An Esotouric Road Trip: Guadalupe, California

In June, the Esotouric gang set off to enjoy three days of unhurried exploration along California’s central coast, in search of architectural oddities, elegant decay and berry pie. This is the first of three blog posts in which we’ll share some of the gems we found in our travels. Check out the full Guadalupe photo set here.

Abandoned business block IMG_4936

Guadalupe is an oil producing and agricultural community of about 7000 souls in Santa Barbara County. It is best known for the sprawling dunes to the east of town where in 1923, Cecil B. De Mille built and then demolished an enormous Egyptian set for The Ten Commandements, and for The Far Western Tavern, a family-run steak house that’s been an anchor on Guadalupe Avenue ever since Clarence and Rosalie Minetti opened it in 1958.

Dunes Center relics from Cecil B. De Mille's "City of the Pharaoh" set for "The Ten Commandments" (1923) IMG_4915

While bits of De Mille’s astonishing film set are still being brought out of the dunes by eager volunteers, Guadalupe itself has fallen on hard times.

Water tower IMG_4938

Years of infighting by the City Council left that body unable to cope with a demand from the State that its tiny central business district retrofit its one- and two-story unreinforced brick buildings. Today, few businesses remain, and the Far Western Tavern plans to relocate to suburban Orcutt as soon as work is completed on its new building.

Sleepy main street scene IMG_4957

But while Guadalupe is obviously dying, and it is sad to see a proud old community bleeding out, there is an undeniable beauty to its quiet, sun-bleached downtown. And if you step inside John Perry’s Napa Auto Parts Store, you’ll find a genial native son with a passion for the history of his community, and an eccentric museum of local lore, from the old post office interior installed against one wall to a stuffed ‘possum to the plaster foot of one of De Mille’s sphinxes, which someone left outside the shop one night, knowing John would give it a good home.

John Perry holds an Esotouric flier inside his Napa Auto Parts Store IMG_4949

Just up the street at the Dunes Center, located in a restored Craftsman bungalow, you can see photographs from the De Mille set and excavation, and some striking pieces of the movie set that have been stabilized with foam spray for display.

Dunes Center relics from Cecil B. De Mille's "City of the Pharaoh" set for "The Ten Commandments" (1923) IMG_4923

And the long walkway leading out across the estuary, where jewel-toned swallows swing over your head while hunting tiny insects, and then the dunes beyond are among the most beautiful, otherworldly spaces in California. A visit to Guadalupe will feed your soul. And as long as the Far Western Tavern remains, it can feed your stomach, too.

Walkway leading out to the estuary and dunes Photo Jun 26, 1 38 48 PM