The Small-Town Charms of Samarkand

When heading out for a walk, I prefer to wander rather than map a route out in advance. The neighborhood of Samarkand, however, makes that difficult, unless you want to brave a busy road or backtrack—which I don’t, but which I had to do anyway down in the southwest corner.

While it shares a name with a city in the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan, Santa Barbara’s Samarkand does not appear to be much of an Uzbek homage. Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, explained the neighborhood’s history in a fascinating 2016 Independent article: “In 1913, Prynce Hopkins opened a [Montessori] school for boys on 13 acres of the Riviera. […] Looking to enlarge the school, in 1915 he bought 32 acres at [what is now the Covenant Living at the Samarkand retirement community] and built a facility with architectural elements reminiscent of ancient Persia.” Hopkins’s arrest during World War I for pacifist activities led to the demise of Boyland, as the school was called. The facility functioned as a temporary hospital during the Spanish influenza epidemic, and then, “in 1920, Hopkins’s mother, Mary, opened the Samarkand Hotel” there, with “staff dressed in silk pantaloons and turbans in keeping with the exotic theme.” After a couple of decades, the hotel faltered, and developers bought various chunks. “In 1955, the hotel and its remaining 16 acres were sold […] and Samarkand then became a retirement community. Expansion and massive renovations in the 1980s and 1990s virtually obliterated any structural remains of the hotel.”

I parked at MacKenzie Park and promptly headed off, assuming I could cut through the ball fields to the residential area of Samarkand. No luck, but no matter: I got to explore the park, including its cute event space….

…and I was delighted by an array of naked ladies, as I recently learned these lilies are known, and the “Sorry” part of the Quality Inn’s vacancy sign.

The houses along Serena Road are a variety of styles. Some of my favorites:

And then there was this remarkable specimen.

A local school tackily stuck an ad on one of those adorable mini libraries.

The neighborhood had more progressive signage than I’ve seen anywhere in the city. It made me wonder whether Samarkand trends that direction, or whether it doesn’t, and that’s why some residents feel the need to be outspoken.

As is Santa Barbara’s wont, sometimes the sidewalk just ends.

I was surprised to see a church in the middle of the residential neighborhood. I was not previously familiar with Christadelphians, who have an interesting set of beliefs, almost none of which I share.

Anita Road got hilly.

I took the below photo for two reasons: the house across the street seemed nice, raised above street level and with mountain views out back, and I wondered how there came to be a planter in the street.

More of the details that make a place unique: a serpentine line of palms on Cuesta Road, a note from Eve, and a dog walker on one of those one-wheel electric skateboard things.

The Covenant Living at the Samarkand retirement community is much bigger—with 200-300 residents, according to the person who answered the phone—than it appears on the map at the top of this post. It takes over the whole area under the word “Samarkand,” and because of Covid-19, you can’t walk on the road that runs through it. The community used to be called The Samarkand, which is far more elegant, but in late 2018, owner Covenant Living Communities, which is an affiliate ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church, changed it.

I was surprised to see a city bus on the residential street, until I realized it must be mainly for the folks at Covenant Living at the Samarkand.

Two sweet moments: a lemonade stand and an old trailer. Truth be told, I was thrilled that the lemonade stand was closed. I always feel extorted by them, as if to walk right by will scar the budding entrepreneur for life.

Four or five little dogs gave me a hard time on Romaine Drive. And then I had to backtrack, sending them into a second frenzy.

I thought this was clever: the homeowner must have been tired of one car parking where two can fit, so he/she painted a marker in the middle.

More walking, more noticing…. The sign in the window below says that “bingo in the ‘hood” is Friday at 6 p.m.; the surreal top of the Earl Warren Showgrounds poking up at the end of Baldwin Road; and a sign that has always struck me as curious. Are the figures supposed to be students? Carrying books? If so, why do they look like adults? And why is the male holding the arm of the female?

Two houses on Cliinton Terrace and Samarkand Road, respectively, caught my eye. I recall from when it was listed last year that 3030 Samarkand is an old house (1924) on a large lot (.6 acre) for the neighborhood.

And then I was back at MacKenzie Park, but on the other side, where there is the largest lawn bowls club I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve seen many. In fact, I don’t know that I had ever heard of the game being played in the U.S. before I moved to Santa Barbara and came across the lawn bowls club at De La Vina.

Free lessons are available, which could be amusing if you get to have a gin and tonic afterward—or better yet, beforehand. The little clubhouse is perfect for it.

Walk With Me…
Climbing the Back of Eucalyptus Hill
Admiring the Backsides of Beachfront Houses on Padaro Lane
Social Distancing Made Easy at UCSB
In the Heart of the Golden Quadrangle
Is There a Better Neighborhood for a Stroll Than West Beach?
Up, Down, and All Around Montecito’s Pepper Hill
E. Canon Perdido, One of Downtown’s Best Strolling Streets
Montecito’s Prestigious Picacho Lane
Whitney Avenue in Summerland
School House Road and Camphor Place


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One Comment


Having been fortunate enough to grow up in Samarkand, I will say that there is indeed a way to get up to the neighborhood from the baseball fields but you must know the paths. Also, a little bummed you skipped Wyola, Hermosa and Lomita. Definitely key streets in this beautiful neighborhood. I had friends that lived at 3030, so have been to parties inside. It is such a cool property! Lovely, eclectic neighborhood.