My partner John, who is a bicycling enthusiast, always brings me something home from someone’s free pile outside the driveways here in Santa Barbara, as he travels around the neighborhood. There’s always the “free stash” these days, as folks grow tired of their spaces.
This week, John presented me with an old bottle box, with old stenciling: “California Caterers.” He thought I could use it for small bottles, as it looks like the old wood bottle containers that soft drinks were delivered in. I did a search online for California Caterers. ( I suspected they were located here in Santa Barbara; John found this in a home driveway close to the Mission).
And I see that Santa Barbara Catering Co. has been in business for 37 years. I am going to assume the box is 30 plus years old and is originally from this company.
The company has been run by the Hansen family, if I am right, and I have had their food at the Santa Barbara Kennel Club dinner, in which they served the esteemed judges (130 of them) (and I do hope they favored the hunting group judges, as I have a Dachshund and go every year). And they catered for 1,200 people at the event table there.
I also tasted their food at the Santa Barbara French Festival, for years a favorite of mine, as I knew the founder Steve, for which they catered a French style tri tip with MOUNDS of garlic (of course) and grilled onions on baguette with brie cheese.
John left it up to me to find out how old the bottle flat was.
There are two ways to find out the age of a wooden object. One is the dirt — and the sun and heat damage, assuming it was in a hot Santa Barbara garage. I washed it to take good photos and indeed it had 30 plus years of grime. The other way to tell if something made of wood is old is to measure the wood construction: the planks in the direction of the grain should remain about the same length, in other words, fitting inside the box in the way they did 30 plus years ago — and the wood that is NOT cut along the grain expands or contracts, if the box or piece of furniture has been exposed to moisture or hot dry conditions.
This box has the hallmarks of being about the same age as my son (35 years), according to the measurements I did using a caliper.
I was thrilled to speak to Betsy J. Green in regard to her new book “Movies and Million Dollar Mansions” — a wonderfully illustrated history of the early silent movies, in which sets were accomplished in the most fabulous of our early 20th century mansions in Montecito. Why? It seems that the folks in Montecito at the time (1900-1920) enjoyed the company and confusion of a film set, and they thought: “Well, these are not late night theater people, who stay up and drink all night; movie people are OK.”
Because directors had to shoot in the daylight, they were not the immoral thespians of the late-night stage. Many of our greatest mansions were open to the silent movie actors, directors and designers as a diversion, because these mansions were often second homes, and Montecito was not all that exciting in 1915, unless, of course, you were a landed family with friends about 30 acres away of the same social class.
The mansion owners, with Montecito mansions for a second or third home, longed for a bit of “color” in their daylight hours, and welcomed the silent movie stars, and here’s where catering comes in; they asked local grocery stores to cater for lunches. Thus, the catering industry in Santa Barbara was developed way back then.
I notice in Betsy J. Green’s book that the mansion Bellosguardo in 1915 hosted the cast and crew of “The House of a Thousand Scandals!” What fun to get deep into the scandals if you owned the mansion- over a catered lunch!
I cannot put a value on the bottle box flat John dragged home, but it speaks of an era when Santa Barbara began to be a destination for events circa the 1980s. It also reminds us that we were renowned for events such as the silent films as far back as 1915. Apparently, our mansions were seen all over the world in film, as silent films had no language barriers. Please check out Betsy J. Green’s “Movies and Million Dollar Mansions” at any of our local bookstores.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.