Category Archives: Architecture

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse: A Community and Global Icon

by Robert L. Ooley and Rodney Baker

Robert L. Ooley, FAIA, is the Santa Barbara County Architect. His office is located in the courthouse with responsibilities that include the oversight and management of any restoration projects and architectural work that occurs at the courthouse. Rodney Baker is past president of the Santa Barbara Courthouse Docent Council and Honorary Trustee of the Courthouse Legacy Foundation. As a volunteer, he coordinates all conservation projects at the courthouse and is involved in the training of prospective courthouse docents. The following article was published in La Campana, Spring 2020.

Grade school civics classes taught everyone that the nation is divided into states, states are divided into counties, and counties into cities. There is only one place in the nation where this is not true, Washington, D.C., which is a state, county, and city; and only one place in California where the city and county are the same, San Francisco. Otherwise, most counties have multiple cities formed within them. The distribution of resources among state, county, and municipalities varies, but generally functions as follows. Counties provide public health care, general law enforcement, courts, district attorney, property assessment, elections, and tax collection. Cities provide municipal services to residences, including: water, sewer, streets, and other general infrastructure. In some cases, cities also offer election services, as is the case in Santa Barbara.

Now, all of this general government business needs to be located somewhere, typically in a city hall, a courthouse, or government administration complex. In the early days of California statehood, the County of Santa Barbara housed these services in a repurposed adobe structure. Since Santa Barbara is the “seat” of Santa Barbara County, both city and county functions occupied the same building for a short time until a city hall was established.

Local government was first housed in the 1841 Aguirre Adobe on East Carrillo Street. While this provided a central location, the building was woefully undersized for government functions from the start.1 Between 1853-54, the Kays Adobe and surrounding land were purchased by Santa Barbara County and the adobe structures were converted to government offices, a courtroom, and a sheriff’s office.2 The Kays Adobe, which was originally a mercantile building, was situated on the land where the current historic courthouse is located. The 1875 Greek Revival Courthouse was designed by Peter J. Barber, a prominent architect of the day, and who served two years as Mayor.3 The adjacent Hall of Records was created by a local master carpenter, Thomas Nixon, in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.

View of the main entry of the 1875 Santa Barbara Courthouse designed by Peter J. Barber. Courtesy of Seaver Center for Western History Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

When the County Grand Jury raised the need to replace these buildings, an architectural competition was held in 1919. Several design firms from across the state submitted proposals.4 Many years would pass before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors could proceed with a new courthouse complex. As part of the 1919 architectural design competition, the William Mooser Company placed second. Some seven years later, while recovering from the devastating earthquake of 1925, the County Board of Supervisors selected The Mooser Company to undertake the design and construction of the new Santa Barbara Courthouse. The William Mooser Company was active across the state in the early part of the 20th century designing private residences, commercial buildings, and public structures, including courthouses, hospitals, and juvenile housing facilities.5

The William Mooser Company was based in San Francisco, and up until the mid-1960s it was the oldest architectural/engineering firm in California.6 Three generations of William Moosers led the firm: William Mooser I (1834-1896), William Mooser II (1868-1962), and finally, William Mooser, III (1893-1969).

William Mooser I was San Francisco’s first City Architect. William Mooser II was, at one point, the director of San Francisco’s City Public Works and a key figure in the Federal Public Works Act Administration for the Western United States. He was responsible for the first Building Code in San Francisco. His notable works include the Aquatic Park in San Francisco and Santa Barbara Courthouse. William Mooser III spent most of his college years in Europe studying architecture. He spent significant time in Spain and southern France, absorbing the culture and architecture. He returned to the United States to assist his father with the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. William Mooser III’s experience in the Andalusian region of Spain was particularly crucial in giving the architects an edge in the 1919 design competition, as the Spanish Colonial Revival Style was becoming very popular in California about this time. Santa Barbara civic leaders wanted the architecture of the new courthouse to reflect this trend and echo the city’s history.7

Design sketch of Anacapa Street elevation. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum’s Gledhill Library.
Construction drawing of Anacapa Street elevation. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.
Courthouse Complex

The effort to design and construct the new courthouse was highly collaborative, and Santa Barbara County leadership and local civic leaders were deeply involved in every aspect of the design process. The initial design of the Santa Barbara Courthouse remained unchanged, from the beginning construction sketch to the final Anacapa Street elevation. Mooser’s drawing of the Anacapa Street elevation represents what the courthouse looks like today, unchanged.

It was the cost of putting this complex together that drove many of the final details. For example, Hall of Records’ stone base (or plinth) is made of sandstone blocks. Then, exterior plaster was applied to the concrete building walls and against the edges of these large stones. When the Service Wing was being constructed the exterior detailing had switched to a method that made it less expensive to construct. The plinth was created using exterior plaster at a thickened depth, then troweled to match the real sandstone on the adjacent Hall of Records. This method continued for the remainder of the complex. Authentic sandstone was only used around significant doors and arches.

The Santa Barbara Courthouse Complex is comprised of four distinct buildings, joined by an arched bridge. The construction sequence was completed, starting with the Hall of Records and ending with the Santa Barbara Street Jail Wing. Each construction phase progressed from foundations to finishes. The Hall of Records shows what the architect had intended with the entire complex in its interior detailing. Only in the Hall of Records is there finished plaster scored with a dense bristle brush to simulate the wood grain in the massive support beams. The ceiling of the Hall of Records, like that of the Mural Room, Law Library, and the two original courtrooms, has been completed with intricate shapes and figures executed in a method referred to as “Dutch metal,” a technique that combines copper and zinc to simulate gold leaf applications. The symbols, images, and shapes that make up the design harken from the heraldic days of medieval times.

The interior courtyard of the Hall of Records is flooded with light from a fifty-foot skylight above. Courtesy of the County of Santa Barbara.

The general design of the Hall of Records is that of an outdoor courtyard. A space that one might stumble upon while navigating a narrow passage in Spain that explodes into a sunlit courtyard, surrounded by quaint shops. This approach explains why there is a fifty-foot diameter skylight that floods the interior space of the Hall of Records with light. The Hall of Records is narrower than the adjacent Service Wing by seven feet, most notable on the garden side of the building. This is because the original stone jail was located nearby and was still being used while the new Courthouse was under construction. This reality required that the Hall of Records be reduced in width to allow the old jail to remain functional for a time.

