Major Santa Barbara Architectural Styles

Santa Barbara’s harmonious blend of distinctive styles of architecture makes it one of California’s most visually appealing and historically interesting communities in which to live. The city demonstrates its commitment to the preservation of its historic buildings through codes and ordinances designed to curb unrestrained growth and maintain the charming atmosphere that draws numerous tourists every year. In fact, Santa Barbara was among the first American cities to view the preservation of historically significant buildings as integral to the civic planning process.

Take a tour through some of the noted styles of architecture that have put Santa Barbara on the map:

1. Spanish Colonial Revival: The city’s most famous structures include numerous examples of the Spanish Colonial Revival style pioneered and championed by architects George Washington Smith, Joseph Plunkett, Winsor Soule, Bertram Goodhue, and others in the early 20th century. The Spanish Colonial Revival style can vary depending upon which elements of historic Spanish-Mediterranean style an architect decides to reference. In Santa Barbara in particular, the Andalusian style, based on the look of Spanish farmhouses, has inspired the simple lines of a number of structures. Common features in the Spanish Colonial Revival style include pergolas, verandas, adobe walls, and intricate wrought interior designs.

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After a 1925 earthquake leveled many buildings, Santa Barbara residents opted to focus on planned development in the Spanish Colonial idiom for the rebuilt commercial structures along State Street and in the El Pueblo Viejo Landmark District. Smith’s Spanish Colonial-style home on Mesa Road is a fine examplar of the style.

2. Mission Revival: Santa Barbara’s Mission Revival style enjoyed its heyday toward the close of the 19th century after the region’s historic Spanish missions had largely fallen into neglect and disrepair. Architects of this style chose to focus on the construction of bell towers, gabled roof segments, and heavy plaster walls in homage to those old missions. One of the most noted local architects of this style was Arthur Page Brown, whose row of homes on Garden Street at Crocker Row are now considered ideal examples.

Arthur B. Benton’s designs for a rebuilt Arlington Hotel, after the original was destroyed by fire, are another superb illustration of the Mission Revival Style. This grand hotel sprawled at an angle over a whole city block and featured a cascade of bell towers surrounding the five-story central core. Tragically, this incarnation of the Arlington crumbled in the 1925 earthquake.

3. Craftsman: The late 19th century Arts and Crafts movement in architecture and the arts attempted to recapture the glory of handmade design in reaction to the widening uniformity of the modern machine age. The resulting Craftsman style of architecture gave Santa Barbara and other communities a variety of charming bungalow-style homes created in a distinctively Californian idiom.

Craftsman design, which typically features furniture carefully built-in to suit the rooms, uses the hearth as a home’s central point. The Craftsman style additionally strives to create a harmonious interplay between a building’s interior and exterior. Santa Barbara has continued to build in the Craftsman style today, particularly in “Built-Green” ecologically conscious homes.

4. Victorian: Santa Barbara, like much of the United States, was caught up in a Victorian enthusiasm during the second half of the 1800s. The result: Numerous examples of this architectural style in the previously Spanish-inflected community. The majority of Santa Barbara’s Victorian buildings follow either the Queen Anne or Italianate varieties. They include examples of Gothic and French Second Empire design, as well. With the opening of the city’s Stearns Wharf in the 1870s, the importation of lumber became significantly more streamlined, making the construction of Victorian homes much easier, as well.

The Queen Anne style can be highly idiosyncratic in its expression. Its typical outline features steeply set gables, vertical lines, uneven elevations, arches, and towers set at a building’s corners. The Charles Fenald mansion and the Thomas Nixon-designed Edwards house are exceptional examples of the Queen Anne style in Santa Barbara.

The Italianate Victorian style in Santa Barbara owes much of its early popularity to architect Peter Barber, a transplant from San Francisco, then the arbiter of taste for the entire state. Barber created well over 100 buildings in the Santa Barbara area, most of them in the Italianate mode. Italianate style, which is derived from Italian Renaissance architecture, emphasizes a boxy shape with a flat roof, narrow windows and doorways, and often the addition of towers. Barber’s Hunt-Stambach house in Santa Barbara is a fine example of this style.

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5. Spanish Mission style: An overview of Santa Barbara architecture would be incomplete without a look at the original style of its Spanish missions. The first buildings with this style were built in the 1780s. They featured adobe walls topped by red-tiled roofs, and their motifs continue to influence local design. Classic structures such as Mission Santa Barbara, nicknamed the “Queen of the Missions,” and the city’s presidio are still-thriving examples of this iconic style. On Garden Street, visitors can see an adobe house with a paved courtyard and an overhanging wooden roof, one of many local homes that drew inspiration from the old Spanish Mission style.


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