Sunday, May 25, 2008

Colorful history of Santa Barbara's San Roque neighborhood runs from bandits to postwar housing boom.

SAN ROQUE, in northwestern Santa Barbara, is a leafy, well-established part of town where development began in the 1920s and '30s and was largely completed during the building boom of the '50s and '60s.

The neighborhood is named for St. Roque, from 14th century France, who is variously described as the patron of surgeons and bachelors, dogs and diseased cattle.

San Roque 150 years ago was the headquarters of gang leader Jack Powers, one of California's most notorious bandits and gamblers. Powers established a base here, squatting illegally on private land, and for years resisted all efforts to evict him.

Powers and his henchmen controlled Santa Barbara with "a virtual reign of terror" in the early 1850s, on one occasion scaring off a 200-strong posse of local citizens, according to historian Walter A. Tompkins.

A century later, much more law-abiding folk were setting up homes in San Roque as part of the postwar housing boom, and today the neighborhood has an eclectic mix of architectural styles -- Spanish and American Colonial, English Tudor, French and Italian.

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