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.
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.
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.
Michael H. Imwalle is the Associate Executive Director for Cultural Resources at SBTHP.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
Anthony Grumbine is a principal architect at Harrison Design, and specializes in the architecture of Santa Barbara. He is the current Chair of the City of Santa Barbara’s Historic Landmarks Commission, and serves on the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation’s Board of Directors. Nicole Hernandez has a Masters of Fine Arts in Historic Preservation and is the City of Santa Barbara’s Urban Historian. She worked as Architectural Historian for five years at Historic Denver, Inc. and four years for the City of New Orleans before coming to join the City of Santa Barbara in 2012.The following article was published in La Campana, Fall 2019. This is the second blog feature on “Santa Barbara: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow,” read the first one here.
As a classical architect and architectural historian, Anthony and Nicole see the buildings right in front of us, on our beautiful Santa Barbara streetscapes, as excellent prototypes for successful design of new buildings that can provide the growth the City needs while maintaining the beauty and vision of Santa Barbara’s early planners. The examples start with the planning of whole blocks in the downtown core along State Street and then are more specific with individual case studies of successful historic high to low density buildings. Between 1923 and 1925 George Washington Smith, other local noted architects of Santa Barbara, the Community Drafting Room and the Allied Architectural Association of Los Angeles demonstrated, through a public exhibition of drawings, how individual blocks of State Street could be reconstructed within the unifying Spanish Colonial Revival style.1 UCSB provided the digital version of these original drawings that show the massing, details and rhythms that was envisioned for State Street. Anthony converted the drawings into three dimensional, birds eye views of entire blocks, illustrating that if new construction utilizes the early plans, the underdeveloped portions of the downtown core can be filled with compatible architectural language, fulfilling the early vision of the city planners. Santa Barbara has a wonderful range of architecture constructed in the early 20th Century. The large buildings in the downtown core along State Street can support high density housing, while small developments in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown support lower density housing. We will feature excellent examples that provide a footprint for future construction while providing subtle details and patterns that allow buildings to fit into the beauty of existing streetscapes.
Inspiring State Street, Drawing Exhibition
Immediately after World War I, Santa Barbara began a concerted effort to recreate its visual image from a typical Victorian American town, to a Mediterranean/ Spanish Colonial Revival style town, merging the Spanish and Mexican past. In 1915, the City of Santa Barbara commissioned Bertram G. Goodhue to plan an entire commercial streetscape in the Spanish Colonial/Mediterranean style. He planned a city street that did not follow ordinary commercial lines, but included what he called “Spanish Improvements”, the buildings were set back off the street line and featured patios, corridors, and covered walkways. Goodhue’s scheme for an entire street was presented to the City via a public exhibition of architectural drawings and models. The digital renderings of the Drawing Exhibition provided by UCSB Architecture and Design Collection demonstrate round arches and covered arcades along downtown storefronts that contrast with the rectangular openings in the upper stories and create an interplay of cubic volumes, patios, pergolas, towers and verandas.
The George Washington Smith sketch of the 900 Block of State Street (Fig. 1, below) illustrates two and three story buildings. The three-dimensional, birds-eye view drawing (Fig. 2, below) illustrates what the entire block would look like if it had been developed consistently with Smith’s State Street vision. Santa Barbara could have more density in the downtown core using the same style and design techniques. An aerial of the existing condition of the entire block (below) shows the potential for larger development with one story buildings and parking lots rather than larger buildings creating a more visually enticing core.
Successful Historic Buildings, Models for the Future
Margaret Baylor Inn/Lobero Building
Julia Morgan, one of the most important architects of her time, designed the Margaret Baylor Inn built in 1926-27. Julia Morgan’s training in the Beaux Arts style gives the Margaret Baylor Inn formality and symmetry excellently translated to the Italian Mediterranean style. Spanish Colonial Revival details and materials adorn her classical-style building which has rounded arches on the street contrasted with the square openings above. Spanish Colonial Revival-inspired ironwork on the front elevation has a complex interplay between the curvilinear and rectangular. The four story building has an undulating ‘h’ shape to allow for a large courtyard on the south end, and small courtyards on the north and east that provide open space and light and air into the interior units. The loggia across the fourth floor is another opportunity for outdoor space for the units on the upper floors. Contrasting to the smooth stucco walls, are beautifully carved capitals on the top of the loggia columns.
The Elks Building
Designed in 1926 by Parkinson and Parkinson the Elks building is a four-story building that is 83 feet high. The interplay of volumes, characteristic of the Spanish Colonial Revival style, breaks the building’s mass so it does not overwhelm State Street. Tucked under the steep gables, the fourth story opens onto a rooftop courtyard hidden by the parapets of the third floor, providing open space for the building. In addition, the loggia on the third floor on State Street provides another opportunity for open space similar to the Margaret Baylor Inn/Lobero Building. The rounded arch arcade on the first floor contrasting to the rectilinear windows and loggia above mimics the plans from the 1920s Drawing Exhibition.
