Local Authors: Amid Struggles Over SB's Future, Cheri Rae Pens a Must-Read Biography of Pearl Chase
At the peak of her power, journalists described Pearl Chase as "the presiding genius of Santa Barbara" and the city's "Guardian Angel," whose relentless effort to shape and protect her town was fueled by "righteous indignation poured on thick."
Those descriptive nuggets, valiant but insufficient efforts to portray the force of nature that was Pearl Chase, arise in the encyclopedic research of public records, private correspondence and long-forgotten files underpinning a first-rate new biography by Santa Barbara writer and historian Cheri Rae,
"Bright, refined and cultured, Pearl Chase lived up to her name in every way," Cheri writes.
"Small town Santa Barbara was her oyster, and as she polished her skills and added layers of knowledge, experience, and wisdom, she eventually became a priceless addition to the local community."
Rae will be signing and discussing her just-out book, titled "A String of Pearls: Pearl Chase of Santa Barbara," at Chaucer's Books this Wednesday (Nov. 8) at 6 p.m.
Mining the vast trove of Chase's papers at the UCSB Library, she has produced a wonderful read that not only presents a character study of a fascinating woman, who overcame family tragedies and personal heartbreaks to gain influence and wield power in a domain then thoroughly dominated by men, but also provides a lively historic narrative that shows the extraordinary extent to which Chase's vision of Santa Barbara as a singularly special place, abides today.
It's also a cautionary tale for makers of public policy,
As City Hall orators inveigh today about a presumed "housing crisis," for example, Rae reports how Chase tackled the very issue -- in 1917! -- keening over the unyielding law of supply and demand that meant not everyone who wanted to live in Santa Barbara was able to do so.
The book is a must-read for anyone who cares about Santa Barbara - past, present, or future -- particularly as it demonstrates clearly that the superb built environment of the town did not just happen: it arose from the rare sensibility and values, caring, and hyper-vigilance that Chase combined to prevent the city from becoming another overbuilt, over-congested California burg.
At one point, Rae recounts how Chase was inspired and energized by a speech delivered here in 1923 by her friend, the journalist Charles Fletcher Lummis. Titled, "Stand Fast, Santa Barbara," the words of his address still echo, and are worth quoting at length, amid the build-baby-build development and housing battles of today:
"Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin Santa Barbara of her romance! They are sure to do it, unless you watch and stand fast. This is essentially the Vandal Age. Romance is the greatest asset California has. It has been, for more than 350 years. To all this centuried romance Santa Barbara is the legitimate and favorite heiress - about the only town left that has yet to trade away her birthright.
Beauty and sane sentiment are good business as well as good ethics. Carelessness, ugliness, blind materialism are bad business. The worst curse that could befall Santa Barbara would be the craze of GET BIG! Why big? Run down to Los Angeles for a few days - see that madhouse! You'd hate to live there!
By all that is fine and reverent and high -- faith to patriotism -- get together! The honor of Santa Barbara is in your hands -- and do not fancy for a moment that her good name will stand if you let the materialists strip her of her romance and leave her nakedly common.
It is up to you to save Santa Barbara's romance and save California's romance for Santa Barbara. I would like to see Santa Barbara set her mark as the most beautiful, the most artistic, the most distinguished and the most famous little city on our Pacific Coast. It can be, if it will, for it has all the makings."
You can watch our interview with Cheri Rae via YouTube below or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here. TVSB, Channel 17, broadcasts Newsmakers TV at 8 p.m. every weekday and at 9 a.m. on weekends. KCSB, 91.9 FM, airs the program at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.