PEARL CHASE VISITS THE HEDGEROWS: PART I

The Pearl Chase Society’s 2006 Home Tour visits Montecito’s Hedgerow District on Sunday, May 21, from 11 am until 4 pm. The pleasant, one-mile stroll along shaded lanes offers glimpses of the diverse collection of houses that comprise this area of Montecito.

Sequestered behind tall hedges, the five houses for the tour are an eclectic mix of architectural styles. Andalusia, the house that George Washington Smith disowned, is Spanish Colonial; El Contento, more than 100 years old, is Craftsman; the award-winning Le Petit Manoir is a rambling Breton farmhouse; the elegant Boscobel is Mediterranean with Federal details; and the Artist’s Cottage is a humble ranch-style home magically transformed through the artistry of Harlene Schwartz.

The price for the basic tour is $50 for non-members and $45 for members. Reservations for the Home Tour may be made by filling out the registration form on the invitation brochure or by sending a check for $50 to the Pearl Chase Society, PO Box 5081, Santa Barbara, California, 93150-5081. (Be sure to include the approximate time of desired visitation – between 11 am and 4 pm. For additional information, call 961-3938.)

Fifty special Patrons’ Tickets are available and include a Champagne Brunch and tour of the historic Masini Adobe. Cost: $150. Reservations for the Patrons’ Tickets, which include the Home Tour, may be made by calling 682-4415.

El Montecito

The story behind the five houses begins with the story of the land known as El Montecito. When the Spanish arrived in Santa Barbara in 1782, the Chumash village of Salaguas shared the wilderness of Montecito with the grizzly bears and coyotes. The Hot Springs promised them longevity, the oak trees provided staple food, and the sea was teeming with fish. As time went on, pensioners from the Presidio came to share the land when they were awarded small plots in this wilderness. After 1848, the Common Council of the City of Santa Barbara granted the remaining parcels of this pueblo land, usually 40 to 50 acres, for a few dollars to anyone who petitioned. By 1871, all the land in El Montecito had been claimed, mostly by land speculators and farmers.

Farming was not particularly profitable at first, though many tried. Water was scarce, and the market for perishables was limited due to a small local population plus the lack of transportation and refrigeration to move the products to a larger market. Then in 1887, the railroad arrived from Los Angeles, and Montecitans began searching for water in earnest, digging wells and boring adits into the mountain wall to leach the water from the sandstone.

A new wave of farmers arrived hoping to find a profitable crop. Apples, peach, quince and plum orchards began to define the hillsides and flatlands. Olive culture looked promising, and exotics like guavas, bananas and cherimoyas began making their way into the local markets. English walnuts and pecan trees littered the autumnal ground with their dark pods. As time passed, however, citrus orchards proved to be the most profitable form of agriculture, and the land was soon covered in straight rows of lemon, orange and lime trees.

Racing the farmers for Montecito land were wealthy Easterners who, lured by stories of the salubrious climate, began to establish grand summer estates.

After the turn of the century, the lands of Lower Montecito, once patchworked with farms and orchards, began a transformation as farmers determined that subdividing land would sustain them better than selling beans and oranges. Citrus trees and hay fields gave way to an eclectic quilt of one-acre residential lots delineated by young hedges.

The five houses of the 2006 Pearl Chase Society Home Tour lie in three subdivisions of the lower Montecito area known as the Hedgerows: the Ivydene, the Hixon and the Hyde Tracts.

The Hyde Tract

The 20 acres of the Hyde Tract have passed through many notable owners, starting with Ebenezer Nidever who, in 1858, petitioned the City of Santa Barbara’s Common Council for 50 acres of land south of today’s Jacaranda Lane and east of Hixon Road in 1858. (Ebenezer was a member of the famous Nidever family. George Nidever had rescued the lost woman of San Nicolas Island.) Another notable owner was Colonel Charles C. Hunt, a Civil War veteran who came to Santa Barbara in 1871. Over the years, he formed several partnerships in various grocery store enterprises: Hunt and Austin, Hunt and Metcalf, and Hunt and Hosmer. In 1901 he retired from the grocery business to become one of Santa Barbara’s leading real estate men.

In 1880, Hunt sold the western 20 acres of his property to James H. Fisher, a farmer. In 1900, another grocer, Walter Crockett Show acquired the land through his new wife, Alice Huse Williams, the daughter of Charles Enoch Huse, a lawyer, whose 1850s journal is the source of much information about Santa Barbara and Montecito in the early days of the American period. By this time, the land was covered with orchards, primarily citrus.

