The densely populated area of land we have come to know as “Isla Vista” has seen a great deal of cultural, environmental, and demographic changes throughout its history.

See also: A Brief History of IV and Street names.

Early history

It was initially inhabited by Chumash Indian community known as the Anisq’oyo’ tribe. The Anisq’Oyo’ Park that borders Embarcadero Hall carries the name of the indigenous people of the Isla Vista mesa.

1800s: ranches

The Isla Vista mesa was included in the Rancho de los Dos Pueblos land grant given to Nicolas Augustus Henry Den in 1842. (Lodise 8). In 1863, Den became ill and died, leaving his land to his many children. The administrator of the Den estate illegally sold the land to William Welles Hollister while the Den children were minors. Alfonso Den and his siblings hired the lawyer Thomas B. Bishop, to sue William Welles Hollister in 1876 over their father’s land. Bishop retained a large portion of the better land as payment for his legal services, which is now known as “Bishop Ranch” (Wikipedia). The land left to the Den children was much less desirable for agriculture due to its lack of fresh water. The majority of the estate was sold, leaving only the Isla Vista mesa to be divided between two sons. This division of land is embodied today in the row of trees, known as the “Eucalyptus Curtain”, that separate UCSB’s main campus and present day Isla Vista (Lodise 9). 

1920s: real estate speculation

The land (encompassing current day Isla Vista) sold by the Den children was divided into three distinct subdivisions. John and Pauline Ilharreguy purchased a portion of the Den estate from Alfonso Den for $100 in gold. This central tract of land was given the name “Isla Vista” by the Ilharreguys (who were not very cultured in the Spanish language) in 1925. They then gave the four streets closest to the bluff their names that remain today: Del Playa, Sabado Tarde, Trigo, and Pasado (Wikipedia).

The remaining two subdivisions of land spanned from current day Pasado to El Colegio. The portion spanning from today’s Camino Pescadero to UCSB’s Campus was named “Ocean Terrace”. This land was owned by two Santa Barbara attorneys, one of whom is the namesake of the Robertson Gymnasium. The final portion of land spanning west from Camino Pescadero, owned by two Sisters, was named Orilla Del Mar (Wikipedia). These subdivisions of the land were planned separately, which is reflected by the lack of continuity in the roads of the “Ocean Terrace” and “Orilla Del Mar” tracts of land. To this day, roads such as Picasso, Abrego, and El Greco, indicate this division of proprietorship in the early development of the land we now know as Isla Vista (Lodise 10).

Much of the initial interest shown in these parcels of land was due to their proximity to the ocean. The uninhabited mesa was originally subdivided with the intent of developing it into a coastal resort community. This venture ultimately failed, in large part due to the amount of natural tar found on the beaches (Lodise 10).

Not only did the appeal of oceanfront real estate raise speculation, but also the prospect of oil reserves being accessible from Isla Vista properties was a huge part of the attraction towards this area at that time.  Signal Oil Co, purchased the majority of this land when oil was discovered to the west of Isla Vista in 1928 (Lodise 10). While the allure of the production of oil did not hold in Isla Vista, the value of these properties did increase overtime as resources like water, electricity, sewage, and other local amenities became available.

1950s: university development

In 1954 the president of Signal Oil, Samuel Mosher, was appointed to the UC Board of Regents (Lodise 11). The year before, the UC Regents had purchased the portion of the Isla Vista mesa owned by the US Marine Air Base for $10. As the new UC campus developed, the UC regents decided to leave the residential section that is current day Isla Vista for private development. This significantly increased the value of all properties in Isla Vista, setting the wheels in motion for our community to develop into what we see today.


  • Lodise, Carmen. Isla Vista: A Citizen’s History. CreateSpace Publishing ed. S.I.: CreateSpace, 2008. Print.
  • Wikipedia contributors. "Isla Vista, California." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 May. 2015. Web. 10 Jun. 2015.