The 1000 State St. flagship downtown Santa Barbara branch of Montecito Bank & Trust has been undergoing renovation for several months, with the goal of maintaining its historic grandeur.
New 18.2 foot high by 6.2 foot wide customized windows have been meticulously installed in its Cabrillo Street façade. Inside the branch on the mezzanine level is a smaller medallion window that has also needed renovation, requiring the removal of a Montecito Bank & Trust branded tapestry that has hung below the medallion window for decades.
During this process of interior branch renovation, bank chairman and owner Michael Towbes began thinking about the history of this 1000 State St. building. In 1924, County National Bank, the building’s owner at that time, commissioned Dan Sayre Groesbeck to create an historical event to be displayed below this mezzanine medallion window. Groesbeck created his conceptual idea and upon approval began work on the “Landing of Cabrillo,” a 10.5-foot-by-13.5-foot grand scale creative effort of oil on canvas. Groesbeck was adept at painting on large scale, as he had created backdrop scenery for the silent films produced in Santa Barbara before Hollywood’s claim to fame.
This painting dominated the bank lobby for years, but the “Landing of Cabrillo” left its home around 1961, making its way across the street inside the current Saks Fifth Avenue building under the ownership of Crocker Bank. Crocker Bank was sold to Wells Fargo Bank, and the 1001 State St. building was subsequently sold to JC Penny. The “Landing of Cabrillo” went into storage for many years under the JC Penny ownership.
Sometime before 1994, David Bisol, courthouse docent and Historical Society Museum curator, heard talk of the painting’s potential sale by JC Penny, so he and Peggy Hayes moved into action to lobby JC Penny to donate the painting to the museum. There was never intent to display the painting in the museum due to lack of space, so the courthouse was always its envisioned new home.
A successful transfer of ownership was completed, thanks to the hard work of many. The painting moved to the courthouse in February 1994 with some drama. Moving it out of storage required breaking a window, since no door would accommodate its exit! On hand to greet the painting in the courthouse were Bisol, Hayes, Jane Mueller, Betty Hendrickson and Monte Hendrickson. The Docent Council became its new owners, and it has since been on display for all courthouse visitors to view.
The painting’s story now picks up once again during the renovation work going on at Montecito Bank & Trust, as Towbes had an idea. The Towbes Foundation approached the Santa Barbara Courthouse Docent Council to loan the “Landing of Cabrillo” painting with the intent to return it to its original home inside the 1000 State St. flagship branch of Montecito Bank & Trust. The Docent Council expeditiously reviewed and accepted the terms for the painting’s return home after its more than 50-year absence.
“The Courthouse Docent Council is proud to have been entrusted with the stewardship of this magnificent painting for the past 20 years,” said Rodney Baker, president and director of projects for the Santa Barbara Courthouse Docent Council. “We are deeply honored to see it returned to the bank, and in the process honor Mr. Towbes for everything he has done for our community. Fulfilling his request to return the painting to the bank is a small token of our appreciation for his generous efforts over the years.”
Towbes said, “It is so rewarding to have the ‘Landing of Cabrillo’ returning to its original location and to have it once again become the centerpiece of our historic flagship main office. We appreciate the stewardship the Courthouse Docent Council has provided in preserving this masterful piece of art, and we thank them for granting this request.”
Robert Ooley, AIA, county architect, coordinated all the logistics for the move, carefully considering each travel step to ensure the painting’s safety. Frame restoration at the courthouse was the first task at hand, with work done by South Coast Fine Art Conservation Studio and The Phoenix Touch.
“Historic preservation is a core value of both our community and the County of Santa Barbara,” Ooley said. “Stewardship of our historic resources often means returning elements to their original location or condition. We’ll miss not seeing the grand painting up on the wall outside the Mural Room in the Santa Barbara Courthouse; but knowing that is has returned to where it began is a worthy goal.”
J&L Glass owner James Leslie kindly donated the use of one of his trucks to transport the painting to Montecito Bank & Trust. The painting was then carried into the branch and placed on specially created scaffolding, where painting restoration work will commence again under the skillful eyes of Heather Boyd of The Phoenix Touch.
A special unveiling ceremony will be planned once all branch interior work and painting restoration is complete. It has been a labor of love by many to make this storybook ending for the “Landing of Cabrillo” to once again enhance the interior of Montecito Bank & Trust’s main office.
— Carolyn Tulloh is the director of marketing for Montecito Bank & Trust.