In 1911, Robert Stevens Hyde, a Princeton graduate who claimed to be a rancher, purchased the land. In 1917, Hyde subdivided his land and constructed Pomar Lane. The orchards made way for small estates, and Hyde dropped his rancher designation and became a real estate agent. Interestingly, Santa Barbara real estate agent and developer of Hope Ranch, Harold Chase, rented Hyde’s home in the tract for many years, and Pearl Chase was a frequent visitor as she had close friends who owned a home in the Hyde Tract.

In 1923, Hyde became president of George Owen Knapp’s Union Realty Company and continued his activities as a real estate developer.

Boscobel

Built circa 1917 by F.M. Edwards on two parcels of the Hyde Tract, Boscobel is basically Mediterranean in style though it contains Federal elements. Edwards named his estate Boscobel, which means “in the midst of the beautiful woods.” Edwards didn’t stay long, however, for in 1923 Alfred Porter Coles and Nellye Bell Coles acquired the house. The Coles hailed from El Paso, Texas, where Alfred handled nearly one-third of the real estate business, was involved in large-scale cattle ranching, and was president of American National Bank.

In April 1926, 99 women, shepherded by one patient man, Mr. Brown, boarded The Garden Club of America Special at Grand Central Station in New York. Their destination was Santa Barbara for the annual Garden Club meeting. Four days of touring the grand estates led them to Boscobel. They reported, “Mr. and Mrs. Coles’ charming Boscobel shows how good design and symmetry satisfy. Passing through the house, one comes out on a brick terrace roofed with beams from which drip thousands of Rêve d’or and Mme Plantier roses, a feast of perfume.”

In 1955, Mr. and Mrs. Gary Collins purchased the home for $35,000. They would live there for many years until the widowed Virginia Collins divided the double lot and built a new home for herself on the parcel to the west of Boscobel.

Today, columns that supported beams and roses still stand on the brick patio, and an expansive tapis vert, so admired by the Garden Club members, still leads the eye to the Eugenia arch bordered by a Renaissance balustrade.

Inside, elegant, spacious rooms are filled with light from multiple windows and French doors. Federal motifs adorn the fireplace surrounds, and the molding and oak floors are original. Wonderful art and furnishing like camel saddle stools from a Baghdad bazaar and Mexican folk art and iconic images blend artfully with the pleasant aspects of the architecture.

Le Petit Manoir

In 1922, after turning down George Washington Smith’s designs, Frederick Lockwood Baxter commissioned Soule, Hastings and Murphy to design a house for his parcel of the Hyde Tract. Baxter had served in Brittany in WWI and had fallen in love with the simple rambling farmhouses of the Breton countryside; hence the creation of Le Petit Manoir, which was awarded first prize by the Southern California Institute of Architects in 1923.

That same year, it was featured in House and Garden magazine, which said, “Le Petit Manoir in Montecito, because of its unusually pictorial quality, reminds us of how generally this opportunity is neglected.” The house was built by Alexander MacKellar, a transplant from Scotland who constructed hundreds of residences for notable Santa Barbarans and Montecitans.

The Baxters did not stay long. In 1923, they sold the house to Katherine S. Emery, who added a northwest wing that became the new servant’s quarters. In 1942, Miss Susan Wheeler purchased Le Petit Manoir and brought several children, British evacuees, to live there. (During the war years, more than 3,000 British children were evacuated to the United States.) Miss Wheeler was a bit of a character. She decided that goat’s milk would be healthy for her charges so she purchased several goats that she kept in a neighbor’s corral. To augment her income, she grew mushrooms in the basement and raised rabbits. Her kitchen became the abattoir.

In the 1950s, a formal garden with a Camellia alée and pollarded sycamore trees was designed by the next owner, Mrs. Seavy Griffith (later Tilt). Pasadena landscape architect Jacques Hahn, as well as Elizabeth de Forest, her close friend, served as advisers.

Inside, the house is a comfortable ramble of rooms, many with fireplaces faced with blue tiles depicting French country scenes. Though the new owners have made substantive changes to certain areas of the property, the little Breton-styled playhouse still stands enticingly in the northwest corner.

(On May 17, Part II will feature the history of Andalusia, El Contento and the Artist’s Cottage.)

(Sources: Maria Herold’s collection of oral histories, Myrick’s “Montecito and Santa Barbara;” Walker Tompkins’s “History Makers;” O’Neill’s and Phillips; Beresford’s “Santa Barbara Grocers;” city directories, chains of title, maps, obituaries, wills.)