Tag Archives: Cota-Knox House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagining a new life for the Cota-Knox House

by Anne Petersen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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