Floor plan of Hall of Records showing narrowing width. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.

The adjacent building, the Service Wing, is much less adorned in its interior detailing. This space is much like the backside of Hearst Castle; unfinished and rather pedestrian. Originally designed to house a community history gallery on the ground floor and an office for the District Attorney on the third floor, the gallery was never completed. Instead, a floor was inserted during construction to provide more office space. To the careful viewer, one will notice that the three large windows to the left of the Spirit of the Ocean Fountain reveal a floor line about a third up from the window sills. The County Architect’s office was once located in the space (the first window) above the Spirit of the Ocean Fountain. The babbling water of the fountain could be heard during the day. The wrought-iron grilles that shroud the opening of the three windows of this façade from the street appear to be sloppily made. If one looks closely, it is clear that none of the vertical or horizontal iron bars align. They appear randomly placed. One may also observe this irregularity in other ironwork around the complex.

Partial Anacapa Street elevation of three windows. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.

Another strange detail is the balcony on this elevation. Balconies are usually accessible by a door or a pair of doors. This is not so in the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Many of the balconies that one can see on the building, like that on the Anacapa Street side of the Service Wing, Garden side of the Figueroa Wing, or the large balcony over the entry on Figueroa Street, require climbing steps up and then a climb out of a window. A great example of this are the windows in the Law Library on the second floor of the Figueroa Wing (while access to the balcony outside the windows is prohibited, visitors can view the windows and balconies).

The Santa Barbara Courthouse’s main archway shown from the Anacapa Street side. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.

The Santa Barbara Courthouse’s Grand Arch is one of the most captivating features of the building. It provides an iconic marker in navigating around the complex. “Meet me at the arch honey” can often be heard during the day as a multitude of tourists descend upon the courthouse during operating hours. The Main Court Wing, comprised of the Anacapa hallway and Figueroa hallway, provides space for Superior Court and Court support operations. These portions of the building
also house the primary historical spaces: Mural Room, Second Floor Lobby, two Original Courtrooms, and the Law Library. These spaces are among the most ornate and detailed of all the areas in the Santa Barbara Courthouse Complex. The Hall of Records completes the five primary spaces on the site. Remember the precise detailing in the Hall of Records discussed above? The beam detailing in the remainder of the building is much different. The detailing had to be simpler for the project to stay within budget, which we all know did not happen.

Partial Anacapa Street elevation showing small bell tower at the upper corner of this elevation. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.

The superstructure is comprised of steel “I” beams encased in concrete. The wood formwork to hold the concrete while it sets were sandblasted before being erected. Once the wet concrete was poured into the formwork, it took on the texture of the wood formwork. When the concrete was painted brown, it was difficult to determine if it was wood or concrete. This construction trick helped to reduce costs and speed up the work. There are very few wood elements in the framing and construction of the Santa Barbara Courthouse. In the main lobby, by
the U.S Forest Service Topographic Map, there are small wood beams, painted with various colors and shapes, mounted on the ceiling. These are only there for aesthetics. This same detail is used throughout the building along the main second-floor hallways. The distinct rafter tails, elements just under the roofline, are also wood, and again are only to complete the aesthetics of the roof detail. They are in no way structural or supportive to the Courthouse roof. Another interesting fact that even most locals do not know is that there is a bell in a small tower at the very corner of the building, near Anacapa and Figueroa Streets. This bell was relocated to this spot from the first fire station in Santa Barbara. This bell can still be rung, but the method to do so cannot be disclosed here.

Santa Barbara Street elevation of Jail Wing. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.

The fourth building of the complex is the Jail Wing; this is the portion of the building facing Santa Barbara Street. In the authorization of the Courthouse Complex, the Jail Wing was initially eliminated from the project due to cost. However, Leo Preisker, Chair of the Board of Supervisors for the better part of twenty years, gave the contractor the green light to construct the Jail Wing, arguing that the presence of prisoners necessitated the construction of a jail. The Jail Wing also housed the Sheriff’s operations. Most of the prison cells remain and are mostly used for records storage. While there is very little ornamentation on the inside of the Jail Wing, there are a few painted elements in the Sheriff Civil Office. This wing was the original location of the County Sheriff’s Office, and since the office served the entire County, painted on the beams are the seals of each city in the county at the time the building was constructed. The majority of ornate detailing is on the exterior of the Jail Wing. A common misconception about the Jail Wing is that many believe the stone turret located high up on the Santa Barbara Street elevation is accessible. It is not accessible at all; it is purely an architectural castle feature, and designed to invoke defensive notions of medieval times.

The local community has been involved in the Courthouse since the very beginning. It was well before the earthquake that many in the community had become deeply involved in how the city was to evolve. The planning of streets, planting trees, and organization of public spaces. The notion that a collective community heritage was being erased with each new project prompted this involvement. The events surrounding the 1925 earthquake only gave a sense of urgency and immediacy to this civic engagement, which soared to its height during this time. It was through the establishment of the Community Drafting Room and design review boards, pressed by historic preservation advocates like Pearl Chase, that led to what is seen throughout the Santa Barbara community today, especially downtown. Countless thousands have fond memories of Fiestas, concerts, Earth Day celebrations, community galas and myriad weddings; many taking place at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. This history of community use underscores the fact that the Santa Barbara Courthouse is more than just a civic building where justice is dispensed, and vital records are kept. Over the years, community members have involved themselves in what happens at the Santa Barbara Courthouse, beginning with the oldest organization, called the Courthouse Docent Council. The Docent Council is now in its 40th year with over eighty trained tour guides who offer their knowledge of the property twice daily for free.

Community Involvement and the Making of a Landmark

The Courthouse Legacy Foundation and the Bisno Schall Clock Gallery Foundation are the newest non-profit organizations to join the effort to preserve the complex and its historic elements. The creation of the Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation occurred in 2004; this 501(c)3 non-profit is focused on executing conservation projects at the Santa Barbara Courthouse that keep it in shape for all to enjoy. Some of their work is known already, including: the recreation of the Spirit of the Ocean Fountain, the restoration of the Main Arch Ceiling in association with the Pearl Chase Society, conservation of the Mural Room, and the current effort to conserve the stone on the Main Arch. The Bisno Schall Clock Gallery Foundation is focused on the care of the Seth Thomas Tower Clock, located in the Observation Tower.

