Santa Barbara exemplifies the complementary way in which a wide range of architectural styles can come together to create a whole that exceeds the sum of its parts. The city, largely rebuilt under new preservation-friendly building codes after a devastating 1925 earthquake, is today one of the world’s premier locations to experience the beauty of Mission, Spanish Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Victorian, Mediterranean, and other architectural esthetics.
One of the best ways for visitors to become acquainted with Santa Barbara’s loveliest buildings is to take a docent-led or self-guided walking tour. Among the most popular self-led tours is the Santa Barbara Red Tile Walking Tour, which focuses on more than 15 adobe-walled, historic structures within a 12-block radius of the city’s downtown area. The majority of the buildings were constructed in either the 1700s or 1800s. A number of them were built in the Spanish Colonial Revival look encouraged after 1925.
The city offers maps showing the Red Tile Walking Tour route, in hard copy and online, on its own convention and visitors’ website and through other sites such as SantaBarbaraCarFree.org. Here is a sampling of the architectural wonders that visitors can see along this popular route:
- Santa Barbara County Courthouse. The standard map itinerary recommends that you start here, and with good reason. This is not only a functioning government building, but a rich repository of the region’s history and art. The courthouse was completed in 1929, just a few years after the earthquake, and in the Spanish Colonial Revival Style. Today, with its white walls, 80-foot-tall clock tower, colorful murals, hand-decorated ceilings, and balconies and galleries, it resembles a medieval palace in Andalusia, Spain, more than a 20th century American structure.
- Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The museum, located on State Street, is housed in a building that once served as the community’s post office. The museum opened its doors in 1941. Modifications by David Adler, a Chicago architect, made the façade more streamlined and added new gallery spaces for a more dramatic effect. When it opened as a post office in 1914, the elegant stone building shared with its Pasadena cousin the distinction of being the only post office in the nation to shun the standard, conformist architectural style of similar government buildings of the time.
- Santa Barbara Public Library. Situated across from the courthouse, at the corner of Anacapa and Anapumu Streets, the library was constructed with funding from industrialist Andrew Carnegie and completed in 1917. Architect Henry Hornbostel designed the library in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, and added touches reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. Today, the library and its associated Faulkner Gallery sit amidst the lemon-rich scents of a stand of 80-year-old gum trees.
- Casa de la Guerra. Constructed in the early 1800s to house the family of the fifth commandant of Santa Barbara’s Presidio, Casa de la Guerra was the focal point of the community’s civic and social life during the period of Mexican rule. Its U-shaped plan, elevated porch, and vast courtyard placed it far above the simple one- and two-room adobe structures typical of its period. During the World War II years, Casa de la Guerra became integrated into the newly built El Paseo complex. The museum is now dedicated to showcasing the art and history of its day, as well as the life of the de la Guerra family.
- El Paseo. A semi-hidden gem in the form of a quiet “village” of shops, eating places, and offices, El Paseo was created in the 1920s alongside and around the contours of Casa de la Guerra. Since they were among the buildings that survived the 1925 earthquake, El Paseo and Casa de la Guerra became models for Santa Barbara’s post-earthquake revival of Spanish architectural styles. Bernhard Hoffman bought Casa de la Guerra and the nearby property, and commissioned architect James Osborne Craig to create El Paseo in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. Today, El Paseo – nicknamed the “Street in Spain” – is home to jewelry stores, the elegant El Paseo Restaurant, and more, all tucked away within the winding flagstone passages and white adobe walls.
- Lobero Theatre. Lobero Theatre was another of the downtown Santa Barbara buildings untouched by the earthquake, and its Spanish style also served as an inspiration for architects rebuilding the city. For more than 140 years, the Lobero location has served as a showpiece of Santa Barbara’s cultural life. Rebuilt from 1922 to 1924 on the foundations of an 1873 opera house that had fallen into disrepair, the theater was designed by a team that included renowned architect George Washington Smith.
- El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park. Santa Barbara’s Presidio is the military fortress that dates from 1782. It was, in fact, the final presidio that the Spanish settlers constructed in Alta California. Its two still-standing original adobe-walled buildings, set amidst more than 5 acres of land, are now open to the public. A number of other portions of the Presidio, which include historic reconstructions, are accessible through a self-directed walking tour of the grounds. They include the defensive walls, observation tower, chapel, and an orchard.