By now most of us know that the “Chromatic Gate” (love it or hate it) is under restoration. The “Chromatic Gate” is the massive rainbow sculpture that sits at the bottom of Calle Puerta Villarta, just across the street from Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort.
What you may not know is that the creator of that sculpture, Herbert Bayer, was a true Renaissance man, a member of our community and a highly regarded international artist. True, his “Chromatic Gate” may not be the most popular of his creations, but we are lucky to have it, and even luckier that some local folks who appreciate his work and genius got together the funds to restore and refresh Mr. Bayer’s homage to loneliness.
Upon its installation in 1991 the sculpture looked about like this.
The last of the surviving masters at the Bauhaus, a German School born of the Arts and Crafts movement (1919 – 1933), Mr. Bayer was an industrial, environmental and graphic designer, as well as a sculptor, photographer and painter. Born in 1900, he studied under Kandinsky and created his own font, Bayer Sans/Universal, which was very popular in mid-century design. While working in Germany he designed a street car station and a newspaper rack, and contributed to a large number of other mid- century designs raging from posters to mainstream advertising.
In 1938 Mr. Bayer immigrated to the U.S., first settling in New York City, and moving to Aspen, Colorado in 1946. It was during his time in Aspen that Herbert Bayer had a chance meeting with Robert O. Anderson, the founder of ARCO. According to reports, after seeing the Bayer’s ultra modern home in Aspen, Robert Anderson went to the home and introduced himself to the couple. From that point on, Anderson and Bayer were close partners and associates, primarily in the acquisition of Atlantic Richfield’s (later ARCO’s ) massive art collection. In the 1970’s and 80’s they worked collaboratively on The Breakers, a historic Montecito home that would become as a conference center/retreat for ARCO executive and others. (More about the Breakers, on Channel Drive home, in just a minute).
In the mid-1970’s Bayer and his wife Joella moved to Santa Barbara taking up residence in a mansion that once served at the clubhouse for the Montecito Polo Club, referred to as the Bartlett Polo Clubhouse. Built in 1913, the house was designed by Francis Underhill, the same guy who designed Fredrick Forrest Peabody’s Montecito estate, and a really beautiful place on Junipero Plaza, near the Mission. (That house is called Villa De La Guerra, and is now for sale.) This is what the Bartlett Polo Clubhouse on Middle Road looked like when the Bayers lived there. You can read more about its history in a previous Urban Hike story, Coast Village Road and Beyond.
Herbert Bayer and his wife lived in the Bartlett house until Mr. Bayer’s death in 1985. During the decade he and Joella lived locally, Herbert became a well-loved and resected member of our community. After ARCO commissioned him to create “The Four Gates” for their downtown Dallas, Texas office plaza (1984), they commissioned him to created a smaller version of the sculpture. A scaled down and more colorful version of the original – at only 21′ high and 12.5 tons – the “Chromatic Gate” was constructed and painted in the now- familiar rainbow colors (1991).
While Arco funded the construction of the “Chromatic Gate”, it was Paul Mills (the longest-serving art director at Santa Barbara Museum of Art) who worked tirelessly to have it installed at “Arco Circle”. At no cost to the taxpayers, the City-owned sculpture was installed and dedicated in 1991, and had since become a landmark in Santa Barbara.
We remember when the sculpture was first installed, many people wondered about the public art, and more specifically “what it meant”. Some surmised the sculpture represented the rainbow bridge, part of a Chumash story involving Hutash Earth Mother. Others were quick to explain that the sculpture was inspired by Mr. Bayer’s frequent trips to Morocco where he considered the vibrant colors found in nature and their counterpart shadows. It’s said he believed the empty arch was poignantly symbolic of the loneliness human beings suffer, and that he hoped the “Chromatic Gate” would be a modern symbol of this human emotion. Either way, the sculpture ultimately became a permanent part of our community’s collective identity.
Prior to the recent fundraising drive, the sculpture was badly in need of restoration.
And now for a peek back, at a lesser-known but quintessentially Bayer sculpture, located at “The Breakers” on Channel Drive behind the Biltmore Hotel. It’s through this back gate that one can get a glimpse of Bayer’s other local creation.
A well known historic “private home” on Channel Drive, The Breakers, was purchased in September 1978 by Atlantic Richfield Company as a conference center and retreat for corporate executives. The center wasn’t opened to guests until 1981, and at the opening gala it created quite a stir within the art world. Now many could see that Herbert Bayer, the renowned Bauhaus artist, had designed and created a showcase for a portion of ARCO’s massive art collection, reportedly the world’s largest private collection at the time.
Those lucky enough to be invited to The Breakers could experience Herbert Bayer’s work interactively. One of the main features of the property, Bayer’s outdoor sculpture was entitled “Walk in Space Painting”, and was installed in the back yard of the center. Bayer had envisioned that observers would traverse the pool along stepping stones, passing through colorful glazed tiled gates that seem like three-diminutional paintings. Today the installation lacks the water envisioned by the artist, but the rest of the sculpture appears to be intact and nearly as good as new.
The Breakers is a local gem with a very colorful history. The land was originally purchased in August 1902 by Demming Jarvis, and construction of The Breakers was completed a couple of years later. If you are interested in knowing more about the property and its residents, we invite you to read another of our past stories, Muy Rico Channel Drive.
We’re gratified to see that the restoration project was a success and this piece of public art, created by a very influential and forward-thinking artist, will soon be returned to its original condition.
As always we encourage you to go out and explore your town, meet your neighbors, keep your eyes, ears and minds open to all that you encounter, and above all, expect the unexpected.