By Cheri Rae
She was a woman whose vision shaped a city—the venerable Pearl Chase. For more than six decades, when she spoke, Santa Barbara listened—and special things happened. For example, after the 1925 earthquake shattered downtown, she seized the moment and created committees staffed with the right people in the right places to carry out that vision to turn the city’s nondescript architecture into an integrated Spanish Revival community.
In fact, many of our iconic landmarks reflect her personal determination to create beauty (the courthouse), to preserve historical structures (the mission and its surroundings) and to protect the natural environment (the Moreton Bay fig tree). Pearl Chase expected citizens to help; she was known for asking the question “What are you doing for Santa Barbara?”
In 1995, her former colleagues—known as “Pearl’s Girls”—and other preservation-minded individuals became alarmed when they learned of the planned demolition of a notable commercial building on State Street. They organized and searched for a name for their group. Founding member Sue Adams recalls how they selected The Pearl Chase Society: “She was such a heroic figure; we picked up her baton, her energy and her passion.”
The society was successful in saving that threatened structure—described by Adams as “a charming commercial building, small with great personality.” They collaborated with architect John Pittman, who had designed the remodel of the Museum of Art and incorporated the adjacent building into the new design.
This kind of respect for resources and professionalism in its approach has characterized The Pearl Chase Society and its work in the community ever since.
Today the all-volunteer organization promotes and preserves “historic sites of rare value and continuing community interest.” Quietly, and largely unsung, Society members raise funds—and generously distribute them—in many projects that might even go unnoticed by the general public, helping to keep Santa Barbara’s treasures intact.
In endless ways, members see the need and do something about it: When the Old Mission’s ancient stone aqueduct developed a 13-foot hole, the city simply wrapped it in plastic mesh fencing—but alarmed members of the Society voted to spend the money to get it fixed.
When the years-long drought began stressing the historic Italian Stone Pines on Anapamu Street, Society members researched innovative watering devices and purchased the green “irricades” now revitalizing the much-loved canopy of trees.
When the Maritime Museum worked to save the Fresnel lens formerly housed at the Pt. Conception lighthouse, the Society helped fund the project. The list goes on: the courthouse, the historic murals at Santa Barbara Junior High School, the gardens at La Casa de Maria, options for Franceschi House, even a recent roof repair at the Presidio.
The Pearl Chase Society may be preservation-minded, but it’s also forward-looking. President and founding member Barbara Lowenthal notes, “Santa Barbara is a memorable place, and we need to keep it that way.”
Board member Erik Davis observes, “It is up to all generations to help preserve this region’s historical architecture, landscapes and cultural heritage. Growing up in Santa Barbara, I feel called to the conservation and preservation of this beautiful region for generations to come.”
The annual Historic Homes Tour—offering an up-close and personal glimpse into the historic homes and gardens of the community—is the Society’s main fundraiser. This year’s edition, on May 15, features the four famed Moody sisters storybook cottages in Montecito and an elegant upper east estate. For more information, visit PearlChaseSociety.org.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.