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Tea Bowls

Old shot of the tea bowls back in the mid 70's
Photo: Carl Woodcock

The Tea Gardens or “Mar y Ciel” which translates to “sea and sky” as it was once referred to were built in 1916 by Henry and Ellen Bothin. Henry Bothin was a wealthy real estate owner in San Francisco and you would need to be in order to acquire this type of land. The size of this place is staggering, it is a 340 acre property that winds uphill to a magical view of the surrounding hills below along with sea views. This place was originally intended to host luxurious tea parties and no dime was spared. The property included roman style arches with stunning ocean views. There was also an amphitheatre and a number of roman inspired statues that were situated on the property, along with intricate gardens. Both the arches and amphitheatre still exist today. The property also included a full aqueduct system that flowed from two separate reservoirs located on the property, that helped power several rock pools and water features. There were stories of water ballet being held in the amphitheatre for the guests so you can imagine the type of wealth we are talking about. Today this neighbourhood is flooded with the rich and famous of the likes of Ellen and Gene Hackman owns a property next door to the Tea Garden estate. To put it into context this place was listed for sale in Jan 22 at a staggering 78 million US dollars.

The Bothin’s parties continued until around 1923, until Henry Bothin died. Ellen restarted the use of the Tea Gardens several years later until her death in 1965, after she died the property changed owners multiple times. During the 1960’s however, it was not only upper class tea parties that were going down on the property, the uninvited younger generation would also make the Tea Gardens into a place to party, the surroundings were an ideal setting. The rock pools were used for skinny dipping and there was ample secluded space to embrace life and let your hair down.

Tea Bowls Skateboarding History

Skipping ahead to the mid 1970’s, Santa Barbara local Tom Sims, discovers the two reservoirs that were completely dry. This set a course that would influence a new era in skateboarding history. Once Tom and his crew cleaned up the bowls and tested the layout, it became a thriving hub for skateboarding activity.

Tom Sims doing a hard turn at the top of the Tea Bowls.
Tom Sims: photo from

Looking at some particulars on the bowls, there were two present on the land, the upper bowl, was called the Mogul Bowl and the lower was named the T-Bowl. Both reservoirs had the perfect landscape for skateboarding, the mixture of steep sides and array of bowled sections kicked the development of vertical skateboarding into full swing.

Now what we love about the t-bowls is the skill and creativity to skate these things. There was a mixture of steeper and more mellow sections, there were lumps and bumps, the entire bowls were a miss match of different types of surfaces and formations. There were also parts that included almost full vertical walls. Looking at a lot of photos from this time, it really would have taken a great deal of skill to pull off the moves that were coming out of this place, not to mention the skateboards at the time not being what they are today. So hats off to Tom and company. Many of the promotional material that the SIMS Skate Team released were taken at the t-bowls, it also made a feature in the 1976 film freewheelin featuring Stacy Peralta and Tom Sims. I can really recommend checking out the film for the great footage of the t-bowl and in general as it is a really iconic skate film. It was also a featured in the 1988 addition of insane terrain by Thrasher.

SIMS advert that was shot at the Tea Bowls.
SIMS advert: Photo Steve Bissel

Riding high a the top of the Tea Bowls.
Photo: Carl Woodcock

Tea Bowls, featured in the 1988 issue of Trasher's Insane Terrain.
1988 Thrasher Insane Terrain

Moving into the 1980’s the spot was still used frequently, it was during this era that the bowls became littered with graffiti, which did annoy some of the original skaters from the 70’s era. It was also during this time that a young skateboarder suffered a broken bone at the t-bowl and the family decided to sue the owner of the property. As a consequence to this the city of Santa Barbra planted TNT throughout various sections of the bowls and blew large sections out. They also dumped a bunch of soil in the bowls to further deter skaters. Yet this did not stop people from skating it. There are stories that a number of TNT did not detonate which did keep sections of the bowl still skateable. Even during the early 90’s people would make the voyage to skate the t-bowl. This was featured in an episode of sk8 tv that was aired on Nickelodeon, following Team Effigy, who were a bunch of local skaters from Santa Barbra.

Today the bowls are totally filled with dirt, yet the memories of this iconic skate spot still live on. There is a facebook group dedicated to the t-bowls so that is a must to check out.

The Tea Gardens had their fair share of controversy, and this carried through into the 2000’s. In the November of 2008 some college kids started a bonfire on the property, they told the fire department that they had put the fire out when leaving, yet it is said that the heavy winds during the night restarted the fire which burned 1940 acres and destroyed 210 homes.

Tea Gardens were listed again for sale in Jan of 22, for a whopping 78 million USD. It seems like the listing is still for sale, yet the price has been reduced to 58 million USD. Both bowls are still visible from Google Earth, the Mogel bowl is much easier to spot but the remains of the t-bowl can still be seen with a bit more of a detailed look.

Google Maps arial of the Mogel Bowl.
Mogel Bowl

Google Maps arial of the Tea Bowl.
Tea Bowl



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