Montecito is a small town that derived out of the Presidio period that was originally home to Chumash Indians and ex-Presidio soldiers whom were given small parcels of land in lieu of back pay. Later on, East Coast settlers cleared the brush and established citrus ranches which became the foundation to impressive colorful gardens to winter residents of the East. As time went on, the population grew, land prices rose, and many luxurious estates were established. Montecito became a large tourist attraction that featured “La Parra Grande” or “The Extraordinary Grapevine.” The Big Grape Vine attracted hundreds of visitors its last remaining years and was planted by Maria Marcelina Feliz. The annual yield of this grapevine ran as high as 7,000 bunches weighing in from one to four pounds each. In later years, the vine was the principal source of income to Maria’s offspring. After the grapevine was shipped to Philadelphia, the Hot Springs Resort with curative waters that reached in between 109 ° and 122° became the next tourist attraction. According to historical records, the springs were discovered by Camacho, “a gentle Indian” of the Najalayegua tribe in 1801 who lived about halfway up Hot Springs Canyon. Originally, the Hot Springs were a social gathering for California women who used the water to wash their laundry. Later on, the Hot Springs were famously introduced to Wilbur Curtiss of Hudson, New York whom arrived in Santa Barbara in 1857 in broken health and was cured by the spring. He later purchased 159 acres of state lands on April 7, 1863. Later on, Curtiss established the Hot Springs Hotel which had six bedrooms on the top floor, a parlor on the middle floor, and a dining room on the bottom. Curtiss did seek out investors to expand the hotel, and when it was eventually rebuilt after his death, it was later destroyed by fires and floods.
Many of the Montecito estates were built by East Coast residents whom wanted to spend the winter in California. Building costs in Santa Barbara, as late as 1920’s, were only $ 4.00 a square foot; currently it is as high as $800 per square foot, however costs do vary. Of the 40 Great Estates created between 1890 and 1930, half of them were developed in the period from 1911 to 1920.
Although Montecito has taken a new shape with the changing times, the ambiance is still much felt. Lotus Land, formally known as Cuesta Linda, still serves the public in many ways. The gardens were established by Madam Ganna Walska whom spend the later years of her life collecting exotic species of plants that now can been seen on scheduled tours, including the famous lotus pond. Montecito currently provides a home to many famous celebrities and Hollywood actors as well as boutique shopping and gourmet restaurants on Coast Village and the Upper Village located on East Valley Road.