Category Archives: Architecture

SBTHP is featured in the National History Day “Ask an Expert” Series

By Anne Petersen

National History Day (NHD) is a nonprofit organization committed to encouraging the study and practice of history by high school students in the United States. They provide curriculum materials and support to schools to help students develop the skills to conduct historical research and writing. National History Day is most well-known for its annual National History Day Contest, when over 600,000 students across the United States compete locally and regionally, with the top candidates advancing to the national competition at University of Maryland College Park.

The Flores Adobe/Comandancia of El Presidio de Santa Bárbara in the early 1920s. Courtesy of the Presidio Research Center

In order to support and prepare students for the contest, National History Day provides teachers with a wealth of resources. One of these tools is a videos series called “Ask an Expert,” in which historians working in a variety of fields offer advice and suggestions to students about different aspects of historical work. I was pleased to be invited this year to create a video with NHD staff on the importance of looking at multiple perspectives in historical research.  

Crop of the site of El Presidio de Santa Bárbara from 1853 map by Vitus Wackenreuder.

NHD discovered the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) via the National Endowment for the Humanities, (NEH) one of their major partners. Last Fall SBTHP received an NEH CARES grant to support our 7th-grade school program, Where We Are From. NEH subsequently recommended SBTHP to National History Day.   

Many people assume that historians work in universities and write academic publications. This video allows SBTHP to help broaden students’ knowledge about where historians work and what they do by featuring our historical work at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. The video explores not only our preservation work, but also how students can explore history through the study of a place, including their own community, using its maps, architecture, and social history. We hope the video will also be helpful to local schools and will be incorporated into our future school programs.

Anne Petersen addresses why multiple perspectives are important to developing a rich understanding of historical events and topics. The video includes how maps and primary documents available at the SBTHP can be used to analyze multiple and competing perspectives in history. To learn more, click here

Plaza de la Guerra Reconsidered Symposium (1999) Now Available Online

Plaza de la Guerra is once again at the forefront of community conversations about Santa Barbara’s downtown revitalization. On December 18, 2020 the City’s De la Guerra Plaza Revitalization Advisory Committee recommended that City Council move a newly-designed concept plan out of the Committee and into the City’s Development Application process.  The concept plan had been in the works for over one year. You can read more about the origins of this recent work here and sign up for project updates here.

The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) is an active stakeholder in this revitalization process.  We held a seat on the recent Advisory Committee at the invitation of City Council, but that reflects only our most recent engagement.  In 1999, SBTHP worked with the City to create and exhibition about the history of the Plaza as well as an accompanying catalog of the exhibit, Plaza de la Guerra Reconsidered, which was published in 2002. 

On June 12, 1999, SBTHP hosted a related symposium titled “Plaza de la Guerra Reconsidered: Past is Prologue” which was held in City Council chambers. The symposium was introduced by SBTHP Executive Director Jarrell jackman and moderated by Chief Curator Patrick O’Dowd. Speakers included:

  • Dora P. Crouch, Professor Emeritus, School of Architecture, Renessalaer Polytechnic Institute, New York
  • Wayne Donaldson, FAIA, Milford Wayne Donaldson Architects (and later CA State Historic Preservation Officer and Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation)
  • Dave Davis, Community Development Director, City of Santa Barbara
  • Carroll William Westfall, Chair, School of Architecture, University of Notre Dame, South Bend
  • Robert Winter, Professor Emeritus, History Department, Occidental College, Los Angeles

With the City’s recent renewed interest in making improvements to the Plaza, we believe the symposium would be of interest to the community and the presentations still hold great relevance. We are grateful that Tony Ruggieri of Santa Barbara City TV was able to transfer the contents of a VHS tape in the Presidio Research Center collection and upload them to the City of Santa Barbara’s YouTube Channel, which you can view below or by clicking here!

The Pandemic Painting Project by Claudia Hoag McGarry

The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation is pleased to offer a series of notecards by local artist Claudia Hoag McGarry based on her paintings of beautifully diverse aspects of El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park.  The images are part of an extensive “Pandemic Project” Claudia began in Spring 2020.  At this point, Claudia has created over 300 paintings, and she continues to paint, almost daily.

