Archive » May 18, 2006
The Way it Was
By Hattie Beresford
PEARL CHASE VISITS THE HEDGEROW: PART 2
The Pearl Chase Society’s 2006 Home Tour visits Montecito’s Hedgerow District this coming Sunday, May 21, from 11 am until 4 pm. Tickets, which cost $50 for non-members and $45 for members, may be obtained by calling 961-3938. The shaded, one-mile stroll of the tour meanders down narrow lanes that lead to five diverse houses in this historic area of Montecito.
The Ivydene Tract
The lands that comprise today’s Ivydene Tract were initially purchased in 1858 by Dixey W. Thompson, colorful and flamboyant manager of the Arlington Hotel and owner of the Ontare Rancho. He held onto the land for less than a year. Another Santa Barbara notable, Charles Enoch Huse, whose journal records Santa Barbara life in the 1850s, held the land for three years. At the end of 10 years, the land had seen nine owners, all of whom, apparently, were trying to grow a crop of money. Then in 1869 came John M. Hunter, who actually farmed the land for the next 25 years.
In 1905, Seth A. Keeney, a Brooklyn-born life insurance salesman, purchased the land and built a grand two-story shingled house on the property and named it Ivydene. The stone gates of the original entry to the estate still stand on the northeast corner of Miramar Avenue and San Leandro Lane.
When Keeney became president of the First National Bank, he moved into town. He sold Ivydene and 26 acres to subdividers who created 27 lots. Two new private roads were then created using the old driveway and bridge across Oak Creek.
Originally, potable water for the Ivydene Tract was supplied by the Ivydene Mutual Water Company, which today supplies irrigation water to many homes in the tract.
In the early 1920s, Mary P. Drummond and her sister marched into George Washington Smith’s office to find Mr. Smith away. Mary had purchased a lot in the new Ivydene Tract and was shopping for an architect. Sidney Stacey, Smith’s new associate, offered to show them some designs that Smith had drawn. In decisive fashion, Mary immediately signed a contract for these plans.
When Smith returned to the office, he was furious. Stacy had sold the plans for Smith’s personal home! Stacey was fired on the spot, but was permitted to fulfill his contract with the two ladies as long as he placed his own name on the plans. Hence, Casa Barranca, as it was called initially, is the house that Smith disowned.
Mary Drummond owned the estate until 1951. It passed through two more owners until Waldo Ruess purchased it in 1964. Ruess’s mother admired Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Waldo became an adventurer who traveled the world looking for the simple life. He took various jobs and at times worked as a translator. In 1964, Waldo and his Andalusian wife, Conchita, settled comfortably into the Spanish Colonial home for the next 35 years while they raised five children.
Andalusia’s current owners, who own several farms in Santa Ynez and Santa Maria, are newcomers to Montecito. Trying to decide whether to live closer to their farms or in Montecito, they succumbed to Andalusia’s charms and have taken on the stewardship of this architectural gem. The previous owner, Stephen Poe, had brought the house up to modern standards while being mindful of restoring and retaining its original integrity.
That integrity is revealed in the entry patio where original architectural elements such as a cantilevered wooden breezeway, Moorish grills, the expression of the interior stairway, and an arched breezeway exemplify the Spanish Colonial style.
The view of the house from the backyard is pure Smith. A graceful stairway leading to a loggia spans the arch separating the garage from the main house. Shadows and light play upon the stark walls and the eye is drawn by the sweeping lines of the architectural features.
The Hixon Farm
In 1884, the Hixon family purchased 8.75 acres of farm land from Elmira Fisher. They developed the farm and became integral members of the community. As charter members of the Presbyterian Church in Montecito, the two sisters, Isadore and Mary, were known for their charitable acts and good works. Around 1900, the Hixons sold a narrow, wooded piece of the farm, the northwestern strip, to Marian Watts. After the deaths of her mother, Almira Hixon (1893), brother, George Clinton Hixon (1906) and sister, Isadore (1914), Mary Seville Hixon became sole owner of the farm and started subdividing it.
