Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
El Presidio Real de Santa Bárbara
by Michael Hardwick
Felipe de Neve, first governor of the Californias, decided in 1777 that the Santa Bárbara Presidio should be located midway between San Buenaventura and Point Concepcíon. This section of coastline was the most vulnerable to a possible landing by a foreign power or to severance of communication between northern and southern settlements by hostile Indians. Neve chose the Santa Bárbara location because it had the best nearby anchorage; it offered a reasonably good supply of water, stone and wood; the Indians were friendly; the soil was fertile; and irrigation works were feasible.

Founded April 21, 1782, the Royal Presidio of Santa Bárbara was the last in a chain of four military fortresses built by the Spanish along the coast of Alta California, then a wilderness frontier. Others had been established at San Diego, San Francisco and Monterey. Padre Junípero Serra, well known for his leadership in founding the California missions, blessed the site of the Santa Bárbara Presidio four years prior to the establishment of the Mission of Santa Bárbara in 1786. Presidios played a vital role in the occupation of New Spain. They protected the missions and settlers against attack by Indians, provided a seat of government, and guarded the country against foreign invasion.

The Santa Bárbara Presidio was both military headquarters and governmental center of the entire region extending from the southern limits of present day San Luis Obispo County to and including the Pueblo of Los Angeles.

Presidial commanders were called comandantes. Comandantes of the Presidio of the Santa Bárbara were as follows:
 1781-1784  José Francisco de Ortega
 1784-1802  Felipe Antonio de Goicoechea
 1802-1807  Raymundo Carrillo
 1807-1815  José Dario Arguello
 1815-1828  José de la Guerra y Noriega
 1819-1820  Gabriel Moraga (acting)
 1828  José Joaquin Maitorena (acting)
 1828-1830  Romualdo Pacheco (acting)
 1830  Domingo Carrillo
 1833-1836  Juan María Ibarra (Mazatlán Co.)
 1837-1838  José Castro
 1839-1841  José de la Guerra y Noriega
 1841-1844  Gumesindo Flores
 1845  José Carrillo

Ground Plan, Santa Barbara Presidiowith modern streets overlaid.
Courtesy of Santa Barbara Trust for Historical Preservation


Additional Information
The initial version of the Presidio was a temporary wooden stockade 60 yards square, enclosing a number of log huts that served as officers' quarters and barracks, accompanied by some irrigation works in preparation for small-scale farming. Two years later, the wooden structures began to be replaced by an 80-yard-square, adobe-walled, rectangular enclosure with adobe buildings lining the interior walls, all on stone foundations, and a bastion in the east and west angles. Most of the reconstruction was accomplished during the 1784-88 period.
It had been reported that in the following year there were some 60 to 80 one-story adobe houses, each of which had its own garden, outside the Presidio's walls. By the time the Americans arrived in 1846 to take possession, the Presidio had become utterly decrepit. The American flag was raised above the Presidio's crumbling walls on August 1, 1846, by Comodore Robert F. Stockton. A small garrison occupied the Presidio until sometime in the late spring of 1848, when it was abandoned by the military and surrendered to the alcalde of Santa Barbara. A number of restored Spanish and Mexican-built buildings were destroyed by the earthquake in 1925, but two pre-1790 buildings, formerly within the Presidio compound, survived, although considerably altered. The site of the Presidio is located in the area hounded by Gardem, Anacapa, Carillo and De la Guerra streets, in the heart of a modern American city.
Royal Presidio Mule Brand, Compania #5, the 5th and last Presidio of the Californias

For More Information
On the web:
Santa Bárbara Trust for Historic Preservation
Los Soldados: Soldiers of the Royal Presidio of Santa Bárbara
Citadel on the Channel: The Royal Presidio of Santa Barbara, It's Founding and Construction, 1768-1798
by Richard S. Whitehead and Donald C. Cutter
Hardcover. Published by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historical Preservation
The history of Santa Barbara's Presidio


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Updated 8 February 2016