Monday, June 13, 2016

West Coast Diary

La Casa de Maria, courtyard. 6:15 am. 888 San Ysidro Lane, Montecito. Mary McLaughlin Craig, architect. 1929. Having enjoyed my stay last fall at Santa Fe's top-of-the-hill IHC Retreat Center, I spent a week at a similar accommodation in Montecito's Upper Village with five other guests seeking "quiet solitude and reflection." Casa de Maria is a non-denominational 26-acre estate that welcomes all for "self-guided non-directed retreats" as well as scheduled programs. Set in a museum-quality 1920s mansion with many, if not all, of its original furnishings, architectural details and nine fireplaces, the house also provides a superb private chef. Hotels? Forget it. This was pure bliss!
Montecito: Sublime Splendor
By Augustus Mayhew

While "masterpiece" and "unrivaled" are words not usually found in an otherwise staid National Register of Historic Places nomination form, these were among the more subdued descriptions expressed for George & Carrie Steedman's Montecito estate Casa del Herrero, a splendid 1920s architectural and landscape tableau considered the era's most fully-accomplished intact example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style. "You went all the way to Santa Barbara to look at tile?" asked a supportive friend. Well, yes. Especially if it included perhaps the largest concentration of existing tiles in the United States imported from the Chemla factory in Tunis.

While Vizcaya and the Everglades Club were also embellished with these distinctive Tunisian ceramics, as was El Mirasol (demolished), Casa del Herrero and the Santa Barbara Courthouse's holdings are overwhelming in comparison. Casa del Herrero and the Courthouse Legacy Foundation are two worthy local Santa Barbara organizations whose endeavors are of significant national historical interest. Both are in fundraising mode just to keep up with the preservation of their various buildings and landscapes. For Casa Herrero, a private non-profit organization, there is the challenge of maintaining the detailed horticultural and architectural records, sketchbooks, drawings, library, as well as the antiques, furnishings and decorative arts.

A visit to these two landmark venues, along with enjoying the contemplative comfort and tranquility at Casa de Maria, made my first visit to Montecito a wonderful getaway.
Santa Barbara Courthouse, staircase. Part II of my West Coast Diary will feature Santa Barbara and its magnificent centerpiece the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Built following the 1925 earthquake, the courthouse became the model for the town's iconic Spanish Colonial architecture. The architectural phenomenon houses an immense collection of Chemla Tunisian tiles, extraordinary Spanish decorative arts and fantastic murals by Daniel Groesbeck who worked as Cecil de Mille's storyboard artist on many of his classic films.
Casa del Herrero – "House of the Blacksmith"
1387 East Valley Road, Montecito
Casa del Herrero
Architect: George Washington Smith/
Landscape architects: Ralph Stevens – Lockwood de Forest III – Francis T. Underhill
Façade and Courtyard Entrance. The subject of the book Casa del Herrero: The Romance of Spanish Colonial (Rizzoli, 2009), the Andalusian farmhouse-styled main house was designed to accommodate the owner's collection of antique furniture, art, decorative art, and architectural fragments acquired during a trip to Spain in 1923. George and Carrie Steedman were accompanied by Arthur Byne and his wife Mildred Stapley Byne, regarded as the era's foremost experts on Spanish architecture and decorative arts. At the same time the Byne's were working with the Steedmans, they were also advising William Randolph Hearst in his purchases for La Cuesta Encantada at San Simeon.
Courtyard entrance, view from the central balcony. The pebble-paved geometric patterns were based on the Alhambra's Generalife and the Patio de la Reja. Rather than a well, an octagonal polychrome-tiled fountain became the courtyard's central focus.
Courtyard, fountain detail. The foundation is in the midst of restoring many of its fountains and pools.
Windows are surrounded by rejas, wrought-iron grilles.
Façade, decorative detail.
Chemla tile, signature, lower right. Because the owners could not find the volume of antique Spanish-Moorish tiles they needed for the Montecito house, Arthur Byne introduced them to the ceramic work of the Chemla factory in Tunis that was then commissioned to produce many of the house's custom-designed historical reproductions. For more on Chemla tiles: Un siècle de céramique d'art en Tunisie: Les fils de J. Chemla, Tunis. Jacques Chemla, Monique Goffard, Lucette Valensi, authors.(Paris, Editions de l'Eclat, 2015).
Service Entrance. Simply sensational! The attached second garage opening was converted into a side entrance for the main house. Chemla tiles were installed along with ceramics Steedman bought in Granada and Seville.
Garage, tile detail. A triangle of chips on the tile also indicate a Chemla-produced signature
Façade, view of the pebble-paved courtyard patterns from the Orange Terrace.
Orange Terrace, view looking north toward East Valley Road with orange trees flanking the brick terrace..
Orange Terrace, brick and tiled seating with tile-inlaid flooring.
East elevation. Entered from the living room through French doors, the Spanish Garden Patio garden is enclosed with walls arched on three sides and trimmed with barrel tiles.
East elevation. Inspired by the Convento de la Merced, Seville, the Spanish Garden Patio conveys the dual indoor-outdoor architectural aspect of Spanish gardens.
East elevation, Spanish Garden Patio. Octagonal fountain centerpiece, view from upstairs bedroom balcony.
East elevation, Spanish Garden Patio. Tile-inlaid flooring, detail.
East elevation, Spanish Garden Patio.
East elevation, Spanish Garden Patio. Built-in tiled bench seating. Metal garden furniture was designed by George Steedman to resemble Spanish-tooled leather chairs.
East elevation, Spanish Garden Patio. These Chemla Tree of Life tiles are of special note.
East exedra and arched tile mural and basin with tile benches on a raised tile terrace, view from upstairs bedroom. Beyond the Spanish Garden Patio, a picturesque exedra adds perspective between the formal gardens and the surrounding landscape.
East exedra.
East exedra tile mural.
East exedra and basin pool, detail.
Italian cypress add sculptural form between the formal garden and the contrasting landscape.
Main House, south elevation. Centered by a recessed double-arched loggia and elevated terrace, the Spanish Garden Patio's arches to the east are complemented by a setback service wing extending to the west. A wooden corner balcony opens from a second-floor servant's bedroom. Flanking the loggia to the west, the dining room window is a Catalan reproduction while the living room window to the east is 16th-century Catalan original. Above the loggia, an arched arcade separates two bedrooms.
Loggia, detail.
Loggia, cabinet niche.
South Garden, view from the upstairs central arcade of the progression of multi-level terraces. At one time, there was an ocean view from the second floor. This framed perspective descends from the loggia and terrace through the south lawn allée to two walled gardens. Hidden below is a cactus garden. Far beyond, another tiled exedra.
South Garden. The star pool was added in 1928, two years before the Steedmans moved permanently to live year-round at the house.
South Garden. From the Star Pool, the water is channeled down a tiled rill into the smaller Peacock Pool.
South Garden. Peacock Pool, detail.
South Garden, tiled pool.
South Garden, upper and lower terraces.
South Garden, upper terrace.
Terrace fountain.
South Garden, lower terrace. Beyond the gated wall, another tiled exedra creates another focal point in the distance.
South Garden, lower terrace. Tiled bench seat.
South Garden. Looking north from the lower terrace up toward the main house.
Main House

