Santa Barbara: A Plague of Paseos

SANTA BARBARA, CA – The American Riviera is jam-packed with “Paseos”. That’s the surprising conclusion of a special commission convened to study the troubling issue. Archways, parking garage exits, short stretches of nondescript sidewalk, hallways and alleyways and even stretches of dirt road – if it leads somewhere, in the Santa Barbara parlance it is a Paseo. No está bien, says a frequent visitor.

“Yeah, okay; a passageway is a Paseo,” says Gilbert Peredo, with his wife and infant daughter a regular vacationer in Santa Barbara, and a staffer at the Consulate General of Bolivia in Los Angeles. “But if we were going to have an American-themed city in Bolivia, we would not paint ‘Door’ above every door there. Es completamente idiota. It’s like walking through one of my daughter’s books around here.”

In the wake of the ruinous 1925 earthquake that leveled the town, Santa Barbara city administrators decided to rebuild the nascent tourist magnet with a Spanish Puebla theme. Today, Santa Barbara’s Architectural Board of Review is an indefatigable enforcer of a red-tile roofed, faux-adobe, archway-bedevilled civic milieu that has also been described as “The American Riviera”; a nod to the city’s second confused identity as a South-of-France mimic. Eye-popping stretch jeans and Abercrombie & Fitch cologne enthusiasts complete the picture of a tumbledown, South of the Border/Frederick’s of Hollywood-inspired village by the sea.

In the midst of all this, Santa Barbara’s “Paseos” are manifold. From the city’s first pedestrian shopping area—the historic El Paseo, dating to 1925—to Paseo Nuevo, the town’s behemoth outdoor shopping complex that anchors Santa Barbara’s commercial district, the town is rife with Spanish-indicated passageways. One longtime Santa Barbara civic leader bridled at the suggestion that the word is overused and misapplied. “Paseo Nuevo: Big Shopping Promenade. That’s the literal translation. We didn’t just become a red tile Puebla overnight. We know our Pasitas (sic)!”

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