George Washington Smith (1876 – 1930) was one of the leading architects responsible for the Spanish-Colonial Revival in Santa Barbara. Along with Arthur Page Brown, Peter Barber, Winsor Soule, and Arthur B. Benton, Smith achieved renown for his gifts of design, and for the enduring legacy of his work in the city.
Throughout the early 20th century, magazines such as Art and Decoration featured numerous articles on Smith’s creations, and exhibits based on photographs of his buildings found enthusiastic audiences as far away as New York. Critics praised his simplicity of design and execution, his thorough grasp of the principles of proportion, and the creative ways in which he incorporated the beauty of gardens and nature into the overall look of a project. Smith, who originally trained as an artist, admired the work of Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne, and emphasized his own “primitive” style of architectural design.
The son of an engineer, Smith was born in Pennsylvania, on President George Washington’s birthday. He studied architecture at Harvard University, but did not complete his degree due to family financial constraints. In 1915, Smith traveled to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in Northern California to view some of his paintings on display there. He designed his own residence in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, after he and his wife elected to wait out the First World War in the area. His inspiration for the structure was a series of farmhouses he had seen on a trip to Andalusia in Spain.
Images of Smith’s home became popular all across the country, and he began to receive requests to create similar white-washed houses for eager customers. Although his early death relegated him to only a dozen years as a professional architect, George Washington Smith and his firm designed or remodeled 80 Santa Barbara-area buildings, many of which remain landmarks to this day. These include private homes, as well as several public buildings. The following five structures are only a few of these now-iconic designs:
- The Lobero Theatre
In 1922, Smith and draftsman Lutah Maria Riggs received a commission to design a new theater on the site of the dilapidated old Lobero Theatre. The Santa Barbara community raised almost $200,000 to support the project, and in 1924 the new theater showcased its first performance. After a devastating earthquake in 1925, the Lobero’s Mediterranean design became a template for the redesign of numerous public structures throughout Santa Barbara as part of a rebuild that forever changed the face of the city.
- The Daily News Building
George Washington Smith designed the Daily News Building, now called the Santa Barbara News-Press Building, in 1922, in his famed Spanish-Colonial Revival style. The building sits amidst other notable public structures facing the city’s Plaza de la Guerra. Its design is a tribute both to Smith’s extraordinary vision and to the legacy of Thomas More Storke, the legendary editor and publisher of the Daily News. As he did in the Lobero Theatre, Smith used hollow tile and concrete for some of the construction of the Daily News Building.
- The Montecito Country Club Building
Smith was hired in 1921 to remodel the Montecito Country Club Building, originally designed in the Spanish-Colonial Revival style by Bertram Goodhue and opened in 1918. Smith’s remodel of the gabled and towered building on Summit Road was based in his then-widely popular vision of incorporating wood, stucco, and terra cotta construction and on his usual simplicity of detailing.
- La Cumbre Golf and Country Club Building
“La Cumbre,” meaning “the summit” or “the high point,” was the Spanish name for the rolling landscapes around what is now the La Cumbre Golf and Country Club. Smith’s 1927 design replaced a previous structure that had burned down. Today, the building continues to be a part of the luxurious and relaxing atmosphere of the club.
- Meridian Studios
Smith completed work on the Meridian Studios building in 1923. Situated on East De la Guerra Street near State Street in Santa Barbara’s downtown, Meridian Studios is a working artists’ studio space amidst the tranquil, shadowed beauty of a walled courtyard.
Smith envisioned the Meridian building serving as a companion to the property’s larger Lugo Adobe structure, which is one of the city’s oldest buildings, dating back to the 1830s. Ideal for the needs of visual artists, Smith’s three-level, Spanish-Colonial Revival studios offer a bank of many-paned north-oriented windows. The two studios also feature balconied residential spaces on one of their upper floors, which allows for a two-story-tall studio below.