Scan of tracing of imagery of the large support beams. These images can be found on the vertical surface of each side of each beam. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.

The Courthouse Complex was first recognized as a place of historical importance in 1981 when the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1982, the property was designated a City of Santa Barbara Historic Landmark, and in 2003, the property was designated a California State Historic Landmark. It took the better part of six months to document and verify the facts required to complete the necessary forms for designation as a California State Historic Landmark. Once this work had been completed, completion of the National Parks Service nomination forms required much less time. A year of working the nomination through with both State and National architectural historians produced a document wherein which all the facts were vetted, and the nomination could proceed to public hearings and Nomination Sub-Committee review. The Santa Barbara Courthouse was named a National Historic Landmark in 2005. The benefits of being a designated historic landmark include access to grant funding only available to State or National Historic Landmarks and greater protections against changes that impact the historic fabric of the complex.

Conservation Projects

Over the previous twenty years, several conservation projects have been completed, from the restoration of the flagpole to the conservation of the central archway facing Anacapa Street. There is not enough space to talk about all of the projects, so a few highlights will have to do for now.

Flagpole

The flagpoles, located near the corner of Anapamu and Santa Barbara Streets, are comprised of two masts from sailing ships: the bottom pole from the U.S. Naval Frigate, USS Congress (1841), and the top pole from a vessel of unknown origin, but thought to be a Spanish cutter. The two masts were connected by a hound’s ring and Crow’s Nest from which men could view across the oceans for land or foe. The upper, much lighter mast was held in place against the bottom mast by a locking block fit into a wedge keyhole. The hound’s ring stabilized the upper mast against the bottom mast and forces of wind on the sails.

The flagpole was removed, and once the two poles were safely on the ground, a close inspection revealed that the crow’s nest anchors had completely rusted away—nothing held the nest in place but the dense layers of paint. The flagpoles were restored, including arranging for local Boy and Girl Scouts to repaint each pole. The Scout helpers each earned a community service patch for their efforts. The finished flagpole was dedicated on Flag Day in 2001 by the California Historic Preservation Officer, Milford Wayne Donaldson, FAIA.

In 2008, work was undertaken to preserve the imagery on the ceiling of the Main Arch. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.
Main Arch Ceiling

It is incredible that thousands of visitors pass through the Main Arch and never look up. Work had to be done to conserve the imagery on the ceiling of the Main Arch. Understanding what we needed to do, how to get it done, and who could help us get this critical work done were the first steps of the project. It was the Pearl Chase Society that stepped up and said, “We can’t let this ceiling go without restoration— not on our beat.” So, for the next seven weeks, the County Architect spent weekends up on a scissors lift tracing all of the graphics, carefully mapping them to a photograph of the ceiling. In 2008, the paint restoration of the main arch ceiling was finished and can now be viewed by all visitors who walk under the main arch of the Santa Barbara Courthouse.

Work being done to restore the ceiling of the Main Arch, 2008. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.
The Mural Room

The Mural Room, originally The Assembly Room of the County Board of Supervisors, is one of the most visited rooms in the entire building. The room is detailed with wood, fabric, tile, leather, textiles, and wrought iron. The ceiling is a highly decoratively-painted, Dutch- metal replica of the ceiling in Sicily’s Cattedrale di Monreale (Cathedral of Monreale). Many of the artistic elements found in this cathedral can be found in the Santa Barbara Courthouse. This can be attributed to two facts: the architect William Mooser III spent considerable time in Spain, and the painter, John Smeraldi, came from the Monreale area in Italy. The conservation work was prompted by a fire in the building that led
to a greater understanding of the real condition of the mural and its underlying supporting structures. After a successful fundraising effort and ten weeks of work, the conservation project was completed, which included museum lighting that highlights the paintings and ceiling.

The Mural Room is one of the most visited rooms in the entire building. The room is detailed with wood, fabric, tile, leather, textiles, and wrought iron.Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.
The Spirit of the Ocean Fountain

The Spirit of the Ocean Fountain, so named because of Santa Barbara’s association with the sea, was carved in situ by Ettore Cadorin, who emigrated from Italy. The subjects of this piece are based upon local teenage models who happened to be brother and sister. The piece, while it looks like one large block of sandstone, is actually five stones. As each block was stacked upon the other, lead shims were placed to level and precisely position the blocks. The composition of the blocks begins with the base blocks, those that express the lower torso, legs, and fish head. There is a left and right block with a vertical seam at the mid-point of the fish head. The next block is what we call the “people block.” This is the block that expresses the upper torso and chest of the male and female figure. The remaining blocks make up seaweed and corn stalks either side of the “people” block.

The Spirit of the Ocean Fountain. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.

The carving method used is referred to as “pointing,” and is a process of using a framed pointing needle to transfer the shape being carved from the model to the full-sized blocks. Reference points are created on each, the model and then the full-sized permanent piece that is maintained until the piece is nearing completion. Only then can these reference points be removed, and the final work is completed. When visiting the Courthouse, take binoculars to view the Spirit of the Ocean Fountain and look for small dimples on the surface of the stone, most noticeable on the face, arms, and legs. Look closely, because those dimples can be mistaken for pits in the stone. These dimples are the transferred points from the model to the stone and represent where the carver removed the excess stone to achieve the shape being created. The dimples remain as part of the artist’s execution of the piece. The original “people” block is stored in the basement of the Santa Barbara Courthouse, in hopes of displaying it in the building at some point in the future.

Details of the “people” block, Spirit of the Ocean Fountain. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara County Architect Courthouse Archives.

