If you’ve ever gone to the Santa Barbara Humane Society, or just driven past it, you have probably seen this historic old farmhouse sitting proudly at the front of the property. It’s down near the end of Overpass Road, on what was once the Beck walnut farm.
Luckily, it is somewhat protected by being on Goleta’s list of historic resources because the Humane Society is proposing a major remodel and they want to move things around. Their plan is still under review, but they want to move this old farmhouse from this original location to the back of the property. We found it strange that there is no plaque or any signage at all telling the historic significance of the Beck House, so we will do that here.
Located on what was formally Daniel Hill’s 40,000 acre La Goleta land grant, the Beck farm was choice Goleta farmland. After Daniel Hill passed away, his family had subdivided and sold off most of the original land grant. A real estate investor from New York named John Patterson, (today of Patterson Avenue fame), purchased about 1,000 acres from the Hill’s in 1868. Patterson hired Harry Langman to farm the land for several years, but in 1878, he had the parcel subdivided for sale. He knew Southern Pacific Company was working on a California coastline track that would bring plenty of new folks and their money into the Goleta Valley. Above is a closeup of the approximate location of the Beck farm on the La Goleta grant.
In 1887, Patterson sold about 27 acres to a gentleman from down San Bernardino way, Mr. David Beck. Beck had recently become single, and he wanted to start a new life for himself in Goleta at the ripe old age of 61. Beck’s parcel was prime real estate, fronting the county road, already nicknamed Patterson Avenue, close to the new train station and just up a piece from the Goleta Post Office, the center of town at the time. The newcomer paid $300 an acre in gold coin, a little over $8,000. (That’s a big pile of gold coins!) His parcel is highlighted on this map from 1889.
And here is David Beck. He was born in Maryland in 1826 and he worked in construction and as a farmer in Illinois. By the time he was 54, he was married to Rachel Beck and living in La Salle, Illinois with their four children. Bit by the bug to go west, in 1884 Beck moved to San Bernardino, California and started working as a carpenter. For reasons we do not know, Rachel and the children did not join him. Three years later, the railroad was completed up into Santa Barbara and ended at Ellwood. David Beck came north to Goleta and bought his piece of the Good Land.
David Beck followed the lead of other renown Goleta farmers and developed his land into a walnut farm. He also grew oranges, had some livestock and of course kept a nice garden for household produce. As you can see in this photo, Beck was getting comfortable in his new town. He is reclining on racks full of walnuts drying in the sun.
Meanwhile, just down the street near the corner of Patterson and Hollister was the Two Story School. Goleta schools had a problem keeping teachers for more than a year or two, due to the rowdy country kids and also the eligible Goleta bachelors making brides out of the young teachers. In 1888, a new teacher came from back east to fill the teaching position.
Jane Haig had taught school in New York and was eager to work in the beautiful Goleta Valley. Soon after beginning her new job, she met a charming older gentleman who lived nearby on a lovely walnut farm. That would be our friend David Beck. A courtship ensued and before long, the Two Story school was without a teacher once again. In 1890, Jane Haig became Jane Beck, 20 years younger than her 64 year old groom, but happy, nonetheless.
The newlyweds moved into a brand new but modest house that Beck had built. It was set back from Patterson Avenue on the west end of his farm, where it still sits today. Surrounded by fruit trees and some oaks, it was a lovely place to call home.
Before long, the Beck’s wanted to expand their family, so they adopted a young girl named Lois who was born in Minnesota in 1891. They were loving parents and Lois was encouraged to be active in society and musical endeavors. While Jane Beck had retired from her teaching profession and became a mother, she was still very active in the growing Goleta community. In 1895, she was a founding member of the Philomathic Club, that focused on “social intercourse and mental improvement”. (Philomathic means having a love of learning.) The club’s name was later changed, thankfully, to the Goleta Women’s Club and virtually every woman in Goleta became a member. The Women’s Club was very active in community projects, the most notable being the saving and creation of Tuckers Grove Park.
The Beck House was comfortably furnished, and Jane kept the parlor well stocked with plenty of books and art, as any woman of culture would do.
Surely a pleasant location for educating young Lois and regular meetings of the “Philomathic Club”.
Young Lois became quite the Goleta debutante, with her comings and goings being reported on……It was a small town.
After a few years, a new kitchen was added to the west side of the Beck house, shown here.
Another member of the Beck household was named Ah Yet, later described by Lois as, “our faithful and trusty servant for over 25 years”. Chinese house staff were common in Goleta at the time. Chinese immigration had started in California with the Gold Rush in 1848. Hard times in China prompted many young males to come work in California and send money back home to their families. When the gold dried up, the railroads hired the Chinese as cheap labor to expand their lines around the country. More than 300,000 Chinese came to the U.S. between 1850 and 1882.
Like most Goleta farms at the time, a windmill supplied well water to the farm and the house.
When it was time to harvest the walnuts, a seasonal workforce of Chinese laborers was brought in and supervised by Ah Yet, the family cook.
The little walnut farm was a successful operation and a happy home for the Beck family for years to come, but there was a situation that arose in 1901 that caused him some concern.
When the Southern Pacific Railroad finally connected the last section of the coastal route from Ellwood to Surf, they decided to realign their route through Goleta. The railroad required four acres across the top of the Beck farm, shown here.
Like other Goleta folks, Beck tried to fight it, but after some deliberation Beck agreed to the terms they offered. Southern Pacific paid the Becks $2,000, they fenced off the right of way and they installed a railroad crossing. Another bonus was that the new Goleta depot was even closer to the Beck farm.