The artist, Claudia Hoag McGarry

We asked Claudia for more information about her project and her passion for painting.  Below are portions of that interview, edited for length.

Q: How did this project begin? Have you always painted? Or is this something that began with the pandemic?

A: My sister and my husband both had the idea simultaneously to give me art supplies. So, without having even asked for them, I received canvases, watercolor paints, acrylics and watercolor paper. Quarantine and Covid had begun to inch its way into all of our lives. So, I started painting. I had hardly painted since I was 20 and in college. I only took one art class in my 20s. It was figure drawing.

The Presidio Northeast Corner, by Claudia Hoag McGarry

Q: Tell us about your process.

A: All through my 300 paintings from 4/4/2020 to 11/4/2020, I painted when I awoke. Early, around 6 am, I make my coffee, turn on the news, or sometimes just music, watch the light come through the windows where we live near the ocean bluffs on the Mesa, and I paint. It usually takes me 2-3 hours per painting and somedays I do 2 a day.

Claudia paints in her living room and keeps the paintings on display around the room as she works.

Q: How would you describe the meaning of this project for you during this time?

A: This was something of a gift. It was a gift to me because I learned that in the 43 years that I had not painted, now I was flourishing and happy as a painter. It was therapeutic during a stressful time of this awful societal illness and political upheaval. But, equally satisfying was the reaction I received from many friends on social media. People started praising my work and finally, 2 weeks after posting daily, someone asked me if that day’s work was for sale. Within 3 months I had sold 60 paintings. They were going everywhere: NY, Texas, Poland, Utah, etc.

Among other places, Claudia finds inspiration on the Mesa in Santa Barbara, where she lives near the ocean.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

A: I taught English Skills at SBCC [Santa Barbara City College] for 32 years. I also have had three novels published and four plays produced, some shown at the Alhecama [Theatre in El Presidio SHP]! I have optioned a television pilot and written screenplays. We raised three children into adulthood who are all very caring, smart, artistic and musical. My husband is a talented musician. Moving on to painting seems only natural in how my life has progressed. It happened so organically. I feel so fortunate in every way. I am thrilled and humbled to share my art with your wonderful organization.

You can find Claudia’s Santa Barbara Presidio series notecards here.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, our Gift Shop sales are online only, and we offer both shipping and curbside pickup. 

Natural landscapes also inspire the artist. Painting by Claudia McGarry

The Interesting Life of 914 Santa Barbara Street

by Anne Petersen

The white, wooden building at 914 Santa Barbara Street in El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park (SHP) has had quite a life. Its multiple adaptive reuses have ensured that it not only survived, but that it continued to be valued by the community and to contribute to the character of Santa Barbara’s Downtown.

1930 Sanborn map crop, showing the Santa Barbara School of the Arts campus with 914 Santa Barbara Street highlighted.

The structure was originally two residences, built sometime during the early twentieth century. At that time the 900 block of Santa Barbara Street was residential, with small wooden houses dotting the curb. Until the 1925 earthquake, the much older second commandant’s quarters of the Presidio, or Flores Adobe, anchored the center of the block.

Santa Barbara School of the Arts Office at 914 Santa Barbara Street. Courtesy of the Presidio Research Center.

In 1926, the new Santa Barbara School of the Arts, operated by the Community Arts Association, joined the two structures to be used as offices. The offices were intended to be temporary, while the School built its impressive Spanish Colonial Revival campus on the same site. Due to the Great Depression, however, that dream was never realized. The conjoined residences remained in use as offices for the Community Arts Association, and later the School District’s Adult Education Program and Santa Barbara Junior College.

In 1982 the entire Santa Barbara School of the Arts campus was added to El Presidio de Santa Barbara SHP because the site of the Presidio’s northeast corner is located in the parcel. As park operators, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) are both lucky and proud to have a family-run local business occupying the building and allowing continued community access to this special place.