The sculpture had to be replaced because sandstone is not a very durable material, and naturally weathers faster than other materials. In the case of Spirit of the Ocean Fountain, this deterioration was accelerated by the application of waterproofing in the 1960s when there was an effort to protect the piece from the elements. This only served to entrap the moisture and contributed to the failure of the stone from the inside out. Porous stone needs to breathe to stay dry. While the piece looked okay to the casual viewer, the surface of the stone is the only part that remained mainly because of the painted-on waterproofing that glued the sandstone particles together. It was much like an ice cream cone with chocolate frozen on top. Once the ice cream begins to melt, all you have is the hardened chocolate shell. As part of the restoration of the piece, methods were included to ensure that the piece could evaporate moisture more effectively.

Notes

1. Patricia Gebhard and Kathryn Masson, Santa Barbara County Courthouse (Santa Barbara: Daniel & Daniel, 2001), 15.

2. Ibid.

3. Peter J. Barber collection, 1871-1909, BANC MSS 2002/200, Box 1, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California.

4. Superior Court Grand Jury Records, Santa Barbara Courthouse Court, Clerk’s Office.

5. Ray McDevitt, Courthouses of California (Berkeley, California: Heyday Books, 2001), 364.

6. Robert L. Ooley, FAIA, “The William Mooser Company: Bridging the Generations” (Conference Session Presentation, California Preservation Foundation, San Francisco, 2004).

7. Ibid.

Choosing Our Community’s Historic Resources: St. Paul’s AME Church at 502 Olive St.

On Sunday May 31, the Santa Barbara Chapter of Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth Santa Barbara issued a list of demands for action that included in part:

We demand protection and preservation of Black landmarks.

The demands identified specific buildings to be designated as historic resources including St. Paul’s AME Church at 502 Olive Street. Why is this request and this building so important? 

St. Paul A.M.E. Church, Santa Barbara. Image originally obtained from Laura K. Simmons for publication in “African-Americans on the Central Coast: A Photo Essay” (Black Gold Cooperative Library System, 1993).

The way a community decides to designate places as historic can affect its long-term historical memory. In addition to recognizing those who built it, designating a building and thereby assisting with its preservation helps define who we are as a community. Historic buildings remind us of our moments of triumph, help us remember and grieve our tragedies, and help document the daily life of our diverse residents and the institutions they built.

Crop of 1907 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing St. Paul’s AME Church at the corner of Canal (now Olive) and Haley Streets.

There had been an African Methodist Episcopal church on the site of 502 Olive Street since 1906, when it was the only structure on the entire block, and Olive Street was known as Canal Street. It was built by the local African American congregation to serve as a house of worship for its members.

St. Paul’s AME Church as it appears on the original 1930 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Map, Volume 1 corrected to 1958 in the collection of the Presidio Research Center.

By 1930, the Church, possibly a newer building constructed after the 1925 earthquake, had taken on the form we recognize today—a larger and more substantial building with an attached dwelling.

In 1990, St. Paul’s AME Church was added to the City’s list of potential Historical Resources and assigned the note: “potential Landmark status.”  A City landmark is the highest level of designation offered by the City. Today, in response to the demands of local activists, we sent a letter to the Historic Landmarks Commission requesting that this building be added to the agenda of the next Designation Subcommittee for consideration for landmark status. This important African American resource has held its ground and served its community for over 100 years, and deserves recognition for the history it represents, in addition to its beautiful architecture. The time to designate it is now. 

Is this the only building deserving of recognition? Not by a long shot. We have much more work to do. The field of historic preservation and museums have not always been at the forefront of diversity, equity and inclusion. We need to improve, and we begin by looking inward. Our organizational values include “Promote the diversity of cultures that comprise(d) the Presidio Neighborhood.” Today we extend those values outward into our City, County and beyond. We stand with those who are striving, fighting, and praying for equity and justice in our country in the face of persistent racism. As an organization we will continue improve our service to the community of Santa Barbara and to lift up its complex, sometimes disheartening, and often heroic stories until all the voices, past and present, are able to be heard. 

Our colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture have created a new digital resource, Talking about Race. We will use this resource internally, and we share it here as it may be of interest to you as well.

Replacing the Presidio Chapel Doors

by Michael H. Imwalle

The project to lovingly restore the Santa Barbara Presidio Chapel doors is complete. The process entailed the fabrication of new doors, mounted on new pivot hinges on a new threshold, and the restoration of the existing lock hardware. In November 2019, recently-elected SBTHP Board member Joe Handerhan and his team from Channel Coast Corporation began the project by measuring and drawing the existing doors, hardware, and molding profiles to create shop drawings to manufacture the replacement doors.

Once the 1985 doors were documented, carpenter Teo Ellinwood began ripping and planing lumber to assemble the door panels. The door frames were fit together using mortise and tenon joinery. The molding profiles of the old doors were used to cut custom router blades so that the raised detail of the door panels were a perfect match! More than sixty eight-inch-long hand-forged nails made by Santa Barbara Forge were used to fasten the door panels to the frames. With the door panels finished it was time to start the installation. Each nail had to be driven through a pre-drilled pilot hole, heated with a torch, bent over at the tip, heated with a torch again, then bent over the back of the frame.

The new doors were delivered to the site and sandblast to raise the grain of the wood to match the weathered wood surrounding the entrance to the chapel. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

In order to install the new doors, the existing threshold needed to
be replaced so that new pivot hinges could be installed. The original threshold was rotting and could no longer support the weight of the doors, each weighing more than one hundred and fifty pounds. Once the threshold was replaced, the new doors were delivered to the site and sandblasted to raise the grain in the wood to match the weathered wood surrounding the entrance to the chapel. Juan Ramirez arrived onsite to help Teo fit the new doors onto the new pivot hinges and to help remove the original hardware from the old doors.

It was a delicate dance replacing the threshold and the doors, all the while leaving the chapel open to visitors and being able to lock it securely each evening. Once the new doors were hung, painter Luis Castro (the stain master) began applying a custom stain to the new doors. The stain is made by adding ground iron oxide pigment to a mixture of turpentine and linseed oil. Luis has been mixing this special stain for projects at El Presidio SHP for more than ten years.

