With the completion of the first county road through the Gaviota Pass around 1860, more and more folks started making the trek up the Coast.In 1875, the Dibblee and Hollister families built a wharf at Gaviota beach they called Port Orford. The 1000 foot wharf was used to load merchandise onto steamships.
It was around this time that Miguel Burke built an adobe close to the mouth of the Gaviota Canyon that was known as the Gaviota Store and Hotel. Notice the wagon on the left, the small child perched on the steps, and the sign that reads, “Liquors and provisions”.
The Gaviota store and hotel served as a stage stop for the line from Las Cruces to Santa Barbara. Miguel Burke also served as the Wharfmaster of the Gaviota pier.
Around 1915 the Hollister Estate Company built a new store at Gaviota. The operation of the store was leased out to Frank Newland and it was like a headquarters for the Hollister Ranch. It was the main supply drop off for the ranch and many other nearby residents. Since it had the only telephone around, it was a very important place.
Otto and Walter Buhn took over the store in the 1920s, and they ran it until 1944 when Newton Moffat took the lease over. He ran it until the late 1940’s, and was followed by a couple more merchants. Given that it was the only commercial venture for miles around, it became a little bit of everything for everybody.
It was a grocery store, clothing store, gas station, dance hall, telephone exchange, post office, an auto court for weary travelers, and a dance hall on Saturday nights. Additionally, they had a restaurant that offered a commanding view of the Santa Barbara Channel. A one stop shop not only for travelers, but for the cowboys, ranchers and railroad employees that lived in the vicinity.In 1949, when the highway was widened, the store moved its entrance from the front to the side. Heavier traffic meant more truck transit, and the Gaviota store became a very popular truck stop. Big rigs were always seen parked on both sides of the freeway, at all hours of the day.
The Refugio Fire in 1955 nearly destroyed the Gaviota Store. Started by a spark from a generator wire on a Refugio ranch, it raged for 10 days and was one of the largest in the county’s history, burning from the San Marcos Pass to the Gaviota Pass. The fire jumped the freeway near the store, causing its evacuation. Traffic was stopped on the 101 and the railroad. Long lines of people waited to use the telephone and when the power went out, food from the store’s freezer was cooked for the exhausted firefighters. Fortunately, the store was spared, and again it proved invaluable as a community center.
It may have had the most expensive gas around, but it also had a warm and friendly atmosphere where everyone was welcome and you could get good down-home cooking served by friendly local ladies. An old screen door banged out an announcement whenever a patron passed through, and the squeaky old wooden floor escorted them throughout. The gas station was a classic grease pit with a couple mangy looking dogs lying around and some equally mangy mechanics relaxing in the shade. Like something you might see on route 66 in Oklahoma.
The large south facing windows showed customers the traffic conditions, but beyond that was the million dollar view of the Santa Barbara Channel. In the winter, the store offered a warm and cozy safe haven complete with homemade chili and fresh brewed coffee. In the hot summer months it was a refreshing stop for ice cream and cold drinks.
While the Gaviota Store was a popular truck stop, local surfers were also regular customers before and after their forays into the Hollister Ranch. Nothing hit the spot better when you’re all surfed-out than a basket full of burger and fries at the counter of the old store. In the 1960’s, interesting interactions often took place at the lunch counter between old school redneck truck drivers and long haired hippy surfers….a real melting pot of California cultures.
In 1968, the Hollister Ranch and surrounding areas were sold to an Orange County Corporation called the Macco Construction Company. They had some real big plans and their first move was the demolition of the Gaviota Store in 1970.
It was a tragic ending to a local landmark, well before it had outlived it’s usefulness. The store and the surrounding eucalyptus grove were torn down, and local residents mourned the loss of their historic gathering place.
The former Gaviota Store was located on a 44 acre parcel they named the “Gaviota Village”, that was to feature a large motel, a 100-foot light house and a museum. This ad showed distances to a variety of populated areas.
Sources: Wendie Kruthers, Santa Barbara Genealogical Society, Hollister Ranch-it’s history, preservation and people by Nancy Ward, Jeff Kruthers, Gaviota Land, Merlyn Chesnut, Walker Tompkins, UCSB Special Collections, Jonathan Weisberg, Sally Saenger, oldgas.com, Bob Drury, Brad Bayley, Bob Hazard, www.mehosh.com, Michael Burke
Categories: Goleta History