Each day, hundreds of Santa Barbarans have driven past the nondescript, rather shabby-looking, area across from the Santa Barbara Mission at the intersection of East Los Olivos Street and Alameda Padre Serra, where the El Encanto has its sign.
Few, if any, are aware that it is part of Mission Historical Park and that it is an olive grove that has historical importance for Veterans Day.
That is about to change thanks to the Garden Club of Santa Barbara led by the dogged efforts of Suzanne McEwen, a past president and member since 1998.
“The olive grove has significant meaning for the club, which funded the planting in 1919 of 14 olive trees in memory of the Santa Barbara war dead of World War I,” said Mrs. McEwen.
“At the same time, a bronze plaque was installed that read, ‘These trees were planted by the Garden Club of Santa Barbara and Montecito as a Memorial Peace Offering to Victory in the World War 1914-1918.’ “
No one knew the plaque was there until 1972, when the Garden Club partnered with the Mission Memorial Fund Committee, chaired by Garden Club member and civic leader Peal Chase; Santa Barbara Beautiful; the Horticultural Society; and the city Parks Department to rehabilitate the site.
Mrs. Lockwood de Forest, a Garden Club member and prominent landscape architect as was her husband, served as an adviser on the project along with city parks Superintendent Michael Pahos, Park Commission members Robert Kallman and Oswald da Ros, and landscape architects Julio Veyna and Dunckley Murray.
“The first step in preparing the site started with the pruning and cleaning of the olive grove, which probably saved the trees from certain further decline. The original 1922 plaque dedicating the grove was discovered buried in the undergrowth in that 1972 cleanup,” said Mrs. McEwen.
She became concerned about its lack of maintenance about seven years ago and determined to see what she could do about renovating it once again.
“I live on the lower Riviera and drive past it all the time,” said Mrs. McEwen.
In 2014, members of the Garden Club met with the city Recreation Department to discuss plans to revitalize the grove as part of the club’s centennial celebration in 2016.
Founded in 1916, the Garden Club of Santa Barbara is a nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to encouraging the knowledge and enjoyment of gardening, the art of flower design, the protection of the environment and native plants, the preservation of the historic and horticultural richness of the community, and the active support of civic projects.
After numerous meetings and hearings with city and county officials and agencies — even Caltrans — Mrs. McEwen was given permission to plant five more olive trees that will be dedicated in an informal ceremony open to the public at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 18 in Mission Historical Park near the intersection of East Los Olivos Street and Alameda Padre Serra.
“In addition to the new olive trees, the Garden Club has funded a new interpretive sign that will be installed on a post,” said Mrs. McEwen.
Among other information on the rectangle, which is about 2-by-1½ feet and painted green, is the following information: “The olive grove within this upper area of the park dates back to 1891. The Garden Club of Santa Barbara planted 19 trees known as Victory Trees in 1919 to honor the end of the First World War. Five new trees planted in 2019 celebrated the Garden Club’s centennial.”
The original plaque commemorating the 1919 planting has been relocated so it can be easily seen when visiting the grove.
Mrs. McEwen said all her efforts were made worthwhile one day recently when she was driving past the grove.
“I happened to see an elderly man take two small flags out of a pack on his back and place them on either side of the original plaque, and they are still there.”
The public is invited to join the Garden Club of Santa Barbara in celebrating the completion of the olive grove planting project at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 18 in Mission Historical Park near the intersection of East Los Olivos Street and Alameda Padre Serra, near the Santa Barbara Mission. For more information, visit www.gardenclubofsantabarbara.org.