By Edward Mackie, Daily Nexus, November 21, 1975
A seventh-generation Californian, Thomas Storke was descended from Jose Francisco de Ortega, who first saw Santa Barbara in 1769 as an officer in the army of the Spanish King. His great-grandfather, a Yankee sailor, was enamored with the region and married Rafaela Ortega, herself of Spanish descent. They were wed in 1823 and settled down in Santa Barbara, which was little more than a backward pueblo but unmistakably beautiful.
Still in the service of the King, Ortega, with the aid of some local Indians, built a protective presidio over which he did not preside for long, for he was called away to another station. Upon his distinguished retirement from the military in 1795, Ortega returned to Santa Barbara.
Honored with a land grant from the King, the Ortega acreage included such landmarks as Gaviota Pass and Refugio Bay.
The long line of land grants immeasurably changed the California way of life. The Spanish tradition — replete with all its customs, economy and vagaries — firmly took root in wake of the ranchero era. The peppers and palms and sweet songs of Old Spain, the rapturous click of castanets and the kaleidoscopic swirl of femininity are the scenes most remembered in history.
Ox Cart Life
“Life under the Dons was casual,” wrote Storke, who was born at the tail end of the Spanish tradition. “It was geared to the sleepy tempo of the ox cart and the softly strummed guitar. Everyone rode horseback. The Indians under the mission padres became a domesticated labor class to till the fields, orchards, and vineyards.”
Doors were never locked and time, if it could be called that, was little more than manana.
When Daniel Hill jumped ship around 1825, he did so to take the hand of Rafaela Ortega’s granddaughter. A typical Massachusetts Yankee, Hill endowed Storke’s bloodline with its first American strain.
A carpenter and mason, Hill fit into and soon came to dominate Santa Barbara life. The wealthiest of neighbors trod on floors of hardened earth but Hill went them one better; he built the only wooden floor in the city.
Santa Barbara seesawed back and forth between the Mexican and American armies in the 1840’s but Santa Barbarans were quite content under Old Glory, even when the gold rush struck in 1848. Miners counted upon foodstuffs and beefsteak which the Santa Barbarans had aplenty. A single beefsteak went for nineteen dollars in the boom towns.
An entrepreneur who took advantage of the food shortage, T. Wallace More, chose as his wife the daughter of Daniel Hill; both were Storke’s maternal grandparents.
Inspired by the need for better educational institutions, More helped bring young scholars to the community, among them Charles Albert Storke, a 25-year-old Civil War veteran. Storke had been a prisoner of war but more important a former printer. After teaching in Santa Barbara for nearly a year, he married the daughter of More in 1873.
Storke had initially begun the Los Angeles Daily Herald. He had done so during the disastrous panic of 1873; the paper was forced to fold and Storke returned to Santa Barbara.
T.M. Storke Born
In 1876 a son was born to Storke and his wife, christened Thomas More Storke, after his grandfather. “If I had been born ten years later I would have missed entirely the true Spanish period in California and Santa Barbara,” wrote Storke. “It was going out in 1876.”
Storke was first introduced to politics when his politician father took him to a state convention. The Southern Pacific Railroad ruled California politics at the time, as both he and his father understood well.
With little preparation during high school, young Storke was ushered off to Stanford for four eventful, frolicking years where he dabbled in campus politics under the tutelage of Herbert Hoover, class of 1895.
After the Stanford experience, Storke cast about for a career — which he found in journalism, first as a reporter for $6 a week, then, within two years, as an editor-publisher. Up to his ears in debt, Storke pulled his paper out of the doldrums and made it a going concern. Eventually he consolidated and merged all of his rival papers in Santa Barbara under the banner of the News-Press.
Hardly thirty years ago, Storke had a ringside seat in the planned prosecution of “Boss” Abraham Ruef of San Francisco. He witnessed the devastation of San Francisco and with it the inevitable downfall of Ruef’s hoodlum gans. The city had had enough and put them out of business at the turn of the century.
Though registered as a Democrat, Storke consistently supported Republican state governors; he said that the Democrats hadn’t enough honest or competent men in the race. History largely vindicated this position. Among the notables he had supported were Earl Warren and Hiram Johnson, to name two.
Under Storke’s editorship Santa Barbara grew from a village of 3,000 to a mini-megalopolis. Storke either fathered or contributed to the city’s post office building, the municipal airport, UCSB and the $44,000,000 Cachuma Dam.
Upon William McAdoo’s resignation from the U.S. Senate in 1938, Frank Merriam, a Republican governor, appointed Storke to the unexpired term.
Another Republican, Governor Goodwin Knight, appointed Storke as Regent of the University of California. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for his fight against the John Birch Society, as well as the Lovejoy Fellowship and the Lauterbach Award for championing civil rights. Storke died in 1971 at age 94.