1888 – 1979
“I hope that Santa Barbara will maintain its integrity and maintain its standards.”~ Pearl Chase
We stand on the shoulders of giants in this community and walk in their footsteps. It is important to remember that this place didn’t just happen—it was planned this way, thanks in large part to the life, work and vision of Pearl Chase who worked with and inspired so many to transform Santa Barbara from the nondescript eyesore she so painfully witnessed as a young university student, into the internationally known jewel on the Pacific, and home to generations of residents who know how special this place truly is. Along the way, she instilled a strong spirit of civic activism to keep it that way.
There’s hardly a place in Santa Barbara that doesn’t reflect her hand, heart, and sensibility. What you don’t see in Santa Barbara—billboards, ugly signage, utility wires in many places, development in front of the Mission or along the waterfront, high-rise buildings—can be attributed to the visionary leadership of Pearl and her associates. She insisted that buildings be kept “below the height of the tallest trees,” and for decades they have.
Times may be changing now, with other community priorities to provide higher density and more affordable housing in taller buildings, but they are largely taking shape with adherence to the historically, culturally, and environmentally sensitive aesthetic, guidelines she advocated.
The Santa Barbara she envisioned and helped create lives on today—with an uncluttered waterfront; in beautiful buildings with red-tiled roofs; at historic sites preserved for posterity; through natural wonders protected for all time; and in the memories of those who worked with her and learned from her. They were inspired by her tireless efforts to shape this city; in the sense of civic pride she instilled in those who wish they had known and worked with her; and in the special places throughout the community, large and small.
Born in 1888 in Boston, Pearl was the child of privilege. But the family fell on hard times and moved to Santa Barbara, seeking a better life, when she was 11 years old. It was a good move for Pearl, the family and for Santa Barbara. Her father, Hezekiah Chase, and her brother, Harold Chase, were both successful in local real estate and restored the family’s wealth after years of hard work.
From the time of her graduation from UC Berkeley in 1909, until her death in 1979, she was a dominant force in molding the character of Santa Barbara—its architecture, commitment to the arts, and support of human services and commitment to improving access to quality housing.
Often referred to as the First Lady of Santa Barbara, she founded many civic and cultural organizations that have profoundly affected the city of Santa Barbara and the state of California, including the local chapter of the American Red Cross, the Community Arts Association, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation and the Plans and Planting organization.
Lesser known are her roles as a committed conservationist who founded the California Conservation Council where she promoted “outdoor good manners”; she was an advocate for Native American rights as the founder of the Santa Barbara chapter of the American Indian Defense Association, and she served as a dedicated social worker at the Recreation Center, where she took on countless roles, from scheduling regular dances to teaching Americanization classes.
Pearl Chase was instrumental in the conservation of the historic Moreton Bay Fig Tree and Santa Barbara’s beachfront, now known as Chase Palm Park, as well as the restoration of the Presidio, the city’s 18th-century birthplace. She was selected Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles Times in 1952 and was chosen Santa Barbara’s first Woman of the Year in 1956. Her well-deserved reputation as a preservationist was acknowledged by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which awarded her their highest honor in 1973.
At the outpouring of accolades during Pearl’s memorial service at Mission Historical Park, one speaker offered, “One wonders whether Pearl Chase will be satisfied with Heaven, after leaving her beloved Santa Barbara.” It is our honor to follow in the footsteps of our namesake, and to continue working to beautify, protect, and preserve the Santa Barbara she cared for so well and for so long.