New doors are ready to receive the original hardware. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

With the doors mounted and stained, it was then time to install the original lock hardware. On February 10, 2020 the new lock hardware was installed using custom hand-forged nails made by horseshoer Larry Sell of Sierra Forge Farrier Service. That afternoon the new chapel doors were locked with the original hardware for the first time. SBTHP and California State Parks are extremely grateful to the John and Beverly Stauffer Foundation and all the individual contributions that made this project possible. Hopefully these doors will welcome celebrations of life, marriage, and community for many generations to come.

The finished Presidio Chapel doors. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

Michael H. Imwalle is the Associate Executive Director for Cultural Resources at SBTHP.

A Sneak Peak inside the 1871 Cota-Knox House at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park

by Anne Petersen
The Cota-Knox House, present day. Photo by Tim Aceves.

In November 2019, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) invited friends and partners for an insider tour of the 1871 Cota-Knox House. This City Landmark is SBTHP’s next restoration project, and our work will ensure that the building is not only restored to its original appearance, but also receives seismic and accessibility upgrades that will bring it into compliance with current needs.

Anne Petersen, speaking from the porch of the Cota-Knox House, introduces the restoration project to guests before their tour. Photo by Tim Aceves.

We made the interior of the building available to the attendees at our event so they could appreciate some of the special details in the sala. Inside, historians Mary Louise Days and Fermina Murray and SBTHP Associate Executive Director Michael Imwalle shared the architectural and social history of the building, as well as a display of medical artifacts from Dr. Knox’s practice, which were excavated on site.

Historians Mary Louise Days and Fermina Murray speak to guests inside the sala of the Cota-Knox House. Photo by Tim Aceves.

Architect Anthony Grumbine, Structural Engineer Jeff Haight, and Contractor Joe Handerhan led tours of the exterior. The team of building experts helped the guests understand the challenges of restoring historic buildings, including how to treat the delicate aging mortar between bricks, and the scarcity of similar materials to replace the originals. 

Architect Anthony Grumbine, Structural Engineer Jeff Haight, and Contractor Joe Handerhan discuss the facade improvements with guests as part of the restoration of the Cota-Knox House. Photo by Tim Aceves.

In addition to the process of the upcoming restoration work and the history of the building, we focused on the significance of this project to El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, the downtown and the wider community.  Restoration of this small brick home matters, for a surprising number of reasons:

  • It helps us tell the story of Santa Barbara’s somewhat destructive transition from a pueblo to an American town. María Olivera Cota’s Adobe home was demolished when Salisbury Haley’s new street grid was implemented, and her new house was built by her son-in-law José Lobero, across the street from his theatre.
Exposed red brick and deteriorating paint on the exterior of the Cota-Knox House (present-day). Photo by Tim Aceves.
  • It helps us interpret the medical history of our community. After María Cota’s death, the house was occupied by of of Santa Barbara’s first surgeons, a Civil War veteran from Philadelphia, who made significant modifications to the building
Glass vessels from excavations near the Cota-Knox House. Photo by Ashley Tammietti Aceves.
  • It is an unusual piece of vernacular architecture, with an early 19th-century symmetrical façade combined with later-period Victorian elements.
  • This small building is also a City Landmark, and a historic resource in El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park. It is surrounded by other City Landmarks and is the last landmark on the block to receive the care and attention it deserves. In a time when our community is focusing on the revitalization of our downtown, the restoration of this landmark, as artist Thomas Van Stein said, “will have a big impact in the Neighborhood.”
The restored Cota-Knox House, by Thomas Van Stein.
  • This building is also important because of its use today. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has produced research studies that show that smaller, older buildings in cities like ours often serve as incubators for local and innovative small businesses and innovation. And the Cota-Knox House is evidence of that. Tenants Eric Watts and Betsy Cramer (representing the Citizens Planning Association) attended the event and graciously allowed us access to the building.
  • And it matters because our historic buildings ground us. As Professor of Historic Preservation Tom Mayes has argued, historic buildings help us define who we are through “memory, continuity, and identity,” and remind us about what makes our community special. 

We hope you too will get involved in the campaign to restore the Cota-Knox House.  For more information about the project and how you can help, click here.

Anne Petersen is the Executive Director at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation

California Missions Foundation Continues to Support Preservation Efforts at the Santa Inés Mission Mills

by Michael H. Imwalle
South side grist mill after repair. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

In December 2018 the California Missions Foundation (CMF) generously provided funding to help support SBTHP’s preservation efforts in Santa Barbara County. The project entailed the repair of the clay tile roofs on the grist and fulling mill buildings at the Santa Inés Mission Mills complex. Santa Inés Mission Mills complex consists of a grist mill and two masonry reservoirs that were built by the padres and the Chumash prior to 1818. The batán or fulling mill was designed and built by Joseph Chapman circa 1820. Both reservoirs and the two mill buildings are contributing elements to the Santa Inés Mission National Historic Landmark District (NHLD). The 37-acre mill property was purchased by Harry and Ellen Knill and was meticulously restored under their ownership. SBTHP purchased the property from the Knills in 1996 and completed the restoration with the addition of the hand-made, low-fired clay tile roof. In 2007 SBTHP sold the mill property to California State Parks with the intent of establishing a new State Historic Park featuring the open space of the former Mission agricultural setting and the historic mill complex. Preservation of the Santa Inés Mills is a primary goal of SBTHP and California State Parks.

Crew from Action Roofing repairing the east side of the fulling mill roof. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

The roofs of both buildings have been damaged by vandals over the years with a number of the tiles being broken from people climbing on the roofs. The repairs consisted of the replacement of approximately 140 broken roof tiles. The tiles were replaced with hand-made, low-fired clay tiles or ladrillos manufactured by the same company (Materiales de Construccíon) that made the tiles for the original restoration project. Action Roofing carefully removed the broken tiles and loose mortar, repaired the underlayment, and wire-tied the replacement tiles in new mortar.

Damage to south side of grist mill roof. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

We are extremely grateful for CMF’s continued support of SBTHP’s preservation efforts at the Santa Inés Mission Mills and are excited to announce that in October 2019 we received another gift from CMF that will provide much needed security gate for the property as well as the ongoing condition assessment of the painted red figure on the fulling mill. Stay tuned for a report on these projects in 2020!

North side of grist mill roof after repair. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

Exploring Historic Planning and Architecture to Inform the Future

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.

