People, Places and Things

Montecito’s Middle

At one point, back when George Wright formed the Montecito Land Company, one road was smack dab in the middle of the property. Hence it was given its humble name, Middle Road. We wonder, and could speculate as to how and why High Road got its name, but we’ll leave that to someone else. There’s a lot of history and beauty crammed into one little area of Montecito and so we begin…

As you can see from the map, we have marked six points of interest. They are: the old polo field, the old playhouse, George Washington Smith’s first home; Lutah Maria Riggs’ home, a beautiful walking trail and the site of “El Molino”, the old olive mill.

As we cover the route, we’ll tell you about the points of interest noted above and throw in a smattering of the beautiful details we observed on this hike. We’ll also share our photos of some of the gates we passed, the lovely landscaping we enjoyed, remarkable homes we passed and even a little hiking trail, so magical that it seems faeries and gnomes live there amongst the oak trees. Last but not least, we’ll share a little-known, and very useful pedestrian pathway connecting Oak Road with Olive Mill Road.

Walking up Middle Road from Coast Village, we searched for two white colonnade pillars which are reportedly the only remaining sign of the 1915 “Country Playhouse”. The playhouse was reportedly a progressive little theater, having been built in an octagonal shape. The patrons sat in a circle around the stage which must have made its productions exotic and exciting. Legend has it that the theater was destroyed by fire in 1920, and that all remains are the pillars. We searched and searched for them (without leaving the public street) but sadly, were not able to find them… We’ve marked the map where we believe the playhouse sat, and hope that one of our readers has more information about this early Montecito attraction.

Further up Middle Road we found a home that had once served as the clubhouse for a polo field built in that location in 1916. William Bartlett reportedly bought 34 acres of land in 1913, which by 1916 had been transformed it into a posh polo field complete with grandstands, a stable and a “Mission-style” clubhouse. Unfortunately, like many dreams of that era, the Great Depression killed the notion of a polo club in Montecito. The clubhouse was later renovated to serve as a private residence. Today the home is at 184 Middle Road. We took a photo of a front pillar of what is modernly called “Villa Polo”, and found an online photo of the home as it appears now.

As our faithful readers already know, we both have an undying love of all things George Washington Smith… and it just so happens that we know George built his own home at 240 Middle Road. So we took a couple of pictures to show off its elegance and sublime beauty.

Venturing further up Middle Road, we went in search of GWS’s assistant’s, Lutah Maria Riggs’ home. For those of you who may not know, Ms. Riggs was George Washington Smith’s right hand woman; she designed many notable local projects, her favorite being The Little Town Club on Carrillo Street. Unfortunately the home is now barely visible from the street; we got just a glimpse of it, and we’ll share it with you, along with an interesting little bird plaque that may or may not be original to the home.

Now we diverge with a few random photos of some of the other lovely and unique homes we saw along our route.

We also passed a variety of gates. Some are grand entrances, other are sweet garden gates and some just plain cool entrance gates.

Making the loop down Olive Mill Road, the next point of interest marked on our map is a quaint little hiking trail that skirts the property known as “Casa Dorina”. Now a retirement community, the casa was originally home to Dorinda Bliss, but that’s another story for another day… enjoyed by many, the trail is short, sweet and truly magical. If you haven’t yet taken a stroll along that trail, we encourage you to do so.

Next we come to the old olive mill. On that location, back in 1923, brothers George and Fred Gould built an olive mill to process olives from their nearby orchards. The mill, located at what is now 200 Olive Mill Road was built of stone and functioned as a working mill for many years. When it was no longer economically feasible to operate, the mill was extensively renovated into “El Molino” a private residence. Because the home sits off the street and is obscured by a large hedge, we were unable to capture anything other than the entrance to the property. We aren’t certain who lives on the property now, but we know that at one point it was the home of Lena Horne.

This area of Montecito is rich with a variety of wonderful little details. We’ll share just a few of our discoveries – a mosaic turtle rock, a lawn jockey, a landscaping feature, two weathervanes, two mailboxes, the details of an entrance, and one street sign.

Most of the area’s homes are landscaped beautifully.

Last, but definitely not least, we share with you images of a little foot trail that leads from the neighborhood at Oak Road to the busy thoroughfare of Olive Mill Road. You may or may not already be aware that we urban hikers simply LOVE pedestrian pathways, and this one is a beauty! It’s utilitarian, peaceful and old.

Remember to save the date for the 2nd Annual Urban Hike Invitational!

Like last year, we’ll take a New Year’s Eve Day wander, with Santa Barbara’s celebrated local historian and stand-up comedian, Neal Graffy. This year there will be no ceremonious pageantry – just an urban hike and some shenanigans as we explore the Funk Zone and its environs. Neal will narrate a fascinating walking tour of the area, and we’ll visit some of the lesser-known spots, both in and outside the Zone. We plan on starting at the Dolphin Fountain at 2:00 p.m. and covering the streets shown on this map. We’ll end at around 4:00 p.m. in the heart of the Funk Zone, with some well-deserved refreshments, as we begin saying our goodbyes to 2012 and head into 2013.

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.

About Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright

We are two "fifty-something" year olds who are lifetime residents of Santa Barbara. Together, we have decided to walk each and every street within the City limits of Santa Barbara just for the fun of it. Peter is a dentist, and Stacey is a long-time County employee who helps the elderly without family to look after them. Read more

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