The Wagner House

It wasn’t until January 1929 that concerned citizens of Montecito finally convinced the County Board of Supervisors to pass Ordinance 453. This was the first county zoning ordinance in California and was passed, at least in part, to thwart unscrupulous out-of-town investors (they actually were extortion artists) from plying their trade within Montecito. But 453 went far beyond just regulating “allowable use” (the extortion scheme employed the threat of putting an undesirable use, e.g. a pig farm, next to a well-to-do residence and then offering to sell the property to the affect neighbor at an inflated price). The ordinance also established setbacks, the requirement to provide an open yard between the street or neighbor and the new building. While I do not know exactly what came down, it only takes a casual observation of George Washing Smith’s Montecito work during the booming 1920s to notice that he was not at all embarrassed about placing buildings – even quite large buildings – right on the street property line. Obvious examples include his own house on Middle Road, the gardener’s cottage to Casa del Herrero on East Valley Road, and, of course, the Wagner House, depicted here, found in Montecito’s Hedgerow.

The Wagner House derives from cottage architecture, although it up-scales the massing and details to the point that this structure is quite impressive. The elevation shown here is dominated by the three dormers, even though the cornice details, steep gabled roof form and chimney are affectively used in a supporting role. While the location of this building provides it some anonymity, when one stumbles on this building buried back in hedgerow, it is hard to ignore, and as is typical of much of Smith’s work, sits at the top of the neighborhood pecking order.