With the docent-led house tour having moved from the Main House, we toured the interior of the main house.
Main House, entrance hall. Acquired by the Bynes, the 15th century ceiling consists of 48 painted wood panels recessed in frames separated by open beams.
Main house, kitchen.
Main house, pantry.
Main house, staff bathroom.
Main house, dining room.
Main house, dining room view toward tiled central staircase.
Main house, dining room view to the South Garden.
Main House, Living Room.
A courtyard bench.
Tiles, detail.
Tiles, detail.
The Steedmans advisor Arthur Byne was said to have sketched the patterns for the Chemla workshop to reproduce.
South Garden wall. Tile plaque, San Francisco.
Main House - Upstairs
Bedroom, headboard.
Upstairs bathroom, tiles.
Upstairs bedroom, tiled inglenook. Upstairs bedroom, wall safe.
Living room, view to the South Garden.
Hall, wrought-iron grille light fixture.
Upstairs window seat.
Tile, upstairs corner.
Service courtyard between Main House and Workshop. Along with a workshop, the estate included a Butler's Cottage, Gardener's Cottage and several service structures.
George Steedman's workshop remains as it did during the 1930s, as if he had just stepped out the door five minute ago. Steedman was a Midwest manufacturer who also held several patents.
Workshop, 1920s wooden dog crate.
Workshop, view to the north from George Steedman's work area.
La Casa de Maria
888 San Ysidro Lane, Montecito Upper Village
Mary McLaughlin Craig, architect. 1929