Ignacio and Delia Elias, owners of La Playa Azul. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

La Playa Azul originally opened in 1977 at 902 Santa Barbara St. and operated there until it moved to 914 Santa Barbara Street in 1988. The site of 902 Santa Barbara Street is now the location of the reconstructed Northeast corner of the Presidio. Playa Azul owners Delia and Ignacio Elias operate this locals favorite. Their beautiful outdoor patio, seafood dishes and happy hour win praise from anyone who visits! SBTHP is proud of this long-term relationship with one of our best local businesses.

June 2020 roof replacement work at 914 Santa Barbara Street. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

Historic buildings age, like any organic object, and require ongoing care to survive through the generations. This summer, SBTHP replaced the roof and gutters on 914 Santa Barbara St. and repaired some of the adjacent woodwork. We are proud to partner with Delia and Ignacio Elias to care for this piece of Santa Barbara’s history, in what has evolved to be a long-term and treasured collaboration.

Major Repairs to a Small Gem in the Presidio Neighborhood

by Anne Petersen

In Fall of 2019 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation began repair work on a 1928 commercial building at 131-137 East De la Guerra Street. This modest Spanish Colonial Revival building holds four businesses and one residence. It is included within El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park because if its proximity to the front gate of the original fort. Built with interior gutters, the structure had leaked internally for years without our notice. And once we became aware, precious time passed as we worked on plans, estimates, permits and hired a contractor for the work.

The building is not the oldest, most historically important, or architecturally unusual structure in the Park. Does that mean it is not significant? Not at all. This little building contributes to the qualities and atmosphere that help make up the character of the Presidio Neighborhood. Its low height, inviting display windows and smaller retail spaces give it a scale that makes it comfortable for pedestrians, and imminently usable for local small businesses. Its architectural details give it personality and connect it to the larger city-wide story of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture built after the 1925 earthquake.

Arch motif above Beads. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle. 

The businesses inside are also special. They include Kurt and Leigh Legler’s Warbler Records, the last record shop downtown where you can also find refurbished turntables and other gifts. Mike Pico’s Mailboxes Express has been in the building for over twenty years and serves the entire Neighborhood with his PO Boxes and shipping services. During the holidays be prepared to queue up to mail holiday packages! Steven Soria at Make Smith Leather Co. is our newest tenant. His third-generation leatherworking enterprise just reached its second anniversary, with a workshop in the back and classroom and retail space in the front. Lee and Barbara Nelson at Beads have anchored the corner of the building for over thirty years. Their combination brick and mortar and online business selling a variety of beautiful beads, supplies and beaded jewelry, continues to draw artistic customers with a DIY ethic.

Older, smaller, commercial buildings truly help cities thrive. In a 2017 article touting the results of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s (NHTP) Atlas of ReUrbanism study, former NTHP Executive Director Stephanie Meeks reports:

[In] a comprehensive, block-by-block study of the American urban landscape, areas of older, smaller buildings and mixed-age blocks boast 33 percent more new business jobs, 46 percent more small business jobs, and 60 percent more women- and minority-owned businesses.1

131- 137 E. De la Guerra Street is one of these buildings, and its tenants contribute to the vibrancy of our community by offering essential services and artistic enterprises that enhance the uniqueness of Santa Barbara’s downtown. Our mission at SBTHP is to steward the past and present of the Presidio Neighborhood and inspire preservation advocacy throughout the County in order to create a more vibrant community.  In caring for this building, we are both fulfilling our stewardship mandate, as well as caring for the “present” of the neighborhood, those small, local businesses, and the community that supports them.

Decorative iron gates at the entrance to Warbler Records. Photo by Michal H Imwalle. 

To repair 131 – 137 E. De la Guerra Street, we worked in two stages. The first involved pulling off the plaster, reframing the wall, replacing the gutters, restoring and reinstalling the retail windows, replastering and repainting the wall, installing new gutters, and reinstalling the awnings on the Santa Barbara Street side of the building. We completed this work in Fall 2019. Early in 2020 we began the same work on the De la Guerra Street side of the building. The outbreak of the COVID -19 pandemic slowed this work considerably and added exceptional stress to our retail tenants. We are pleased to announce that the work has been completed, and our thoughts are with our tenants and we try to support them through the compounding challenges of construction and pandemic-related closures.