Mary Hixon’s will reveals much about her humble life and feisty character. She writes, “I have been advised to have a lawyer write my will so that it could not be contested, but have decided to do my own writing as I never yet have heard of a will that could not be contested if anyone was enough interested to try it.”
Her most precious possessions were a little teaspoon with the initials “PEP,” which had belonged to her grandmother, Elisabeth Pratt; six large silver spoons; and a little set of dishes, some broken on the journey west in 1868. These dishes had been a gift from her long-deceased father. These prized items, along with the bulk of her estate, she willed to her nephew Lennie (Leonard G. Wilson, Jr.), the son of another deceased sister, Vashti Hixon Wilson.
Later additions to the will requested that Lennie allow her friend and housekeeper, Miss Anna M. Sharman, “who’s been like a sister to me,” to live out the rest of her life in Mary’s home. In 1923, Lennie inherited four remaining parcels of the Hixon Tract, and he honored his aunt’s request.
Anna lived in the house until her death in 1930.
Artist’s Cottage and Studio
In 1939, Andrew McDonough, a native of Newcastle, England, purchased two parcels of the Hixon Tract. The nation was in the throes of the Depression but McDonough bought the land, completed the street (Miramar Lane), and constructed two houses to keep his crews employed.
Rented out for many years, the simple ranch-style home was purchased by Harlene and Richard Schwartz in 1970. Richard was involved in high-tech international marketing until he retired to pursue his real love, astronomy. He set up a professional observatory in the backyard and his photo of a solar eclipse enlivens the living room. Harlene, a native of Los Angeles, studied art at UCLA. Her work has been shown at many well-known galleries in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
Harlene’s artistic touch has completely transformed the unassuming ranch-style home. The living room is filled with her eclectic collection of art. Small abstracts hang side by side with a piece of barbed wire from the Berlin Wall. Two of her own works grace the walls: a dramatic full figure portrait of a woman and a compelling portrait of her granddaughter, peeking over the long sleeves of an oversized denim jacket.
In the music annex, two of Harlene’s “silent companions” play instruments near an antique piano and harp. Harlene is known for these whimsical dummy boards, flat wooden boards painted in trompe l’oeil style depicting life-sized people and animals. Each companion’s personality is subtly revealed through facial expression and body language.
In her studio, amongst her tools and pots of paint, Harlene is working on her latest concept, full-sized people with animal heads. She came upon this idea quite serendipitously. One day, as she was in the midst of painting yet another portrait of her granddaughter that she had planned to offer for sale, she realized that if she completed her granddaughter’s face, she would not be able to part with the painting. The muses took pity on her, and she painted the head of a cat instead, and so was born an incredibly whimsical and compelling concept.
El Contento rests on land that was once part of the Hixon Farm. The Craftsman home was probably built by Marian Watts, who owned the property by 1905 and christened it El Contento.
In 1918, Edward Taylor Jewett and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, came to reside with his widowed mother, Ella. Edward and his wife built a home for themselves behind the main house. Edward was an artist known for his exquisite wall hangings and tapestries, as well as his illustrations on vellum of Omar Khayyam’s “Rubaiyat.”
Two and a half years ago, Bob Kupiac and Ann Kale purchased the four-bedroom, four-bath house. Bob, an architect, is eminently qualified to make the sensitive revisions and restorations that will preserve El Contento for future generations.
Inside, the front portion of the house retains the most original character, from the simple beamed ceiling supported by large corbels to the interesting cluster of fireplaces, three of which share one flue.
Bob and Ann have remodeled the kitchens and bathrooms to meet modern standards, using exquisite natural stone tiles set in random patterns. Bob has also returned an outside staircase to the mysterious tower that rises from the southeast side of the house. Just one square room, it had no access to the rest of the home. Was it a water tower? A room with a view? A lookout? Definitely an architectural mystery.
(Sources: Maria Herold’s collection of oral histories, Myrick’s “Montecito and Santa Barbara;” Tompkins’s “History Makers;” O’Neill and Phillips; city directories, chains of title, maps, obituaries, wills.)
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