Monte Plaza Vista
Moving away from the downtown core of Santa Barbara, the size and density of buildings is smaller. Constructed in 1936, this two story apartment building has fourteen units. The large, central arch on the façade leads into a central courtyard with a second-story, wood balcony creating a beautiful garden space for the tenants. The steel divide light casement windows add depth to the smooth plaster walls. There is an interplay with the arch opening and three arches over the opening contrasting to the rectangular windows and the wide eaves with simple brackets topped with terra-cotta roof tiles. The symmetry of the windows carry the rhythm throughout the building.
Only a few bungalow courts still dot Santa Barbara neighborhoods surrounding the central core of the City. Constructed in 1916, this low-density housing type has twelve one-story bungalows. Each features a uniquely treated parapet to catch the eye as they lead to the two-story bungalow at the rear. Intricate window and door patterns adorn the smooth stucco walls. Born in Pasadena, California in 1909, bungalow courts provided a unique form of multi-family housing in Southern California through the 1930s. The homes in bungalow courts were generally small, low-rise houses in the spirit of bungalows designed in a variety of architectural styles, including Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival. Bungalow courts integrated their courtyards with the homes, providing green space, ambiance and quality of living that is rare to find in rental housing units marketed to people who wanted the amenities of a single-family home without its high cost.
As the early State Street renderings and the individual historic buildings illustrate, outstanding examples of architecture are right on Santa Barbara’s streetscapes that can serve as templates for new housing. From a whole block in the downtown core of the City to the bungalow court, the examples illustrate a successful interplay of volumes. The buildings do not overwhelm the street or neighbors but can accommodate a high number of units. All the renderings and examples provide unique design solutions providing loggias, courtyards, open space, light, and air for the units. The consistently rounded arch of the first floors contrasting to the symmetry of the rectilinear windows creates a rhythm that draws the eye to the buildings and gives them a sense of classic proportion. Details like simple brackets under an eave or a decorative window pane provide the buildings with artistry and allow for creativity that also provides a draw for the eye.
Saturday September 14th SBTHP staff hosted the United Way Day of Caring volunteers at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. Maintenance Supervisor Eduardo Vallin, Executive Director Anne Petersen, Librarian Chris Ervin and I supervised approximately 32 volunteers doing numerous projects around the park. This year volunteers included several families, staff from Exxon/Mobil, and the Santa Barbara School of Squash. Eduardo supervised a group that whitewashed the Northwest Corner Defense Wall, tilled the soil beneath the Cañedo Orchard fruit trees, and cleaned and waxed the statue of King Carlos.
Anne directed a group of volunteers that took on the daunting task of cleaning and organizing of the Old Research Center library space. Chris oversaw the cleanup of the Presidio Research Center landscaping. Trees and shrubs were pruned all the way around the building to provide space for the HVAC equipment and to expose existing signage. I worked with a group of volunteers from Exxon/Mobil to complete the annual maintenance of our garden areas. Volunteers weeded, tilled, hauled mulch, pruned, and planted in the Presidio Heritage Gardens at the Northwest and Northeast Corners.
Thanks to the help of the generous United Way Day of Caring volunteers, SBTHP was able to accomplish critical maintenance projects to prepare the site for winter. We look forward to continuing this successful partnership between SBTHP and the United Way Santa Barbara volunteer community again next year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The History and Relevancy Project is a collaborative effort by California State Parks, UC Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) to bring specialized educational programming exploring the universal themes of migration and immigration to CA State Historic Parks. As a part of this pilot project, we plan to offer a customized field trip to all of Santa Barbara Junior High School’s 400 seventh graders on September 26 and 27, 2019 at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. In preparation, we invited two of SBJHS’s seventh grade teachers for a tour of the Presidio in early August. Here is seventh grade history teacher Kristin Martinez-Pettit’s reflection on the process thus far:
All students should know that their story is relevant and part of Santa Barbara’s history. Through a series of meetings with representatives of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, UC Santa Barbara and CA State Parks, seventh grade English and Social Studies teachers at SBJHS, with the help of our teacher librarian and community liaison, are planning and facilitating a project to help students connect their stories to the city of Santa Barbara. The project will include class visits from CA State Parks and UCSB staff and a field trip for all of our seventh graders to visit the El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park in late September, organized by the SBTHP Programs Department. Our goal through this project is to build a sense of community amongst our students as well as stoke their interest in the human story while cultivating their own.
