Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg sits down with Maria Herold

Maria Herold, longtime curator of the Montecito Association’s history committee, is an enthusiastic resource for those conducting obscure research or exploring land-use background. (Elite Henenson / Noozhawk photo)

Maria Herold, longtime curator of the Montecito Association’s history committee, is an enthusiastic resource for those conducting obscure research or exploring land-use background. (Elite Henenson / Noozhawk photo)

As longtime curator of the Montecito History Committee, Maria Herold knows-
literally-where the bodies are buried and the tales behind some of the most
storied families and legendary estates. Here she sits down with Leslie Dinaberg
to discuss some of her own history.

Leslie Dinaberg: How did you get involved with the Montecito History Committee?

Maria Herold: When I retired I decided that I would like to do something useful and I looked
around. I first looked into Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, and I wasn’t quite
ready for their structure. I had heard that somebody was needed up here, so I
dropped in and have been here ever since. (Laughs) I just showed up!

LD: And when was that?

MH: I think about 1991.

LD: What did you retire from before that?

MH: Well, immediately before that I took care of babies … I wasn’t looking for a
job, but people asked me to take care of their babies because the hours were
perfect, my husband was a teacher and most of the people who asked me to
take care of their babies were teachers.

LD: Has history always been an interest of yours?

MH: Absolutely, because of the fact that my family has been involved with the
history of California and that has always been in the back of my mind. My
grandfather immigrated to America in 1873 and first worked in Sonoma County
and then settled in Northern Santa Barbara County and worked as a supervisor
on an old Spanish land grant.

He went back to Switzerland after he had worked here for 30 years. I was born in
Switzerland, and then I came to America when I was 16. He came when he was
15 and I came when I was 16. He came walking over the Isthmus of Panama and
I came on a freighter through the Panama Canal-so that’s history.

LD: Did you come with your family?

MH: Yes. The whole family came. … (My father) decided that instead of going to
the Santa Maria area, where he was born … he looked for the nearest place that
had a college and at that time there was a little college up on the Riviera so we
came here because of the college on the Riviera. I was the oldest child and he
wanted to be able to send me to college locally.

LD: You have an interesting history so I can see where your interest comes from.
What kinds of things do people come to the Montecito History Committee to

MH: Everything from what is the story of my house or who is the architect or how
come my house is the way it is, to I heard about the Para Grande, or I heard
about the San Ysidro Ranch. Or I heard about somebody from New York who is
following a history of a person who started out in Europe, went to New York and
then ended up dying in Santa Barbara and inspiring a story of the ghost of a
countess in a local house. It gets that elaborate.

Then, of course, people who want to know the history of a street or of a property
that they want to buy. Or there is a legislation or development and, if they’re
smart, they come here and see what the history is. There are very few people
who are smart, but they manage to keep me busy, very, very busy.

I wish more people would come in because it is always ignorance that causes
problems, legal and otherwise. And in the community it creates a great deal of
problems where people are really not well informed on the history of Montecito.
And the same thing in Santa Barbara, the same thing in Goleta. If people knew
the histories there would be much less confrontation.

LD: Do you have a favorite project you’ve been involved with?

MH: I love it that the Pearl Chase Society once gave a mandate to a lady that
they were giving grants to look into part of the history of Montecito. And they
funded this lady, not me because I’m a volunteer, I don’t take money, except for
as a gift to the History Committee. But they funded this lady to work with me in
putting together a history of a particular section. We picked this section of
Montecito and looked into it in detail, starting with a map from 1871 and then
following the history of that section up to the present time. It was a fascinating
project. It took us months and literally months and months but it ended up in two
ring books of information with lots of pictures and everything else.

LD: What part of Montecito did you look at?

MH: We looked at the area between Jameson Lane (south), San Ysidro Road
(west), Hixson Road and Santa Rosa Lane (east) and Santa Rosa Lane (north).
That encompassed old farmland that had been well known farms in the 1870s
and 1880s and 1890s and also included one of the two most historic parts of
Montecito, which is Romero Hill. So we got all kinds of background with Romero
Hill and with the farming community and now having developments, so we have
everything there on how it developed since 1871.

LD: Do the other local libraries know about your resources?

MH: It depends on who they talk to at the library … I do know that UCSB is
aware of us, the Santa Barbara Historical Society sends us people all the time,
people who come into the library and say what should I do to find out about this
and that and something else, the librarians here (at the Montecito Library) send
me people all the time. So between the Santa Barbara Historical Society and the
local library we have a lot of referrals. Also there seems to be somehow people
seem to have become aware somewhere on the Internet of our existence
because I’ve had calls from all over the continent.

LD: What is the oldest structure in Montecito?

MH: What they call the Monsignor Adobe, which is a misnomer, but everybody
calls it the Monsignor Adobe. It’s a two-story Monterey and was built long before
the Monterey Adobe was built … The Monsignor Adobe is the most classic
building, I adore it. And yet it is the oldest building that’s still excellent.

LD: And what street is it on?

MH: It’s on the bottom of Sheffield Lane where Sheffield runs into North Jameson
Lane and it’s a land marked house.

LD: This sounds like very fun and very interesting work for you.

MH: Yes, but a lot of work. I would dearly adore having a helper.

LD: It seems like there should be a college student that would be

MH: Well, you know, people keep telling me that I should get involved with
Westmont students, etc. but the thing is they leave after a year, so all that is lost.
The continuity is shot down. What I need is an apprentice who will take over
because I’m not going to last forever.

LD: You’re still going strong, though.

MH: I’m 76 years old. Start counting (laughs).

LD: What else do you do like to do when you’re not volunteering at the historic

MH: For a long while I worked at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, which I
adored, just adored. But I can’t do it anymore. I’ve had several operations for
cancer so this is quite a trip. I used to work hours and hours over there and I just
loved it, but I can’t do it anymore. Then I’m involved with music all the time, I
always have been. I’ve been an accompanist and stuff like that. I’m still a
member of a choir, I sing with a group every Sunday but this is strictly amateur
music, but I’ve always done music.

LD: So is your group you sing with a church choir?

MH: No, it’s just a group that gets together, we all can read music, we get
together and we sing what is called early music, a capella early music and we
don’t perform, we do it for the fun of exploring early music.

LD: That’s really fun. That’s a great little local activity. If you could pick three
adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

MH: Old-fashioned, excitable, and enthusiastic.

Vital Stats: Maria Herold

Born: August 14, 1932, in Zurich, Switzerland.

Family: Husband George Herold; six grown children, Ann Herold, Matthew
Herold, Tina DaRos, Mark Herold, Monica Christensen, and Joseph Herold; eight
grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Civic Involvement: Volunteer curator with the Montecito History Committee, very
active with Mount Carmel Church, former volunteer for Recording the Blind and

Professional Accomplishments: Runs the Montecito History Committee archives;
formerly took care of babies in her home.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: The Zookeeper’s Wife, by Diane

Originally published in Noozhawk on January 12, 2009. Click here to read the story on that site.

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