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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Historic Planning and Architecture to Inform the Future

By Anthony Grumbine and Nicole Hernandez

On June 7, 2019 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, Harrison Design, the City of Santa Barbara and Downtown Santa Barbara co-hosted a timely symposium titled, “Santa Barbara: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow,” The Symposium provided a space for informed dialogue about the future of Santa Barbara’s urban development including the challenges and opportunities our community faces as we consider the best path forward.

Anthony Grumbine is a principal architect at Harrison Design, and specializes in the architecture of Santa Barbara. He is the current Chair of the City of Santa Barbara’s Historic Landmarks Commission, and serves on the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation’s Board of Directors. Nicole Hernandez has a Masters of Fine Arts in Historic Preservation and is the City of Santa Barbara’s Urban Historian.  She worked as Architectural Historian for five years at Historic Denver, Inc. and four years for the City of New Orleans before coming to join the City of Santa Barbara in 2012. The following article was published in La Campana, Fall 2019. This is the second blog feature on “Santa Barbara: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow,” read the first one here.

As a classical architect and architectural historian, Anthony and Nicole see the buildings right in front of us, on our beautiful Santa Barbara streetscapes, as excellent prototypes for successful design of new buildings that can provide the growth the City needs while maintaining the beauty and vision of Santa Barbara’s early planners. The examples start with the planning of whole blocks in the downtown core along State Street and then are more specific with individual case studies of successful historic high to low density buildings.  Between 1923 and 1925 George Washington Smith, other local noted architects of Santa Barbara, the Community Drafting Room and the Allied Architectural Association of Los Angeles demonstrated, through a public exhibition of drawings, how individual blocks of State Street could be reconstructed within the unifying Spanish Colonial Revival style.1 UCSB provided the digital version of these original drawings that show the massing, details and rhythms that was envisioned for State Street.  Anthony converted the drawings into three dimensional, birds eye views of entire blocks, illustrating that if new construction utilizes the early plans, the underdeveloped portions of the downtown core can be filled with compatible architectural language, fulfilling the early vision of the city planners.  Santa Barbara has a wonderful range of architecture constructed in the early 20th Century. The large buildings in the downtown core along State Street can support high density housing, while small developments in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown support lower density housing.  We will feature excellent examples that provide a footprint for future construction while providing subtle details and patterns that allow buildings to fit into the beauty of existing streetscapes.

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

Immediately after World War I, Santa Barbara began a concerted effort to recreate its visual image from a typical Victorian American town, to a Mediterranean/ Spanish Colonial Revival style town, merging the Spanish and Mexican past.  In 1915, the City of Santa Barbara commissioned Bertram G. Goodhue to plan an entire commercial streetscape in the Spanish Colonial/Mediterranean style. He planned a city street that did not follow ordinary commercial lines, but included what he called “Spanish Improvements”, the buildings were set back off the street line and featured patios, corridors, and covered walkways. Goodhue’s scheme for an entire street was presented to the City via a public exhibition of architectural drawings and models.   The digital renderings of the Drawing Exhibition provided by UCSB Architecture and Design Collection demonstrate round arches and covered arcades along downtown storefronts that contrast with the rectangular openings in the upper stories and create an interplay of cubic volumes, patios, pergolas, towers and verandas.

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

The George Washington Smith sketch of the 900 Block of State Street (Fig. 1, below) illustrates two and three story buildings.  The three-dimensional, birds-eye view drawing (Fig. 2, below) illustrates what the entire block would look like if it had been developed consistently with Smith’s State Street vision. Santa Barbara could have more density in the downtown core using the same style and design techniques.  An aerial of the existing condition of the entire block (below) shows the potential for larger development with one story buildings and parking lots rather than larger buildings creating a more visually enticing core.

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

Julia Morgan, one of the most important architects of her time, designed the Margaret Baylor Inn built in 1926-27.   Julia Morgan’s training in the Beaux Arts style gives the Margaret Baylor Inn formality and symmetry excellently translated to the Italian Mediterranean style.  Spanish Colonial Revival details and materials adorn her classical-style building which has rounded arches on the street contrasted with the square openings above. Spanish Colonial Revival-inspired ironwork on the front elevation has a complex interplay between the curvilinear and rectangular.  The four story building has an undulating ‘h’ shape to allow for a large courtyard on the south end, and small courtyards on the north and east that provide open space and light and air into the interior units.  The loggia across the fourth floor is another opportunity for outdoor space for the units on the upper floors.  Contrasting to the smooth stucco walls, are beautifully carved capitals on the top of the loggia columns.

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

Designed in 1926 by Parkinson and Parkinson the Elks building is a four-story building that is 83 feet high.  The interplay of volumes, characteristic of the Spanish Colonial Revival style, breaks the building’s mass so it does not overwhelm State Street. Tucked under the steep gables, the fourth story opens onto a rooftop courtyard hidden by the parapets of the third floor, providing open space for the building.  In addition, the loggia on the third floor on State Street provides another opportunity for open space similar to the Margaret Baylor Inn/Lobero Building.  The rounded arch arcade on the first floor contrasting to the rectilinear windows and loggia above mimics the plans from the 1920s Drawing Exhibition.

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

Moving away from the downtown core of Santa Barbara, the size and density of buildings is smaller. Constructed in 1936, this two story apartment building has fourteen units. The large, central arch on the façade leads into a central courtyard with a second-story, wood balcony creating a beautiful garden space for the tenants.  The steel divide light casement windows add depth to the smooth plaster walls.  There is an interplay with the arch opening and three arches over the opening contrasting to the rectangular windows and the wide eaves with simple brackets topped with terra-cotta roof tiles. The symmetry of the windows carry the rhythm throughout the building.

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

Only a few bungalow courts still dot Santa Barbara neighborhoods surrounding the central core of the City. Constructed in 1916, this low-density housing type has twelve one-story bungalows. Each features a uniquely treated parapet to catch the eye as they lead to the two-story bungalow at the rear. Intricate window and door patterns adorn the smooth stucco walls.  Born in Pasadena, California in 1909, bungalow courts provided a unique form of multi-family housing in Southern California through the 1930s. The homes in bungalow courts were generally small, low-rise houses in the spirit of bungalows designed in a variety of architectural styles, including Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival. Bungalow courts integrated their courtyards with the homes, providing green space, ambiance and quality of living that is rare to find in rental housing units marketed to people who wanted the amenities of a single-family home without its high cost.

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

As the early State Street renderings and the individual historic buildings illustrate, outstanding examples of architecture are right on Santa Barbara’s streetscapes that can serve as templates for new housing. From a whole block in the downtown core of the City to the bungalow court, the examples illustrate a successful interplay of volumes. The buildings do not overwhelm the street or neighbors but can accommodate a high number of units. All the renderings and examples provide unique design solutions providing loggias, courtyards, open space, light, and air for the units. The consistently rounded arch of the first floors contrasting to the symmetry of the rectilinear windows creates a rhythm that draws the eye to the buildings and gives them a sense of classic proportion. Details like simple brackets under an eave or a decorative window pane provide the buildings with artistry and allow for creativity that also provides a draw for the eye.


1. Mary Louise Days, Christopher H. Nelson, Ph.D., Rebecca Conrad, Ph.D. and Richard E. Oglesby, Ph.D., Santa Barbara ~ A Guide to El Pueblo Viejo (Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Conservancy, 2016).