By Anthony Grumbine and Nicole Hernandez
On June 7, 2019 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, Harrison Design, the City of Santa Barbara and Downtown Santa Barbara co-hosted a timely symposium titled, “Santa Barbara: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow,” The Symposium provided a space for informed dialogue about the future of Santa Barbara’s urban development including the challenges and opportunities our community faces as we consider the best path forward.
Anthony Grumbine is a principal architect at Harrison Design, and specializes in the architecture of Santa Barbara. He is the current Chair of the City of Santa Barbara’s Historic Landmarks Commission, and serves on the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation’s Board of Directors. Nicole Hernandez has a Masters of Fine Arts in Historic Preservation and is the City of Santa Barbara’s Urban Historian. She worked as Architectural Historian for five years at Historic Denver, Inc. and four years for the City of New Orleans before coming to join the City of Santa Barbara in 2012. The following article was published in La Campana, Fall 2019. This is the second blog feature on “Santa Barbara: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow,” read the first one here.
As a classical architect and architectural historian, Anthony and Nicole see the buildings right in front of us, on our beautiful Santa Barbara streetscapes, as excellent prototypes for successful design of new buildings that can provide the growth the City needs while maintaining the beauty and vision of Santa Barbara’s early planners. The examples start with the planning of whole blocks in the downtown core along State Street and then are more specific with individual case studies of successful historic high to low density buildings. Between 1923 and 1925 George Washington Smith, other local noted architects of Santa Barbara, the Community Drafting Room and the Allied Architectural Association of Los Angeles demonstrated, through a public exhibition of drawings, how individual blocks of State Street could be reconstructed within the unifying Spanish Colonial Revival style.1 UCSB provided the digital version of these original drawings that show the massing, details and rhythms that was envisioned for State Street. Anthony converted the drawings into three dimensional, birds eye views of entire blocks, illustrating that if new construction utilizes the early plans, the underdeveloped portions of the downtown core can be filled with compatible architectural language, fulfilling the early vision of the city planners. Santa Barbara has a wonderful range of architecture constructed in the early 20th Century. The large buildings in the downtown core along State Street can support high density housing, while small developments in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown support lower density housing. We will feature excellent examples that provide a footprint for future construction while providing subtle details and patterns that allow buildings to fit into the beauty of existing streetscapes.
Inspiring State Street, Drawing Exhibition
Immediately after World War I, Santa Barbara began a concerted effort to recreate its visual image from a typical Victorian American town, to a Mediterranean/ Spanish Colonial Revival style town, merging the Spanish and Mexican past. In 1915, the City of Santa Barbara commissioned Bertram G. Goodhue to plan an entire commercial streetscape in the Spanish Colonial/Mediterranean style. He planned a city street that did not follow ordinary commercial lines, but included what he called “Spanish Improvements”, the buildings were set back off the street line and featured patios, corridors, and covered walkways. Goodhue’s scheme for an entire street was presented to the City via a public exhibition of architectural drawings and models. The digital renderings of the Drawing Exhibition provided by UCSB Architecture and Design Collection demonstrate round arches and covered arcades along downtown storefronts that contrast with the rectangular openings in the upper stories and create an interplay of cubic volumes, patios, pergolas, towers and verandas.
The George Washington Smith sketch of the 900 Block of State Street (Fig. 1, below) illustrates two and three story buildings. The three-dimensional, birds-eye view drawing (Fig. 2, below) illustrates what the entire block would look like if it had been developed consistently with Smith’s State Street vision. Santa Barbara could have more density in the downtown core using the same style and design techniques. An aerial of the existing condition of the entire block (below) shows the potential for larger development with one story buildings and parking lots rather than larger buildings creating a more visually enticing core.
Successful Historic Buildings, Models for the Future
Margaret Baylor Inn/Lobero Building
Julia Morgan, one of the most important architects of her time, designed the Margaret Baylor Inn built in 1926-27. Julia Morgan’s training in the Beaux Arts style gives the Margaret Baylor Inn formality and symmetry excellently translated to the Italian Mediterranean style. Spanish Colonial Revival details and materials adorn her classical-style building which has rounded arches on the street contrasted with the square openings above. Spanish Colonial Revival-inspired ironwork on the front elevation has a complex interplay between the curvilinear and rectangular. The four story building has an undulating ‘h’ shape to allow for a large courtyard on the south end, and small courtyards on the north and east that provide open space and light and air into the interior units. The loggia across the fourth floor is another opportunity for outdoor space for the units on the upper floors. Contrasting to the smooth stucco walls, are beautifully carved capitals on the top of the loggia columns.
The Elks Building
Designed in 1926 by Parkinson and Parkinson the Elks building is a four-story building that is 83 feet high. The interplay of volumes, characteristic of the Spanish Colonial Revival style, breaks the building’s mass so it does not overwhelm State Street. Tucked under the steep gables, the fourth story opens onto a rooftop courtyard hidden by the parapets of the third floor, providing open space for the building. In addition, the loggia on the third floor on State Street provides another opportunity for open space similar to the Margaret Baylor Inn/Lobero Building. The rounded arch arcade on the first floor contrasting to the rectilinear windows and loggia above mimics the plans from the 1920s Drawing Exhibition.
Monte Plaza Vista
Moving away from the downtown core of Santa Barbara, the size and density of buildings is smaller. Constructed in 1936, this two story apartment building has fourteen units. The large, central arch on the façade leads into a central courtyard with a second-story, wood balcony creating a beautiful garden space for the tenants. The steel divide light casement windows add depth to the smooth plaster walls. There is an interplay with the arch opening and three arches over the opening contrasting to the rectangular windows and the wide eaves with simple brackets topped with terra-cotta roof tiles. The symmetry of the windows carry the rhythm throughout the building.
Only a few bungalow courts still dot Santa Barbara neighborhoods surrounding the central core of the City. Constructed in 1916, this low-density housing type has twelve one-story bungalows. Each features a uniquely treated parapet to catch the eye as they lead to the two-story bungalow at the rear. Intricate window and door patterns adorn the smooth stucco walls. Born in Pasadena, California in 1909, bungalow courts provided a unique form of multi-family housing in Southern California through the 1930s. The homes in bungalow courts were generally small, low-rise houses in the spirit of bungalows designed in a variety of architectural styles, including Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival. Bungalow courts integrated their courtyards with the homes, providing green space, ambiance and quality of living that is rare to find in rental housing units marketed to people who wanted the amenities of a single-family home without its high cost.
As the early State Street renderings and the individual historic buildings illustrate, outstanding examples of architecture are right on Santa Barbara’s streetscapes that can serve as templates for new housing. From a whole block in the downtown core of the City to the bungalow court, the examples illustrate a successful interplay of volumes. The buildings do not overwhelm the street or neighbors but can accommodate a high number of units. All the renderings and examples provide unique design solutions providing loggias, courtyards, open space, light, and air for the units. The consistently rounded arch of the first floors contrasting to the symmetry of the rectilinear windows creates a rhythm that draws the eye to the buildings and gives them a sense of classic proportion. Details like simple brackets under an eave or a decorative window pane provide the buildings with artistry and allow for creativity that also provides a draw for the eye.
1. Mary Louise Days, Christopher H. Nelson, Ph.D., Rebecca Conrad, Ph.D. and Richard E. Oglesby, Ph.D., Santa Barbara ~ A Guide to El Pueblo Viejo (Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Conservancy, 2016).