In December of 1915, David Beck passed away and was buried in his family plot in the Goleta cemetery. Surprisingly, he left the farm to his two surviving biological daughters, and they were required by his will to pay his widow a mere $3,000. Mrs. Beck contested the will, and later she was granted a life lease on the property.
We learned from his obituary that Beck was an Odd Fellow. As funny as that sounds, it’s actually an old organization that did charitable work in the community, and it still exists today.
A few years later, joy returned to the Beck farm in the form of a wedding. In June of 1919, the Beck’s adopted daughter Lois was married to Carl Levine, a WWI veteran from Santa Barbara. The small but beautiful ceremony was attended by close friends and family and conducted by a Reverend from the Federated Church of Goleta. Afterwards they enjoyed breakfast under the orange trees on the lawn of the Beck house.
The event got quite a write up in the Santa Barbara Daily News, even mentioning their honeymoon on Catalina Island.
The Beck farm continued to produce so well that Jane was able to buy another 12 acre farm on Fairview Avenue. Lois and Carl moved to the new Fairview farm and gave Momma Beck a grandson, Louis. With the additional income from the second farm, Jane was able to see the world, travelling to Alaska, Honolulu and the East Coast.
When Jane wasn’t travelling, the Beck house was lonely and empty, except for the memories of her husband. So, in the late 1920’s, Jane moved to the Fairview farm to live with her daughter and her family.
Jane Beck passed away in March of 1933. Since Lois and her young family were happy living at the Fairview property, the Beck farmhouse had no family members living in it for the next 25 years. David Beck’s two biological daughters that had inherited the farm both passed away within this timespan.
The Beck farm in 1935.
On the same 1935 map, you can see what was now called the Levine property, home to Carl and Lois Levine and their son Louis.
In the late 1940’s, The State of California took another 2 acres of the Beck farm for the new alignment of the 101 freeway. Shown here in 1947, if you look closely you can see the traffic was pretty light!
This image from 1948 shows a little more traffic on the freeway, but more surprising is how a large chuck of the Beck walnut trees have been removed. A sign that the farm wasn’t producing much anymore.
For several years, a heated debate went on over where to build better access to the growing UCSB campus. The options were many, as seen above. Finally, a decision was made to go with option G-7 which, of course, cut right through the Beck property!
So in 1959, yet another chunk of the Beck farm had to be sacrificed for public transit. But this time, it was a vital portion of the farm being cut out, because it contained the Beck farmhouse and the barn. Thus ending the agricultural legacy of the Beck farm.
Once construction of the new road began, however, the State realized they had confiscated more of the Beck property than they had needed. So miraculously, the Beck farmhouse was spared demolition.
While this was the end of the Beck farm, it was actually a new beginning for the Beck farmhouse. As luck would have it, a local non-profit called the Santa Barbara Humane Society was looking for a new home, and 2 acres of an old farm would be an ideal location!
In the early 1960s, the rest of what was left of the Beck farm was subdivided around a brand new road named Overpass Road and sold off.
And so it was that in 1963, the Humane Society bought 2 acres of this “surplus State land’ that was formally the heart of the Beck farm. A groundbreaking ceremony was held and the Society was optimistic about the future in their new location. They planned to save the small farm character of the property by restoring and maintaining the farmhouse, the barn and the windmill. Now visiting children and adults could see the animals in a “rustic barnyard atmosphere”.
Unfortunately, vandals struck the vacant Beck farmhouse before the Humane Society had a chance to begin restoration. Busted doors, shattered windows and holes in the walls changed the basic renovation into a major project.
It was a minor setback, but the society had some very able volunteers and they made quick work of the repairs and began the restoration and remodel. Notice the view of the brand new Ward Memorial Boulevard through the broken door.
The renovation included a new concrete foundation, the fireplaces and chimneys were replaced with a modern heating system, the staircase was removed, and new paneling and carpeting gave the house a more modern office feel. Outside, the porch was enlarged, and a new external stairway led to a new improved living area for a Society employee.
The old Beck barn got a major overhaul as well and became the Humane Education Center. The improved two story barn housed classrooms, offices, a kitchen and a library.
The new home of the Santa Barbara Humane Society at the end of Overpass Road was taking shape.
In August of 1964, a big dedication party was thrown for the new location of the Santa Barbara Humane Society and their new kennels. All in the shadow of the imposing Ward Memorial.
By the end of 1964, the new Santa Barbara Humane Society was fully operational with brand new kennels in a restored farm atmosphere. The Humane Society has added many new structures and services since then, and they continue to serve our community from the Beck farm location.
The Beck family must be pleased having their old farmhouse brought back to life and still right in its original location!
At one time, not that long ago, little farmhouses like these were commonplace among the orchards and fields of the Goleta Valley. Our fertile soil provided a way to make a living for generations of Goleta pioneer families. With suburban development, the farmhouses began to disappear, along with the orchards and fields. We are very lucky to have the Beck House still standing after over 100 years as a symbol of our farming heritage in Goleta.
Recently it has been announced that the Humane Society would like to do a remodel of this historic property. Unfortunately, the new plan requires moving the Beck house from the original location in front, to the back of the property where it will no longer be visible to passersby. Additionally, a majority of the beautiful mature trees that are now on the property are slated for destruction. Surprising for a city that prides itself on being designated as a Tree City USA. Hopefully the city will keep the house in the original location, keep the mature trees, and put up a plaque telling the story of this humble little farmhouse.
Special thanks to Goleta History Savior Gary B. Coombs and Jon Bartel for putting together an excellent booklet full of photos about the Beck House, which we used for this page.
Additional Sources- Walker Tompkins, Newspapers.com, UCSB, Justin Ruhge, Goleta Valley Historical Society, Robin Hill Cedarlof, Kenneth Knight, Santa Barbara County
Categories: Goleta History