Drawing Exhibition 1923-1926 by Allied Architects. Courtesy of UCSB Art, Design, & Architecture Museum.
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.

State Street Façade Development sketches, Unknown, 1923-1925. Drawings courtesy of UCSB Art, Design, & Architecture Museum.

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.

Fig. 1: typical Santa Barbara Block, George Washington Smith, 1923. Courtesy of UCSB Art, Design, & Architecture Museum.
Fig. 2: view of hypothetical block based on George Washington Smith’s proposed elevation drawings for the 900 block of State Street. Drawing by Anthony Grumbine.
Successful Historic Buildings, Models for the Future
Margaret Baylor Inn/Lobero Building
Guarding over the streetscape of 924 Anacapa Street, Julia Morgan’s four-story building is sixty-four feet high, yet seamlessly blends with the downtown core. Photo by Nicole Hernandez.

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 Margaret Baylor Inn is an example of a high density hotel, while still maintaining a beautiful Santa Barbara feel. This was done by creating inner courtyards filled with light, air, and charm. Drawing by Anthony Grumbine.
The Elks Building
Hugging the corner of State Street and Figueroa Street, the Elks Building has delicate grills and rhythmic arches and windows contrasting to the smooth, stucco walls. Photo by Nicole Hernandez.

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.

Although its roof is around sixty-five feet tall, the tallest massing is well laid-out in an “L” shape, so that the majority of the building fronting the street is open and three-story. Drawing by Anthony Grumbine.
Monte Plaza Vista
The arch on the streetscape of this building at 1400 Garden Street allows the entrance to interact with the streetscape while leading the eye through to the inner courtyard. Photo by Nicole Hernandez.

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.

Shaped around a square courtyard, this building type references the Spanish hacienda, and provides a high level of density within a two-story structure. Drawing by Anthony Grumbine.
Alameda Court
The bungalow court features an interplay of rounded arch windows and flat-top doors with intricate patterns in the glass. Photo by Nicole Hernandez.

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.

Built with an incredible amount of efficiency, frugality, and charm, the Bungalow Courts provide an example of the smallest housing types. Drawing by Anthony Grumbine.

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.

Notes

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).

Imagining a new life for the Cota-Knox House

by Anne Petersen

In Spring of 2019 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation contacted our friend Thomas Van Stein, a talented painter and member of the renowned Oak Group of Santa Barbara landscape artists, with a very special request.   We are wrapping up the planning phase for the restoration of the 1871 Cota-Knox House at 914 Anacapa Street, one of Santa Barbara’s earliest brick buildings.  As the work progressed, many of us commented that it would really help the community understand the impact of this project if we could show them what the restored building would look like.

Cota-Knox House today. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

Thanks to our generous partners at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum we have access to many wonderful historic images of the building.  Our restoration seeks to be accurate to these images, and evoke the original appearance of the building, yet historic photographs are often black and white, sometimes grainy, and convey a time long-lost to memory.

Cota-Knox House before 1896. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.

At SBTHP we frequently discuss the idea that although we are champions of preservation, we don’t believe that the goal of our work is to retreat to the past. Rather, we are always thinking about the future, and believe that historic buildings contribute to the character of any thriving city.  We work to restore the unique vernacular buildings in the Presidio Neighborhood so we can return them to a useful productive life as community assets.  And that is hard to capture in an architectural plan or historic photograph. 

Thomas Van Stein with Anne Petersen at the Cota-Knox House. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

At an event in Fall 2018, Thomas approached me and offered to help the community imagine what this diminutive and dramatically altered building could offer Santa Barbara’s downtown through a painting that captured the restored building in its modern setting. In the Spring of 2019 we were thrilled to learn that we received the President’s Award from Colonial Dames of America, which provided the funding for the painting. We had also recently completed a level of planning that allowed us to provide detailed information to Thomas about the restoration. Thomas spent the next three months studying the plans and historic photographs. He presented a preliminary sketch in a meeting with Associate Executive Director Michael Imwalle and myself that knocked our socks off.  You can see the results of that careful study in the final painting.  He got the detail of the brick work on the façade, and the casement windows and shutters just right!  And, the building is full of color and life, with Dr. Knox’s 1890s unicycle replaced with a contemporary cyclist perusing the curbside interpretive sign. 

The restored Cota-Knox House, by Thomas Van Stein.

We know the restoration of the Cota-Knox House will have a transformative impact on this block of Anacapa Street.  This City Landmark shares the block with the beautiful Julia-Morgan designed Margaret Baylor Inn, and the Carrillo Recreation Center, both also City Landmarks.  It sits across Anacapa Street from the Lobero Theatre, and on the next block from the Reginald Johnson-designed U.S. Post Office, both on the National Register of Historic Places.   With the restoration complete, the Cota-Knox House will add the final piece to this historic streetscape, and because of Thomas’s amazing artistry, we can help the community imagine its impact. As Thomas said when we visited the site with the painting in hand, “This is project going to make a real difference in the neighborhood!”

This $1,300,000 project will take the help of a diverse range of friends and supporters.  Would you like to follow the restoration of the Cota-Knox House and support our efforts?  Visit our webpage about the project here.  We will keep this page updated as the project progresses.

Anne Petersen is the executive director of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation

Santa Barbara: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Santa Barbara’s “Street in Spain” located in the El Paseo. Photo by Dennis P. Doordan.

On June 7, 2019 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP), 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.

Dennis P. Doordan, Ph.D. is an architectural and design historian and museum consultant. He is the author of Twentieth Century Architecture and co-editor of Design Issues, a journal devoted to the history, theory, and criticism of design. Dennis is a professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame. He was the Associate Dean of Research, Scholarship and Creative Work at the Notre Dame School of Architecture. He has a Ph.D. from Columbia University and a B.A. from Stanford University. Dennis recently retired and moved to Santa Barbara with his wife in June 2019. Dennis’ brother John Doordan serves on SBTHP’s Board of Directors. The following article was published in La Campana, Summer 2019 .

La Campana is one of many benefits of being a member of SBTHP, to join and receive the next issue, click here.

Santa Barbara: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

by Dennis Doordan, PhD.

