By Edward Mackie, Daily Nexus, October 16, 1973
Below the cliffs at Devereux rests a solitary ruin — a moment to the triumph of a man and the ingratitude of his successors.
Though battered and defaced by the vicissitudes of more than half a century, this ruin recalls a great family and a fabulous era unparalleled in the history of Goleta.
Contemporary chroniclers and the University archives, nonetheless, are strangely silent on the subject. Though hundreds of passersby have likely pondered the ruin’s original, had it not been for a casual conversation with Goleta’s octagenarian blacksmith, the secret of the ruin might have passed away forever. The story proves worth telling both for its human and historical points of interest.
In the winter of 1919 a singularly uniformed figure strode over the cliffs of Coal Oil Point. His name was Colonel Colin Campbell, Lord of the English estates of Wiltshire, Kent, Sussex and Gloucestershire, an officer in His Majesty’s Indian Light Horse Cavalry and son-in-law of Viceroy Lord Curzon.
Campbell, lured by the warmth of Santa Barbara, was amazed at the possibilities of developing the coastal property then being farmed by two locals. He dreamed of recreating his sumptuous estates in England. His own private lagoon, replete with fish and diaphanous swans, would be a private retreat for canoeing at leisure.
For $65,000, Campbell purchased a 500-acre ranch, including one mile of beach frontage. While well-digging crews were drilling shafts for water, Campbell sailed back to England to assemble his household for the long voyage to California.
A fortuitous telegram reached him in London thereafter informing the Colonel that his crews were striking oil, not water. Irate to say the least, Campbell swiftly wired back his famous reply: “Under no circumstances strike oil, we want water!”
Campbell’s triumphant return to America, with an array of ten house servants, his wife, three children and a fortune in memorabilia, was the talk of the entire valley. For a year before moving to the ranch the Campbell family was lavishly quartered in the palatial mansion of Bonnymede, Montecito.
The first task at hand was paving an access road to the ranch, then reached by a trail sandy in the summer and muddy in the winter. The Colonel’s munificent offer to blacktop the rugged road was interspliced with one request — that heavy loads would be forbidden.
An indignant neighbor, C.A. Storke, father of Thomas Storke, rode over to the ranch and ordered Campbell to pave the road without restriction — or Storke would refuse his access forthwith.
The resilient Englishman resented such an imposition and instead purchased a strip of land flanking the old road where he graded a private boulevard, paved it and fenced it off from the existing road. For years afterward, the drive was known as Campbell Road until the county removed the divider fence and combined the two roads into a thoroughfare. Eventually, the street was renamed… what was it called? Ah, yes, Storke Road.
The majestic boulevard, still used by Devereux School, skirts the lagoon and winds around the forested knolls of cypress and eucalyptus planted by Campbell’s own hand.
Among the outbuildings under construction was the private bathhouse of the Campbell family (pictured). There the household and guests would change into beach attire, cook lavish dinners, and hold endless parties during the Roaring Twenties. No less a personage than His Royal Highness Prince George of England was entertained on festooned evenings by the light of the bath house fireplace.
The generous-hearted Campbell was never fated to enjoy those endless soirees, however. En route to the ranch from Chicago, he died of a heart attack and was buried at the tip of Coal Oil Point where a granite cross still marks his final resting place. Mrs. Campbell followed him in 1932 and remnants of her family returned to the East.
The Campbell bath house soon after fell into a miserable state of disrepair. During the 40’s and 50’s local high school students threw wild and bawdy parties on the patio (with alcohol, it was rumored).
Each generation contributed its own supply of painted love notes and epigrams to the rapidly dissipated ruin.
It stands now as a mysterious concrete skeleton, a victim caught in the ferment of social progress.