You can’t miss it.
On Santa Barbara Street, there is a bright-green house covered in artwork and topped with solar panels. It's called the Vera Cruz House, and it's the vision of architect Jeff Shelton, known for his creative designs and artistic elements.
It lives up to that reputation, with the entire exterior paneled with paintings from local artists.
Shelton handed out panels and told artists to paint something from a place they traveled or the place where they grew up. It was left vague on purpose, so people could send a cityscape or the sign from their favorite restaurant, he said. Every single piece is donated.
He was inspired by a home from his childhood, Sanford Darling’s “House of a Thousand Paintings” near Santa Barbara City College. It was demolished, and the paintings were sold to collectors and museums after Darling’s death in 1973.
“It was kind of a shrine for our family — we loved it,” Shelton said.
He was asked to design something for the small lot by owner Jason Yardi, of REH Property, and pitched a house covered in paintings. Yardi agreed, and Shelton got to work getting permits and city approvals for the building at 521 Santa Barbara St.
It was easier than he thought.
Even though the lot is surrounded by neutral-colored houses, they’ve been converted into businesses in a mostly commercial area of town. This is one of the few residential homes in the area and is being rented out.
The City of Santa Barbara wouldn’t let him do something like this on the upper Eastside, he noted.
“The miracle is that it kind of works, and second that it got permitted,” Shelton said.
He gives the city’s review boards credit for supporting the project from the start, even though they were probably nervous about the paintings until they saw them installed. People should take more chances with review boards, he said.
Shelton had promised no profanity, nudity or political statements, but that was it. He did ban artists from using rainbows, clowns and dolphins — a few random things to make the point that he wanted art based off good memories, not just feel-good pictures.
“You come in with a story and I’ll be fine,” he said.
He and artist Richard Wilke also painted about 60 panels each. The paintings use UV paint and a special coating to help them last, but they will eventually age and need replacing.
“It will be different in 10 years, in 20 years, and so will we,” he said.
A few people have left hate notes — they don’t like the green, or the paintings — but most people have only good things to say, he said.
“It’s just fun, we’re having fun,” Shelton said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to ruin the town. They’re all local artists — this is the town.”
Shelton has designed and built, with construction partner Dan Upton, many distinctive buildings around town, including the Ablitt House tower, Cota Street Studios and two mixed-use projects in progress on Garden Street.