SANTA BARBARA — Antique aficionados should thank Santa Barbara's sheriff for a shoot-out with the Jack Powers gang back in 1852. Otherwise, a visiting New York doctor wouldn't have stuck around town to patch up the wounded.
And there wouldn't be a century-old street called Brinkerhoff that's recently become the city's avenue of antiques.
Dr. Samuel B. Brinkerhoff was a passenger on a coastal steamer when he was recruited to treat the gun-fight victims. His ship sailed on without him. With that twist of fate, the stranded 29-year-old doctor became Santa Barbara's first resident physician, and a noted citizen.
Among his investments was $20 for a block of land just west of the town's growing business center. A residential street was created and named Brinkerhoff Avenue, but the doctor died before the first home was erected there in 1887.
Home to Shops
Happily, all 17 houses eventually built along Brinkerhoff during the turn of the century have survived. These days, many of them also are home to shops crammed with antiques and other collectibles that bring back memories of earlier times.
Two decades ago the Victorians along the short, palm-lined street were run-down rather than charming. Los Angeles residents Wanda and Bob Livernois started the street's renaissance when they saw a shrub-covered cottage at No. 533 and decided to make it a combination home and antique shop.
Over the years, other entrepreneurs have settled in the now-attractive neighborhood to live where they also make their livelihoods. It's easy to spend half a day or longer strolling the avenue to admire the refurbished houses and going inside to discover their treasures of yesteryear.
The city has declared the historic Brinkerhoff area a special Victorian Landmark District, and you'll see architectural styles that include Eastlake, Italianate, Colonial Revival and Craftsman.
You can spend the night in an 1887 Queen Anne-style home that's become the six-room Brinkerhoff Inn. Or bed down in its vintage cottage at the rear. Also on the property is a workshop where the B&B's owner makes old-fashioned costumes.
Along the avenue you can buy everything from antique linens and furniture to paintings and jewelry. Among the wide-ranging collectibles we saw were duck decoys, globes from gasoline pumps, Christmas tree ornaments, kachina spirit dolls and radio vacuum tubes.
To explore Brinkerhoff Avenue for yourself, drive north from Los Angeles on U.S. 101 to the Chapala Avenue exit that's just past Santa Barbara's main thoroughfare, State Street. Turn right to Haley Street, then go half a block to Brinkerhoff. Look for parking on the street; you get 90 minutes free.
Except for signs identifying the shops, Brinkerhoff Avenue appears to be a quiet residential neighborhood made notable by towering palm trees. The houses aren't large or especially fancy; most shops are on the first floor, with living quarters upstairs or at the rear.
Hours vary considerably, with some shops open daily and others only on weekends or by appointment. As a signal to visitors, merchants display an American flag whenever they're open for business.
A Good Place to Start
You can start your visit anywhere along the block, but a good choice is at the first house built on the street, No. 528. The 100-year-old residence houses 12 dealers as the Carl Hightower Galerie and Collective. Its namesake owner mans the cash register and brews a special tea to welcome visitors.
Hightower also can give you a brochure that lists the Brinkerhoff merchants and their specialties. Among the countless items in his own place are hardware, tools, sheet music, Disneyana and Indian baskets. Prices range from $1 for clay marbles of the Civil War era to a $12,000 artwork by Chagall.
Down the street at No. 508 you'll find an 1894 structure that's home for the Time Was shop, opened five months ago by Lynne and Larry Zajic. The objects we saw included felt pennants, a silver tea service and a Flexible Flyer sled.
You'll find antique linens and quilts at No. 529, Mary's on the Avenue. Mary Alice Robles opened up the shop there last summer, but the one-story, redwood-shingled house has been in her family since 1941.
Today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. you'll find quilts displayed up and down Brinkerhoff as merchants host a historical quilt show in honor of the avenue's centennial. Other events ahead are a country festival in October and a Christmas open house.
The street isn't exclusively antiques. Dutch-born Lia Sluijter specializes in crochet and custom knits with yarns imported from Europe at her Boutique Lia at No. 512.
At No. 502, Lynn Scott of L. Scott & Co. displays contemporary American folk art; look for the hand-carved Noah's Ark with 13 pairs of animals and Mr. and Mrs. Noah. At the opposite end of the block, Jeanne Kaplan shows off the works of local artists in her Cultural Arts Gallery at No. 536.