Santa Barbara is a special place with a distinctive setting, a fascinating history, a genial climate and a rich architectural heritage. Residents know this well, of course, but because of the architectural and urban quality of Santa Barbara this special place is also an important model for students of architecture and urbanism. Indeed, as an architectural historian, I have taught and written about Santa Barbara throughout my career and I want to explain why.

In the late 1990s I was commissioned by an academic publisher to write a history of twentieth-century architecture.1 There is an unforgiving economy of words involved in writing a survey text that is established by the publisher’s strict limit on the number of words and illustrations. For every building included, others must be left out; every illustration chosen means one less somewhere else in the book. So I selected buildings that allowed me to make multiple points about architecture in the twentieth century. I included the Santa Barbara County Courthouse (1927-29) because it allowed me to tell several stories simultaneously. The Courthouse documents the enduring presence of historical revivalism in twentieth-century architecture. It also illustrates the ongoing dialogue between regional and national versions of government architecture in the United States. And finally, it is a superb example of the art of architecture. Good architecture addresses multiple themes.

“Spanish and Mediterranean themed architecture had, by the early 1940s, impressed upon Santa Barbara its distinctive identity as a New Spain in America.”

I am hardly the first to note the quality of architecture in Santa Barbara. Anyone who studies Santa Barbara builds on the solid scholarly foundation created by historians like Harold Kirker and David Gebhard.2 Their work provides the outline for the master narrative of what Gebhard called “the creation of a New Spain in America.” Writers, artists, and architects all contributed to the creation of an exotic image for the region. An early example of this is Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel Ramona.3 Published in 1884, Ramona is set in California after the Mexican-American War and was instrumental in popularizing a romantic image of Mexican California. California State Pavilions at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 and the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego promoted the Spanish Colonial Revival style in architecture and design. In the skillful hands of architects like James Osborne Craig, George Washington Smith, Myron Hunt and others. Spanish and Mediterranean themed architecture had, by the early 1940s, impressed upon Santa Barbara its distinctive identity as a New Spain in America.

In Southern California the Spanish Colonial Revival flourished alongside the rise of Modern Architecture. For David Gebhard, the simple massing, white-washed walls and courtyard plans typical of Spanish Colonial domestic designs shared an affinity with early modern architecture and, in a seminal 1967 article, he argued that there was a meaningful give and take between the two architectural styles. In the end it could be suggested that the Renaissance of modern architecture which occurred in California during the 1930s was due in no small measure to the fact that the visual leap from the Spanish Colonial Revival building to the modern was not a great one. Ironically, the modern movement found its “historic” roots not in the distant past but in the very tradition against which it was supposedly battling.4

It may not have been a “great leap” for Gebhard, but for many others it was a controversial one. The role of historical precedent combined with the materiality and solidity of Spanish Colonial Revival buildings was frankly incompatible with the prevailing Modernist architectural culture that privileged novelty over precedent, volume over mass, and preferred simplicity to decoration. In the 1970s and 80s, as the debate between Modernist and Postmodernist architects regarding the role of historical models in contemporary design intensified, Santa Barbara’s experience, conveyed through the work of historians like Gebhard, made it an intriguing and important point of reference in contemporary discussions of architecture.

The Charles Caldwell Park Water Trough and Fountain. Photo by Dennis P. Doordan.

The narrative arc described above carries us from the earliest interest in Mission and Spanish motifs in Southern California through to the emergence of a Postmodern sensibility in architecture that once again projected Santa Barbara squarely into professional debates about what constitutes good architecture and urban design. I want to suggest a parallel story worth considering, one that focuses on the principles of Beaux Arts Classicism rather than the romance of the Spanish Colonial Revival. Once again, the great fairs in Chicago (1893) and San Diego (1915) provide the starting point. Both fairs were important models for American urban design. Both fairgrounds were laid out with axes and cross-axes that struck an artful spatial balance between the solids (the buildings) and voids (the spaces in between). The designers of these fairs created clear spatial hierarchies and provided a variety of spatial experiences ranging from grand formal vistas to more informal picturesque courts. Building on the success of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 the City Beautiful Movement began to spread across the country. Cities large and small looked for opportunities to reconfigure themselves as efficient and modern urban centers enriched with classically inspired buildings. Large cities like Chicago produced plans that sought to integrate transportation networks, civic and cultural institutions and urban parks on a grand scale.5 Smaller cities worked on a more modest scale, one building, park or fountain at a time.

Santa Barbara Club, corner of Chapala Street and Figueroa Street circa 1919. Photo courtesy of the Santa Barbara Club.

In architectural terms, the Civic Classicism associated with the drive to improve and beautify cities in the early twentieth century drew upon the vocabulary of classical architecture and the principles of Beaux Arts design. Noteworthy examples in Santa Barbara include the Santa Barbara Club by Francis Wilson (1903-04), the Charles Caldwell Park Watering Trough and Fountain on East Cabrillo at Channel Drive, also by Francis Wilson (1911) and the band shell in Plaza del Mar on West Cabrillo at Castillo (1919). The design of these structures is clearly rooted in an alternative architectural tradition to the Spanish Colonial Revival. Moving beyond the consideration of individual buildings, progressive architects and planners associated with the City Beautiful Movement urged communities to consider streets and the buildings that fronted onto them as unified wholes. It is at this more urban scale that one can detect attempts to integrate an aesthetic sensibility rooted in the Spanish Colonial Revival with progressive planning efforts. During the 1920s, various groups beginning with George Washington Smith and Lutah Maria Riggs in 1923 and, in the wake of the 1925 earthquake, ad hoc design groups like the Community Drafting Room, the Associated Architects of Santa Barbara and the Allied Architectural Association of Los Angeles, produced proposals for the treatment of entire blocks along State Street.6 Varied in detail, these plans demonstrated a common commitment to the principle of the street as a unified whole defined by buildings that created a continuous street frontage and shared the same stylistic sensibility.

“In architectural terms, the Civic Classicism associated with the drive to improve and beautify cities in the early twentieth century drew upon the vocabulary of classical architecture and the principles of Beaux Arts design.”