Casa de Maria was really a swell spot for me to spend a week in Montecito, away from the world's virtual realities and the artificial intelligence that appears to sustain it. The house's designer and her architect husband James Osborne Craig are the subject of Spanish Colonial Style: Santa Barbara & the Architecture of James Osborne Craig & Mary McLaughlin Craig (Rizzoli, 2015) that features Casa de Maria. During the early years of the Pearl Chase Society, Santa Barbara's historic preservation organization, Pearl Chase was reported to have led garden tours at Casa de Maria. The retreat also hosted various think-tank conferences.
Façade & Motor court entrance. The mansion was built from stone quarried from the nearby San Ysidro Creek.
Casa de Maris, formal living room. "Feel free to read, think or snooze on the sofa, relax and unplug" were suggested activities by one of our hosts. My retreat goal was to become more productive with my time, focus more and consume less.
Casa de Maria, walled garden. Early morning sun reaches into the morning breakfast terrace.
Blue jays joined the breakfast table on the terrace.
This took much patience. Perhaps, a goal for my next retreat at Casa de Maria.
Original elaborate window grilles remain in near perfect condition.
There was a lot to talk among the other guests during my "self-guided retreat" stay. Breakfast and Lunch were served casual buffet style while dinner was a sit-down event where house guests gathered around the formal dining room table. Quite a mix; one LA lawyer and two writers. Also, a recent PhD back from South Africa, teaching Sociology. Another, a transplant from Russia. Of course, I brought up the ongoing Katy Perry snafu over the San Feliz convent that led to a spirted discussion on the fate of the church's prized properties as the number of orders diminishes.
Courtyard walk.
The stately fern.
Courtyard. Column and balcony brace, detail.
The courtyard's smooth white walls contrasted with the decorative tile.
The IHM acquired the mansion after WW II for $32,000. During the '50s and '60s Hollywood stars came for a retreat from Hollywood's klieg lights.
View from the living room across the center hall to the formal dining room.
A summer terrace.
Across from the retreat center's orchard, this unique cottage compound is across San Ysidro Lane. Ty Warner's incomparable San Ysidro Ranch Resort, Forbes' #1 Hotel in America, is next door to Casa de Maria.
Montecito - Upper Village
The busy San Ysidro Pharmacy houses a popular coffee shop. The food is delicious; the ambiance local. Park between the Bentley convertibles and Porsches and plan on running into most of Montecito.
Across the street from the coffee shop, a pleasant dinner one night at Pierre Lafond's Wine Bistro. Lafond's Gourmet Market next door is another bustling spot.
William Laman Furniture Garden Antiques, 1497 East Valley Road, next door to the pharmacy.
656 Park Lane. Casa Bienvenida. Alfred E, Dieterich House. Addison Mizner, architect. 1929. A 13-acre, 40-room ,17,000-square-foot magnum opus that despite a volley of e-mails and phone calls I was unable to visit.
Park Lane's row of towering eucalyptus trees makes for one of Montecito's most sensational drives.
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church
1300 East Valley Road, Upper Village
Architect Ross Montgomery - Consecrated 1938

A remarkable Pueblo Deco church and courtyard with many early Spanish touches.
Façade & Entrance courtyard. The landscape was designed by the notable Lockwood de Forest and Stephen Benizik.
Sanctuary. The ceiling is composed of hewn eucalyptus.
Chandeliers. The light fixtures were crafted by Native American craftsmen in Santa Fe.
Altar, detail.
Ganna Walska's Lotusland
Cold Springs Road, Montecito - Upper Villa

Having acquired Cuesta Linda, a 37-acre Montecito estate, in 1941, opera singer Ganna Walska (1887-1984) spent the next 43 years achieving the title of Head Gardener. Opened to the public in 1993, Lotusland, first named Tibetland by Walska, is an enormous eclectic horticultural collage perhaps best known for its cactus garden, succulents, topiaries, aloes, bromeliads, and palmetum. With almost as many wealthy husbands as cactus species, Walska became one of Montecito's most notable idiosyncratic characters. Because of its residential location and limited parking , the gardens are open by advanced reservation.
Madame Walska, "Head Gardener" of Lotusland.
Mission statement, Ganna Walska. 1979.
Cactus tableau.
Cactus tableau.
Japanese garden.
One of several cactus gardens.
Honey bee and flowering cactus.
Topiaries abound.
A horticultural clock.
Terrace, decorative tile mural.
The main house terrace.
View from the terrace.
"Do not pick the fruit."
A pebbled mosaic garden walk.
A more contemporary interpretation than found at Casa del Herrero.
A view from the terrace.
Something somewhere at some time.
Montecito Lower Village
Beanie Baby mogul Ty Warner appears to own every $1000-a-day hotel room including the Biltmore-Four Seasons, San Ysidro Ranch, Montecito Country Club, Rancho San Marcos, Coral Casino Beach Club, Sandpiper, and The Four Seasons-New York. According to Warner's website, his firm has retained a "team of renowned designers and tastemakers." His Connoisseurs Club offers entrée into his venues described as "perhaps the most impressive club membership ever offered anywhere in the world." Pheew.
Lucky's, a local favorite.
The Honor Bar, Coast Village Road.
Walking the iPhone — Montecito style.
Montecito early morning, looking north toward the bluff where Bellosguardo sits, the Huguette Clark estate. Far beyond, Santa Barbara's beachfront.
Bellosguardo, 1407 East Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara. Entrance. The subject of Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of an American Fortune (Ballantine Books, 2014), Clark's $85 million wonderland has become the City of Santa Barbara's most formidable acquisition, sure to become a sought-after destination between San Simeon and Vizcaya. The Santa Barbara mayor's political advisor Jeremy Lindaman was named president of the New York-incorporated Bellosguardo Foundation, aided by a distinguished board of trustees that includes Law & Order's Dick Wolf. The foundation will take title to the estate, art work and the doll collection. I attempted to reach Jim Hurley, Clark's Santa Barbara attorney, to tour the house, but received no response to my e-mail.
Next: West Coast Diary Part II — Santa Barbara
Photography by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur