I have a mystery I need help solving. It might take a very long time.

I recently purchased this photo along with several of people who had gone to Hawaii in the 1930s. This one also has Hawaii written on the back, though with different penmanship. I know this is not one of the big two Matson hotel resorts that were in Waikiki in the 1930s. In fact, I'm not convinced this is in Hawaii. It certainly isn't Waikiki. I just haven't a clue.

Anyone have any ideas? Perhaps Florida? Cuba? South America? Still standing? Long ago demolished? It's the mystery hotel.

Click on either image to see them larger.

UPDATE:  Well, I figured I'd eventually hear from someone with information about this place, but I never dreamt it would be the same day I posted it. Thank you Daniel!

A man by the name of Milo Milton Potter built this hotel in Santa Barbara which opened in 1903. It was called the Hotel Potter. The following extracts are from edhat.com, written by Neal Graffy who seems to have written the best historical post about this place. Make sure to check out the post for the complete history and more images, including interiors.
For his Santa Barbara endeavor, the timing was perfect. In March 1901 the missing link of the Southern Pacific's coastal railway—Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo—was finally completed. At last, trains came through Santa Barbara on their way to and from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Potter knew Santa Barbara was a golden opportunity for a seaside resort.

Potter was a magnificent self-promoter. He bought Burtons Mound in December 1901 and according to the newspapers, within thirty days of purchase had held a contest for plans, chosen an architect and engineered the grading of the mound. In reality, Potter had been sniffing around Santa Barbara in early 1900 and Burton's Mound was the obvious choice. More than likely everything was planned and ready when Potter made the purchase. The perceived Potter whirlwind made great headlines and free nationwide publicity for the "new resort hotel for Santa Barbara."

As promised, the hotel opened exactly one year later on January 19, 1903. "Anyone who was anyone was there" and according to one report "there was more money at the Potter that day than there was in Fort Knox." In typical Potter fashion, the hotel, which was supposed to cost $500,000, remarkably and with great publicity all the way, grew to a $1,100,000 hotel and greatly expanding in size as well. (SOURCE: Neal Graffy)
Sadly, the hotel burned down in 1921.
On April 13, 1921 the hotel caught fire. The 110 guests were safely evacuated as fire crews arrived from Santa Barbara and Montecito. Pushed by winds gusting from fifty to eighty miles per hour the fire spread quickly and fiercely, burning the hotel to the ground within three hours. Faulty wiring was found to be the cause. (SOURCE: Neal Graffy)
I wrote to Neal Graffy about his piece and he sent along the following about the photo I have:
As for the photo, it is indeed an unusual view and it was taken from Stearns Wharf, a structure dating to 1872 and still with us today. You can come close to seeing this view today by using Google Earth Street View from Stearns Wharf (foot of State Street) heading up the wharf to where you are past the sand and over the ocean and then looking to the west.
Currently there is an old brochure of the Hotel Potter available on ebay.


  1. Try to copy and paste it into Google images, you might get an answer.

  2. Anonymous2/26/2013

    I'm reminded of Cabrillo Beach in Santa Barbara. The hill in the background looks like the mesa and the palms along the boulevard are Washingtonia robustas, not a truly tropical palm. I don't know enough SB history to know if there was such a huge hotel on the beach then---but the Hotel Potter came to mind. So I looked it up---and that's what this photo is of--The Hotel Potter, Santa Barbara. It burnt down in 1921.

    Daniel Nauman
    Cherokee CA

    1. Daniel,

      How perfect! I figured I'd eventually hear from someone, but to have you do it so quickly is amazing. Thank you!

  3. You're welcome! I might add if not for the fire in '21 the 1925 earthquake might have seriously damaged or essentially destroyed it anyway. It was the business district demolition afterwards that changed Santa Barbara from a typical Victorian city to 'America's Riviera' by mandating Spanish style to the reconstruction.

    1. I didn't know that. I can't imagine the town not having the Spanish influence, but I have to say it always did seem contrived. Perfect, but contrived.