A word about drawing is in order here. Now in the collection of Art, Design & Architecture Museum at UC Santa Barbara, these wonderful renderings served an important role as tools of communal imagination. They were intended to help the community conceptualize what did not yet exist but could exist. This is, after all, what imagination is: the ability to conceive alternatives to the status quo. Today the array of visualization tools available to communities to help them imagine what does not yet exist but could exist has vastly expanded thanks to the advent of digital software packages and the development of alternatives to conventional zoning such as form-based codes.7 But the role of imagination remains critical if the people who are charged with caring for places like Santa Barbara are to exercise forethought and control over the city’s future instead of merely reacting to the flow of events.

The story of Santa Barbara I have so briefly sketched here is woven from multiple threads: buildings inspired by the Spanish Colonial Revival along with designs rooted in the classical language favored by the City Beautiful Movement. How can reflections on Santa Barbara’s past help us in the present to think about the future of this special place? The answer involves focusing on shared principles rather than different architectural styles. When you distill the experience of Santa Barbara you arrive at a set of principles for good urban design. These principles are not unique to Santa Barbara but have been inflected in unique ways by the particular history of this place. It is possible to identify four key principles.

” When you distill the experience of Santa Barbara you arrive at a set of principles for good urban design. These principles are not unique to Santa Barbara but have been inflected in unique ways by the particular history of this place.”

Urban Design is political. Today politics is often described as a divisive force within society pitting neighbor against neighbor. There is an original, more authentic meaning we need to heed. Politics is the art of living together and promoting the general welfare of the community. Good architecture and sound urban planning promote the general welfare. Community wellbeing is not fully possible without a coherent legible physical framework.

Buildings create the shared public space of a community. They define the civil, commercial and social domains of the community and give visual form to shared values. Buildings can enhance a sense of community. They can also damage a sense of community. When a building that is too massive, too out of character, too dismissive of its neighbors gets built, something more than that street or block is damaged. The sense that citizens have that their concerns and experiences matter is damaged and that is not good for any community.

Landscape and urban spaces exist in a dynamic relationship; they are not separate spheres of experience. Santa Barbara is a vivid example of this truism. The urban forests of Santa Barbara are fascinating. Alameda Plaza, for example, boasts an urban forest that includes 316 trees representing seventy-eight species drawn from six continents. As historic weather patterns change and environmental events alter the landscape, the way we manage the relationship of the environments we build, the parks and gardens we cultivate and the wilderness areas we love to visit will prove critical to the sense of place people seek to preserve in Santa Barbara.

Example of an urban forest located at Alameda Plaza. Photo by Dennis P. Doordan.
Alameda Plaza’s urban forest signage. Photo by Dennis P. Doordan.

The Past is an important part of the Present. The preservation of historic buildings and spaces contributes to the visual character and cultural identity of any city. The Historic preservation does more than keep the structures and environments of the past available for our education and enjoyment. Encoded in the buildings and environments we preserve, like an urban DNA, are important lessons about place and place-making, lessons tailored to the specific circumstances of Santa Barbara. For example, one of the distinctive features of the urban morphology of Santa Barbara are the paseos or pedestrian passages that penetrate city blocks; James Osborne Craig’s El Paseo (1921-23) and Myron Hunt’s La Arcada (1926) are two of the most famous examples.

It can be challenging to argue that we should learn from the past when a consensus about the past is hard to achieve in the present. As any historian will admit, the past is as messy and complex as the present. Today, the story of Santa Barbara as a New Spain and romantic images of its colonial heritage such as Daniel Sayre Groesbeck’s famous murals in the Courthouse are not accepted as uncritically as they once may have been. There are members of the community who do not share the romantic and idealized version of the past they so often see around them. Recently, scholars and museums have made efforts to build a more nuanced and critical understanding of how the past has been used to celebrate the power of some groups and suppress the stories of others.8 In this context it is important to note that even in the past, there were voices that told more honest and complex stories. Earlier, I mentioned the role of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel Ramona in creating an interest in California’s Hispanic past. In addition to a story of ill-fated love, Ramona is a scathing indictment of the Americanization of Mexican California and an unsparing portrayal of efforts to drive Native American people off their ancestral lands.

I began this article by trying to explain why the story of Santa Barbara is of such interest to students of architecture and urban design. But Santa Barbara has a future as well as a past, a future filled with challenges as well as opportunities. In addition to changing environmental conditions such as sea-level rise, the city faces a mandate to add over 3000 new units of housing by 2023.9 Today architects and planners have an impressive set of visualization tools that can support exercises in what earlier I called communal imagination. What, for example, would lower and upper State Street look like under different development scenarios? What are the discernable impacts of three versus four story buildings in different parts of town? How do townhouses alter the character of residential streets? How do different strategies for building resilient neighborhoods affect established living patterns? A city thrives when its citizens can imagine a desirable future, understand the urban DNA of their city, and apply the principles of good urban design to making informed choices from among a variety of options. Architects, environmentalists and planners will continue to follow developments here because Santa Barbara has been teaching lessons to people who care about cities for more than a century.

Notes

1. Dennis Doordan, Twentieth Century Architecture (London: Laurence King, 2001).

2. Harold Kirker, California’s Architectural Frontier: Style and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (San Marino: Huntington Library, I960). David Gebhard, Santa Barbara: The Creation of a New Spain in America (Santa Barbara: University Art Museum, UCSB, 1982).

3. Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona (Boston: Little, Brown and Co, 1884).

4. David Gebhard “The Spanish Colonial Revival in Southern California (1895-1930)” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 26, no.2 (May 1967): 147.

5. Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett, Plan of Chicago (Chicago: The Commercial Club, 1909).

6. Gebhard, Santa Barbara: The Creation of a New Spain in America: 21

7. For an excellent introduction to form-based codes see: Daniel Parolek, Karen Parolek and Paul Crawford, Form-Based Codes: A Guide for Planners, Urban Designers, Municipalities and Developers (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Dons, 2008).

8. See for example: Wendy Kaplan and Staci Steinberger, Found In Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915-1985 (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2017).

9. Joshua Molina, “To Meet State Mandates, SB Must Build 3,083 New Housing Units by 2023,” Noozhawk April 7, 2019.