For more than a century, architecture enthusiasts have been flocking to Santa Barbara. The city’s eclectic mix of Mission, Victorian, Mediterranean, Spanish-Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Mission Revival styles creates a distinctive look that has inspired pride among generations of Santa Barbara residents. These styles reached their zenith under the direction of a wide range of skilled architects, including the five briefly profiled here.
Arthur Page Brown
Toward the close of the 1800s, Arthur Page Brown’s Mission Revival style became so popular in Santa Barbara that it still defines the look of the city today. The Mission Revival style features some of California’s Spanish-style missions’ best and most distinctive features, such as red tile roofs, plastered walls, bell towers. Brown’s designs for several homes at the intersection of Garden Street and Crocker Row are among the most iconic examples of Mission Revival style.
The New York-born Brown also designed San Francisco’s famous Ferry Building, which continues to serve as a distinctive silhouette against the bay. He also designed the city’s Coit Tower and the stone bridge that spans Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. Brown died from injuries obtained in a horse-and-buggy accident when he was only 36 years old.
Arthur B. Benton
In 1891, Illinois-born architect Arthur B. Benton relocated to Southern California and soon developed a passion for the state’s older Spanish colonial and Mexican missions. Building upon this interest, Benton directed the restoration work on the missions at San Diego and San Juan Capistrano. He also wrote extensively to advocate for the Mission Revival style that he favored in his own work. After designing churches and other buildings all over the Los Angeles area, most notably the Mission Inn in Riverside, Benton became one of the most sought-after architects in the state.
In Santa Barbara, Benton’s magnificent Arlington Hotel, a rebuilding of a previous hotel destroyed by fire, was itself leveled by the 1925 earthquake that devastated much of the city’s downtown.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, San Francisco transplant Peter Barber earned renown as one of Santa Barbara’s first prominent architects. He also served two terms as the city’s mayor. In his work, Barber was noted for his extensive use of Victorian motifs, exemplifying the style so popular at the time throughout the United States. He designed Santa Barbara’s neoclassical-style courthouse and the adjacent hall of records. Unfortunately, both buildings were destroyed in the wake of the 1925 earthquake. Among his residential structures, Barber designed a redwood-construction Victorian home in the Italianate style for John More, son of a prosperous California rancher. The More family continued to live in the Arrellaga Street house for more than half a century after its completion in 1876.
George Washington Smith
George Washington Smith, born in 1876, originally trained as an artist. Critics and owners of the homes he designed have noted how this background influenced his work as an architect, often finding innovative tricks of visual perspective in the attractive and comfortable rooms he created. Smith’s career spanned a scant dozen years, from the close of World War I to his death in 1930. Yet his office was responsible for the designs of more than 100 homes, half of which were constructed in Santa Barbara.
Smith’s original designs and remodels include both residential and public buildings in Santa Barbara and Montecito, including the Daily News Building, the Lobero Theatre, and the La Cumbre Golf and Country Club Building. His oeuvre remains among the chief exemplars of the Spanish-Colonial Revival style, known for its wrought-iron grillwork, large-scale whitewashed walls, and luxuriant garden landscaping. Today, the Art Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara, contains a nearly complete collection of Smith’s papers and sketches.
Winsor Soule headed the architectural firm of Soule, Murphy and Hastings in the first half of the 20th century. Soule was born in New York State, and earned degrees in architecture from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He came west to California after working as a draftsman in Boston.
Among Soule’s Santa Barbara buildings are a set of Craftsman-style cottages he constructed along the city’s Riviera. He and partner Russel Ray designed El Cerrito in the Mission Revival style just before World War I as a home for automobile magnate Clarence Alexander Black. El Cerrito, which overlooks Santa Barbara’s mission, offers the look of a traditional Spanish hacienda. In addition, Soule’s Mediterranean-style homes include the two-story Hodges home, built in 1921 with a nearly flat, hip-and-gable red tile roof, mullioned windows, and French doors opening onto the garden and fountain.