The earliest days in the City of Santa Barbara saw three distinct architectural styles: huts of the Native Americans, adobes with red tile roofs and wooden structures, which many of the newest settlers preferred due to their economy and tradition.
Prior to 1872 when Stearn’s Wharf was operational, most cargo arriving in Santa Barbara was simply off- loaded beyond the waves and allowed to float ashore. This included lumber for many of Santa Barbara’s first wooden structures. In fact, when attempting to estimate the age of an old buildings in Santa Barbara, many take into consideration the width of the clapboard siding; boards 8″-10″ wide most likely arrived on the tide, but with the opening of the wharf, more narrow siding began to appear. The owner of one of the Upper East Victorians included in this story has owned his home for nearly 30 years, and attributes the fact that he has never had a termite problem with his belief the boards used in the construction of his home were thoroughly “treated” with saltwater on their way to Santa Barbara from Northern California.
Victorian architecture is not defined by a particular style, but rather by the era in which they were built. During the reign of England’s Queen Victoria between 1838 and 1901 this style dominated. Victorian architecture includes the frilly Queen Anne, the more simplistic Italianate, French mansards and Gothic Revivals.
Today, many of Santa Barbara’s earliest wooden structures are still in use as single family homes and apartments, and many have been designated as Potential Historic Structures. Located in every part of town, we chose just a few of the one-of a-kind Victorians in roughly the Upper East. We fudged a bit on the boundary to include a Victorian on E. Figueroa Street because of its unique style and history. We’ll also show you one of many prefab Victorians, which were very popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Perhaps one day we’ll devote an entire story to Santa Barbara’s Victorian prefabs, some of which came from Sears & Roebuck, Montgomery Wards and other popular merchants.
Beginning with the earliest, and working chronologically by date of construction, the following Victorians are truly local gems.
This home, located at 1635 Garden Street is believed to have been built in 1875. Originally owned by Wheeler Pierce, this beautiful home remained in the Pierce family for nearly seventy years. A farmer by trade, Mr. Pierce had both crops and livestock on the property. Although it has been renovated and additions have been made to it over the years, we love it, and especially love that the hedge stops at the entry gate, allowing a peek into the property from the corner of and Garden and Valerio Streets.
Built a year after the Pierce House, this Victorian, at 131 E. Arrellaga Street was constructed in 1876. Its current owners have lived in and loved this home for the past 28 years. They believe that the redwood 2 by 4’s used to build it were floated down from Northern California, and that thanks to a good soaking of saltwater, the termites have gone elsewhere for meals. Architect Peter Barber, who was at the time one of Santa Barbara’s most notable architects, designed the Italianate home for the John More (of More Mesa) family. John was the son of T. Wallace More, a wealthy Goleta Valley rancher. Interestingly, square nails were used, which also helps date the home’s construction date.
The More family lived in the home until 1936, later leasing it to neighbor Mrs. Stanley McCormick for her servants’ quarters and guest rooms. By 1960, the home was owned by a Mr. Pollard, who also leased it to Mrs. McCormick, until about 1968. For a period of time the house was used as a shelter for battered women,and it was cut up into apartment-style housing. In1985 the current owners purchased the property and have made efforts to restore it to its original condition.
This Victorian at 15 E. Valerio Street was constructed in 1883 in the French Second Empire style. As you can see, this style of architecture features thicker, chunkier lines, bay windows and multiple dormers. The original owner of the home was Charles W. Gorham, the manager of Santa Barbara Lumber Co. He and his family lived in the home for about 40 years.
In 1937 the First National Trust and Savings Bank owned the property, and by 1939 a Mr. Corrill S. Partch had legally turned it into an apartment house with five apartments and a “guest room”. He later converted the home to a simple duplex. In 1967 Margaret Littlejohn became the owner of the property and in 1972, she, four developers and a bank applied for a conditional use permit for a commercial development. The request was denied and the property continued to be used as an apartment building.
In 1984 one of the residents was busted for running an ad in the News Press, billing the Victorian as a bed & breakfast. The City ordered him to stop, and he agreed to do so. As of 1999 the property has six legal units and is a very convenient little apartment building, just steps from State Street. This is how the how the property appears today.
