Barbara, CA.  
  • Tompkins, Walker A. (1976). It Happened in Old Santa Barbara. Sandollar Press, Santa Barbara, CA.  


  1. ^ "Archaeology". Santa Barbara Trust for Historical Preservation. Retrieved 2007-08-24.  
  2. ^ "El Presidio de Santa Barbara SHP". California State Parks. Retrieved 2007-08-24.  
  3. ^ Tompkins, 1975, p. 8
  4. ^ a b c d "El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park". Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2008-02-13.  
  5. ^ a b c "Presidio de Santa Bárbara". Historic California Posts. Retrieved 2007-08-24.  
  6. ^ Tompkins, 1975, p. 8-9
  7. ^ For the Revillagigedo Census of 1790, see The Census of 1790, California, California Spanish Genealogy. Retrieved on 2008-08-04. Compiled from William Marvin Mason. The Census of 1790: A Demographic History of California. (Menlo Park: Ballena Press, 1998). 75-105. ISBN 9780879191375.
  8. ^ "El Presidio de Santa Barbara". Retrieved 2007-08-24.  
  9. ^ Tompkins, 1975, p. 33-35
  10. ^ "State Parks Department Enters Agreement With Historic Trust". KEYT. Retrieved 2006-12-27.  
  11. ^ National Register Information System, National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service. Retrieved 25 August 2007.

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