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Anthony Grumbine: Santa Barbara Style, from Mediterranean to Contemporary

Community's architectural evolution had many influences

[Noozhawk’s note: Second in an occasional series exploring Santa Barbara’s distinct architectural styles. Click here for the previous article.]

In a previous article, we looked at an overview of Santa Barbara’s styles, from the founding Presidio, to Victorian, Mission Revival, and ending with Craftsman. We continue our series exploring Santa Barbara’s architectural heritage with an overview of the early 1900s Mediterranean style, through to the Modern architecture of the 1960s.

Santa Barbara is well known for its Spanish Colonial architecture. And, it is true that much of the community’s charm, elegance and romance come from the wisdom of building a city in the relaxed and beautiful Spanish Colonial style. Although it owes much to that period, Santa Barbara has a wealth of other styles that compliment and play off its lead architectural actor, creating a marvelously diverse, yet strongly coherent architectural performance.

Mediterranean Medley

The beginning of the 20th century saw a dramatic increase in world travel. Architects and wealthy patrons took trips overseas to Spain, France, Italy and Greece, experiencing a great depth of classical Western architecture. Patrons then brought back artifacts, antiques and a strong desire to recreate the beauty they had experienced in the Mediterranean. Santa Barbara’s Mediterranean era had begun.

Casa del Herrero in Montecito was designed by renowned Spanish Colonial Revival architect George Washington Smith in 1925.
Casa del Herrero in Montecito was designed by renowned Spanish Colonial Revival architect George Washington Smith in 1925. (Marc Compton photo / Harrison Design Associates)

As the late historian David Gebhard explained, Santa Barbara soon earned its reputation as the new Riviera, with its architecture looking to the coastal towns of Italy and Spain, where buildings perch on the side of hills overlooking the sea. Santa Barbara’s Mediterranean-like climate and the sophistication of patrons and architects can be seen in examples such as Carleton Winslow’s Villa La Quinta in Montecito or Francis W. Wilson’s Italian Mediterranean Santa Barbara Club, 1105 Chapala St.

The Romance of Spain

San Diego’s Panama-California Expo of 1915 established Spanish Colonial Revival as the pre-eminent Mediterranean style in California. Gebhard noted that the Spanish Colonial Revival resonated tremendously well in Santa Barbara, which, by the turn of the 20th century, cherished its early Spanish roots found in the Presidio, the Santa Barbara Mission and adobe casas.

Conjuring up memories of its Spanish heritage, Santa Barbara’s architects and patrons embraced a style that related to the city’s founding while also expressing the vitality, flair, and connoisseurship of the times. Architects such as Bertram Goodhue, Reginald Johnson, and Edwards & Plunkett helped transform Santa Barbara into an exemplar of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, establishing much of the city that we see today.

The English Tudor style makes the Chancellor House on East Mission Street an Upper Eastside landmark.
The English Tudor style makes the Chancellor House on East Mission Street an Upper Eastside landmark. (Marc Compton photo / Harrison Design Associates)

But of all Santa Barbara’s architects, the most well-known (and well-loved), is George Washington Smith. Using Spanish Colonial Revival in the low-key expression of the Andalusian vernacular, Smith captured the romantic notion of Spanish architecture found in the simple and beautiful forms of the Spanish farmhouse. A perfect example of his Spanish Colonial Revival architecture (and one that is open to the public) is Casa del Herrero, 1387 East Valley Road.

The Wealth of Nations’ Styles

The 1920s and ‘30s saw an explosion of period styles. Unlike the Victorian era, period revival houses were not simply wood-frame boxes with wood ornament applied to them. Instead, the houses themselves were meant to invoke the feel of the original style by using similar materials (stone, plaster, half timbering, etc.) and similar detailing. Styles such as French Normandy or English Cottage spread throughout the Santa Barbara area, with the same architects who were designing Spanish Colonial houses also designing a range of period revival houses. One dramatic example of the English Tudor style is the Chancellor House on East Mission Street.

Less-Is-More Meets Santa Barbara

The Paul Tuttle and Lawrence Harlow-designed Dangerfield Beachhouse in Carpinteria is an example of Early Modern architecture.
The Paul Tuttle and Lawrence Harlow-designed Dangerfield Beachhouse in Carpinteria is an example of Early Modern architecture. (Anthony Grumbine rendering / Harrison Design Associates)

Although not as prevalent in Santa Barbara as in the rest of Southern California, Early Modern architecture made its appearance after World War II. Stripped down, clean planes of glass, steel and concrete are hallmarks of this style. In Santa Barbara, some of these materials were changed to plaster and wood, allowing them to fit in better with the area’s existing architecture. A good example of stripped-down Modern Style architecture is the Dangerfield Beachhouse, by Paul Tuttle and Lawrence Harlow, in Carpinteria.

Santa Barbara the Beautiful

The beauty of Santa Barbara’s architecture was, and continues to be, a source of great joy for all who live, work and visit this peaceful city. Having now outlined Santa Barbara’s rich architectural roots, in future articles, we’ll look closely at each one of these styles, to better understand their stylistic characteristics. There is much to appreciate in our city. And, as long as the community continues to demand excellent designs, as long as patrons continue to appreciate quality work, and as long as architects study the great examples that Santa Barbara has to offer, this city will continue to be as beautiful as ever.

Click here for a related article.

— Anthony Grumbine is a project designer at Harrison Design Associates, an architecture firm in Santa Barbara (as well as Beverly Hills and Atlanta) specializing in high-quality architecture in a range of styles. Harrison Design Associates is dedicated to the improvement of the field of architecture through study, education and leadership. Anthony can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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