And this is an historic shot of it. (Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum)
This 1885 Victorian is located at 1822 Santa Barbara Street. Like several other Upper East Victorian homes, it was built in the Eastlake-Stick architectural style. Combining Stick elements with more “honest” elements of Eastlake’s furniture, the end result was an architectural style that emphasized the frame of the home with significant height in both the vertical and horizontal wood patterns. One or more steeply pitched and intersecting gable roofs, porches, lookouts, embellished trusses, and decorations such as patterned shingles, spindle railings and a starburst pattern carved into the gables were commonly used features in this Victorian style. This home is quintessentially Eastlake-Stick with its many gables and other typical features, including the starburst, which is obscured in our photo by the branches of a tree.
When constructed in 1885, the owner, Philip Rice and his family spared no expense, furnishing the home in the most fashionable furnishings possible. Over the years, several other owners have purchased the home, and all seem to have taken an abiding interest in keeping it as original as possible. Today the home looks like this.
Referred to over the years as the Storke House, the Law House and the Drake House, the Victorian at 31 E. Pedregosa Street was built in 1886. Originally this home belonged to C.A. Storke and Mattie More Storke, parents of Thomas M. Storke, the longtime publisher of the Santa Barbara News Press. Over the years it has seen many uses, including as a home for the developmentally disabled, a boarding house during WWII, the residence of Spanish royalty, an illegal triplex, an auto repair shop and a family home.
In 1886, the elder Storke, C.A, a local attorney and publisher of The Los Angeles Herald had the Victorian built in an area of town that was still quite rural. Set on a large parcel of land with no surrounding homes or neighbors, the lot was ultimately split in 1958. This amazing and beautifully restored Victorian is something of a hybrid, with Queen Anne features and bold, dramatic elements.
Originally built as a 36-room residence, this place has seen its share of drama and intrigue. A review of the City Planning file revealed that in 1960 a prominent local developer, along with three other men (one being the Mayor) very nearly got the green light to develop the property into a 27-unit apartment building. In fact, the Architectural Board of Review (ABR) had given its approval for the project, but when public outcry drew attention to the situation, days later the ABR reconsidered the project and denied it. We read a newspaper clipping from the Santa Barbara News Press, dated May 2, 1960, in which the Director of the Upper Eastside Improvement Association, a Major General Blake stated, “The escrow Indians have broken out and they are certainly raising cain”. It sounds to us like the good citizens of the Upper East put it right back on the developers, raising a little cain of their own.This is the house today.
And this is the house as it was in the 1880’s. (Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum)
Originally the home of Charles Huse, a prominent local attorney and chronicler of history, this 1887 Victorian is located at 224 E. Figueroa Street. During the 1850‘s Mr. Huse kept a daily journal, recording the daily events of his life in Santa Barbara. His diary was later published by the SB Historical Society as The Huse Journal, and is a great source of many interesting, offbeat and entertaining accounts of life in Santa Barbara during that decade.
The home, located about a block from the Courthouse, was very likely the location of several important meetings, social events and negotiations. Mr. Huse, although a prominent and powerful man wasn’t a financial success. This home, mortgaged to Alexander Shires was sold to Mr. Shires at a foreclosure sale when Mr. Huse and his family were unable to satisfy the loan.
By 1941 Mr. Huse’s home had been legally converted to fourplex, with 2 additional dwellings in the back. As with many of the old Victorian conversions, the City kept landowners honest by sending inspectors around to investigate reported violations. Over the years this property was the subject of many reports and rebuttals. In 1950 the owner successfully obtained a variance to allow 3 apartment units, “4 guest rooms”, a garage and a shop in the back. This language, however caused much consternation with a future owner, a lawyer, who permitted tenants in the”guest rooms” to have a sink and kitchenette. In 1980 the City told him the usage was illegal and he argued that the rooms should be grandfathered in.Ultimately, he complied, but was unhappy about the loss of the 4 “low rent” units he was forced to give up. In a letter to the City, he shamed officials for causing hardship to his displaced tenants who were “paying between $85 and $145 a month rent.
Today the Huse House appears to consist of several quaint apartments.
Three of our eleven Upper East Victorians were built in 1888. They are:
328 E. Anapamu street, which was built by Mary Hall-Woods, the one-time editor of one of Santa Barbara’s first newspapers, the Santa Barbara Independent. The one-story cottage, Italianate in design, has had several occupants over the decades, including Mr. Calvin Long, who operated his tool sharpening business from it.