Repair work begins on Santa Barbara Street. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

In January 2020, the Santa Barbara City Historic Landmarks Commission, in recognition of this building’s contribution to the Presidio Neighborhood, and representation of post-earthquake Spanish Colonial Revival Style commercial architecture, designated the building a Structure of Merit. SBTHP would like to offer special thanks to our partners in this project, Harrison DesignChannel Coast Corporation and Ehlen Spiess and Haight. We encourage you take a walk downtown to this lovely gem, visit the shops, and experience for yourself why it feels like such a special place. There’s a lot to see and do throughout El Presidio SHP!

Completed De la Guerra Street façade July 27, 2020. Photo by Anne Petersen.
Notes

1. Stephanie Meeks, “Density Without Demolition,” City Lab, June 11, 2017. Accessed September 23, 2019

A Brief History of the Presidio Chapel Bells

by Tim Aceves

11,000 miles.

Presidio Chapel bell, dedicated San Pascual Bailon, present-day. Image by Tim Aceves.

That’s how many miles the bells at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara SHP have travelled since they were first cast in Mexico. From Zacatecas, Mexico, to San Blas, Mexico, to Santa Barbara, California, to Milton, Massachusetts, to Los Altos, California, and ultimately back to their home at the Presidio – these bells have had quite the journey since they were originally cast back in the late eighteenth century.

The Presidio Chapel bells, before installation in 2001. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

Both bells originate from Zacatecas, Mexico, where they were cast in 1781 and 1792, and each had quite a different journey before they were returned to SBTHP. The oldest, dedicated San Pascual Bailon, left El Presidio in 1855 when they were moved to Our Lady of Sorrows. In 1904, the bell was purchased by Spencer Borden of Massachusetts. Mr. Borden then left the bell to Milton Academy where it rang daily, calling students to class, until 1981.

Close-up of 1792 bell, dedicated to La Purísima Concepcíon. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

The second bell, which reads “LA PURISIMA CONCEPCION ORA PRO NOBIS ANO DE 1792” translates to “THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION PRAY FOR US YEAR OF 1792,” also went to Our Lady of Sorrows and remained there until 1929. It was then installed at El Retiro San Inigo Jesuit Retreat House in Los Altos, California. In 1978, El Retiro returned the bell to SBTHP.

Chapel bells being installed in 2001. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

In 2001, the bells were installed in the newly rebuilt Presidio Chapel bell tower, where they still ring loudly over the Presidio Neighborhood.

A fun fact…

As designs were being finalized in 2001, research was being conducted by Michael H. Imwalle, Associate Executive Director for Cultural Resources at SBTHP, as to how the bells were rung at the Presidio. They would have been used to call the residents of the Presidio for mass, the rosary, rations, and to sound quarters for the watch at night. They also regulated work schedules, welcomed the arrival of prominent visitors, signaled alarms, and celebrated festivities.

Gregorio Silverio pictured after World War II, from the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

During a visit to San Antonio Mission, Mike was shown a file that contained an inventory of seven Franciscan bell patterns from the last Indian bell ringer at San Luis Obispo Mission. Gregorio Silverio rang the bells for sixty-three years, beginning in 1889, and had been taught by the previous bell ringer Florentino Naja who had been ringing bells since 1820. Also on that inventory was a recording from 1947 or 1948 of Gregorio ringing the bells over the radio station KVEC. With the help of the San Luis Obispo Mission, they were able to locate a reel-to-reel recording and created a digital audio tape (DAT), which is now preserved at the Presidio Research Center.

To learn more about the travels of the Presidio Chapel Bells, please contact the gift shop to purchase La Campana, Spring 2017 where the article “Ups and Downs: The Well Travelled Bells of the Santa Barbara Presidio Chapel” by Michael H. Imwalle was originally published.

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.