Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Big Yellow House, Summerland, CA

The Big Yellow is a Santa Barbara County landmark. Visible from Highway 101 as it passes through the small town of Summerland, the house is visible to anyone passing between Santa Barbara and Ventura (of course, this visibility is helped slightly by the enormous sign calling attention to the house, but whatcha' gonna' do?). The Big Yellow House gained prominence as an up-scale local restaurant, but is currently closed (though it is slated to be re-opened as the less-descriptively named "Yellow Rose of Summerland").

The house, originally a private residence turned eatery, is reportedly home to numerous spirits, and is often described as one of the "most haunted places in California" (ever notice that almost everywhere with a ghost story seems to get the label "most haunted"?). One ghost, a spirit named Hector who dwells in the basement and in the upstairs library, was described by the author Rod Latham in his book The Spirit of the Big Yellow House. Another commonly reported ghost is that of a woman dressed in 19th century garb who can be found in the first floor women's restroom. Other than that, mysterious voices, creepy feelings, and other symptoms of haunted houses are routinely reported.

The ghosts, however, don't appear to have hurt business - bad service was more often the cause of business problems. Indeed, in the face of often bad service and a difficult location, ghosts often seemed to have been one of the main draws for this place.

Commentary: The town of Summerland sits on a beautiful stretch of coast in southern Santa Barbara County. The community was founded as a colony for members of the Spiritualist religion, who believed that spirits of the dead could communicate with the living, providing information, guidance, and wisdom. It is therefore not surprising that the area quickly became a hotbed for ghost sightings.

The decline of the town as a spiritualist center came as a result of many factors, among them the fading of spiritualism as a religious movement (though it still survives today, it's hey day was the mid-late 19th century) and the discovery of oil natural gas in the area, leading to conflict between the spiritualists and oilmen.

The Big Yellow House began as the residence of Henry Lafayette Williams, and served as the headquarters for the colony. I have not been able to find any information regarding the ghosts said to inhabit the house, outside of rough description (though, I must admit, I have not yet read Latham's book, as I have not been able to lay hands on a copy), and therefore I have little to discuss about them.

What was interesting to me when I lived in Santa Barbara, however, was the ambivalent way in which the management of the house treated the ghost stories. They never discouraged them, which was probably wise as the stories were a draw for people who otherwise might not be interested in dining there (I even once brought a date there myself, as we were both curious about the stories). However, the management also never seemed to go out of their way to encourage the stories - which was probably unnecessary as they had become prominent in the local folklore.

Sources: Internet, Internet, Newspaper, Richard Senate


  1. Hi, do you know how I can get in to investigate with the new owner that leased it?
    Maybe richard would know? if so, I'll email him right now.

    I believe that Summerland was chosen because its in the center of a spiritual nexus. The law of 5 elements form a pentagram, and Summerland is in the middle of the pentagram.

    If you know who I can contact, please email the case manager email on nightdwellers.org, thanks.

    -Omar sanchez, Founder
    Night Dwellers Paranormal Research Society

  2. I haven't a clue as to who the current owner or lease holder is. You can probably find that information through the county government, however.

  3. I worked there in the early 1980s.loved it.i looked for the ghost "hector,but was never lucky enough to see him".