2024 Anacapa Street was constructed of redwood on farmland that had once been owned and farmed by Jose Moraga. In 1888 the Stewarts from Duluth , Minnesota had their home built, while living in a smaller “cottage” on the property. The place apparently didn’t suit them, despite the wonderful location, the ocean view and the exquisite details that were included in the construction of the mansion. By 1904 it had become the home of Miss Mary Gamble’s “Exclusive Home and Day School for Girls”, one of California’s first academies for young ladies. After a decade of girls, in 1914, Ida Stewart, who had recently lost her husband, began converting the home into an apartment building. She and her son Milton, managed the property until 1948, renting 7 separate units while living in the Rose Cottage on the property. In 1960 James Steven purchased the property and renamed it the Steven Apartments. Several owners later, the elegant old Victorian is still home to many who no doubt enjoy the lovely details that make this old Victorian so sweet. This is how the place looks today.
And how it did, back “then”.
Local architect Thomas NIxon designed this Queen Anne Victorian for George Edwards, a prominent banker and local businessman. He and his family lived in the home, located at 1721 Santa Barbara Street until about 1925, when it was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Byron Abraham. Mrs. Abraham, an administrator at Santa Barbara State College – which later became UCSB – was also the sorority leader at the school. One the UH’s mothers, a co-ed and sorority girl during the mid 1950’s recalled Mrs. Abraham’s generous hospitality at the home, where she hosted many socials for the girls and their dates. The Abraham’s lived in the home until about 1969, when it was sold. Much to the dismay of the neighborhood, the home was severely neglected for many years. More recently a contractor and his wife purchased the property and began the work of renovating it, keeping it as original as possible. While progress has been slow, it appears that this lovely old home is nearing completion, and hopefully before long another family will be enjoying its charm and beauty. This is how it looks now.
And this is how it looked “then”, unpainted to show off the beauty of the old growth redwood. (Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum)
This unique Victorian is located at 1804 Cleveland. The home was constructed in 1896 by Peter Grant, a livery stable owner and owner of Santa Barbara’s first brickyard. At the time of construction, it was one of a only a handful of non-wooden Victorian homes, of course having been constructed of brick and stucco. Incidentally, Peter Grant’s brickyard was located in his back yard, near the Old Mission and Roosevelt School.
Our most “modern ” Victorian is located at 229 E. Victoria Street and was built in 1904. This structure, located at the corner of Victoria and Garden Streets is a beautiful example of the Italianate influences that seeped into later-constructed Victorians. Built for James Acheson, a railroad man with the Acheson- Topeka Railroad (which later became the Santa Fe Railroad), the Acheson House was stately and distinguished. When James and his daughter, Elizabeth arrived in Santa Barbara in 1903, he selected the lot and had the home constructed for their personal use. Father and daughter lived in what was a very busy part of town in those days, given that the streetcar ran along Victoria Street to and from State, turned the corner at Victoria and Garden and headed uptown to the Old Mission. Following Mr. Acheson’s death 15 years later, Elizabeth left the home, renting it to Charles Phoenix, a city councilman, president of the Chamber of Commerce and one of Santa Barbara’s earliest druggists (proprietor of Gutierrez Drug Store) from 1905 – 1918.
Elizabeth Acheson Baker sold the home in 1950, when it was transformed into the Lauraline Rest Home, serving the needs of the genteel elderly citizens in town. In 1983 Pierre Claeyssens donated the Acheson House, through the creation of the Architectural Foundation, and it has since served as the headquarters for this organization. The Junior League of Santa Barbara also has offices in this historic Victorian home.
Luckily, in the 1960’s and 70’s there was a renewed interest in old Victorians. Many of these homes, lovely and spacious, (and with interesting histories), became sought-after by those wanting to embrace tradition. Some hoped to capitalize on already built apartment style dwellings. With little renovation an old Victorian could be transformed into a duplex, triplex or apartment building, and their value began to outweigh developers’ ideas of more modern construction, both residential and commercial. Thanks to many foreword-thinking Santa Barbarans, many of the amazing Victorians of the 18th century survived the threat of demolition and are here for our enjoyment.
Lastly, as promised, we have an example of a prefab Victorian. This one, just up the block on Garden from the Acheson House was likely ordered from a catalogue and dates to 1885.
As always, we encourage you to go out and explore the neighborhoods, keep your eyes, ears and minds open to all that you encounter, and above all expect the unexpected.