“Our goal through this project is to build a sense of community amongst our students as well as stoke their interest in the human story while cultivating their own.“
In preparation for our trip, we met with SBTHP representatives, educators, and teachers to create the best learning experience for our students. After a series of meetings and our preview of the Presidio grounds and planned activities, teachers began planning the logistics of the trip. Every preparation meeting for our planned field trip has been insightful, informative, and helpful as we attempt to merge the history of Santa Barbara with learning in the classroom.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Emma John is a second-year PhD student in History at UC Santa Barbara interested in public history and nineteenth-century U.S. history with a particular focus on women. As an IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellow, John recently completed an internship at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, and has been working with the Casa de la Guerra, a historic house museum maintained by the Trust and former residence of José de la Guerra, the fifth comandante of the Presidio.
As a Public Humanities Graduate Fellow you are interning this summer at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP). What work are you doing in the internship?
This summer I have tackled a few projects. I started the summer designing new programming activities for Casa de la Guerra. These programs are meant to foster new types of engagement with the space—either moving through it differently or, for school groups, connecting the de la Guerra story to what students are learning about in Social Studies classes. At the moment I am helping design a brochure for Casa de la Guerra. This has involved consultation with museum employees, research, and selecting appropriate images from the Presidio Research Center to best represent the museum and the de la Guerra family. When finished, the brochure will provide a brief but informative introduction to the site.
What has your investigation into the history of the De la Guerra family revealed about the historical and continuing significance of the Casa de la Guerra site for the Santa Barbara community?
Learning about the de la Guerra family has been key to answering the larger questions I had about the history of Santa Barbara. Coming from the East Coast, I knew very little about the history of California. Casa de la Guerra is not only significant to Santa Barbara’s history, but to California’s history. When they were first building Casa de la Guerra, Spain ruled Santa Barbara. By the home’s completion, Santa Barbara was part of Mexico. Jose died in 1858 as a citizen of the United States. Casa de la Guerra is representative of the significant cultural changes that have impacted Santa Barbara from the town’s inception.
Additionally, Casa de la Guerra has historically served as a town center. Jose de la Guerra was held in high esteem by Santa Barbara and his home often served as a site of social and civic functions such as weddings or settling legal disputes. Plaza de la Guerra was specifically built where it is and named in honor of the family in 1853. Given that Plaza de la Guerra is back in the news, it is interesting to consider the site’s historical roots and significance.
Your research is helping to shape new interpretive programming at Casa de la Guerra. What might this programming look like?
Something great about the de la Guerra family is that several researchers have already documented their lives. I am utilizing that work to create programming that helps visitors imagine Casa de la Guerra as it existed in the nineteenth century—a bustling hub of activity. For students I am trying to create programming in line with California curriculum standards. This might mean imagining the de la Guerra family in the context of Westward expansion, or considering the civic issues of Plaza de la Guerra.
There are ongoing discussions about revitalizing De La Guerra Plaza, just opposite Casa de la Guerra. Is your work at SBTHP informing any of those discussions?
I have been considering ways of incorporating Plaza de la Guerra into museum programming. While it is important for museums to consider contemporary issues, it is also important to consider the longevity of programming versus current events. The goal is to incorporate contemporary issues such as talks of revitalizing Plaza de la Guerra while also making sure there are other programming ideas that will be relevant even after town discussions have shifted elsewhere.
Your research interests are in New England house museums; has this internship aligned with some of that work and/or pushed you in new directions?
Again, growing up in the Northeast has led to some, *ahem* strong regional biases. However, I have been overcoming those biases while learning about Santa Barbara’s history and the history of California in general. It has been great to get out of my historical comfort zone and imagine how my research interests make sense in California.
What has been the most exciting or rewarding part of the internship so far?
I love learning about local history wherever I am, and this internship has provided an unmatched opportunity to do just that. The trust does so much cool working interpreting and teaching Santa Barbara’s history and I’m thankful to be a small part of it.
How has your work so far in the Public Humanities Graduate Fellows program influenced your understanding of the role of public humanists in their local communities?
We had such a wide variety of guest speakers [in the Skills for the Public Sphere course] and internship opportunities this past spring—things that I had not even considered would fall under the umbrella of public humanities. So I certainly have a greater understanding of what is possible as a public humanist. Additionally, I’ve been learning about the importance of teamwork and collaboration. Historians are really good at solo pursuits such as archival work and writing. We tend to joke about the amount time we spend reading and thinking about dead people (one of my friends once baked a birthday cake for a nineteenth century missionary whose diary she was reading). However, public humanities requires good relationships with the living. As someone who is pursuing public history and humanities I’ve appreciated the opportunity to develop those skills of creating history with others.
Click here to learn more about IHC Public Humanities Graduate Fellows Internships. This article was originally published on the IHC website.
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