October 11, 2022 § Leave a comment
By STEVEN LIBOWITZ
George Washington Smith was Santa Barbara’s most influential architect back in the 1920s, the founding father of the California movement in Spanish Colonial Revival design. The irony was that Smith, when he moved to Montecito in 1917, saw himself as an artist. But after building the centrally located house and studio he’d designed for himself and his wife, friends and neighbors kept clamoring to have him create residences for them.
“I soon found that people were not really as eager to buy my paintings, which I was laboring over, as they were to have a whitewashed house like mine,” he once said. “So I put away my brushes and have not yet had a moment to take them up again.”
Now, a century later, Smith’s spiritual offspring are turning the tables back again, as a new group show features a dozen successful Santa Barbara architects who also paint or create other visual art. “ARTchitecture” is on display at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in downtown Santa Barbara.
“I’ve been an architecture junkie since I was a young lawyer living in Chicago, and a few decades running my gallery in San Francisco only encouraged that,” says Reynolds, who moved to Santa Barbara during the pandemic and opened the new art space on State Street last year. “Living here, I’ve arrived in architectural nirvana.”
The idea for the exhibition came about through Reynolds’s casual conversations with Marc Appleton, the celebrated Santa Barbara architect who helped organize the show, and they reached out to peers to round out the curation. “There’s a natural affinity between architectural design and visual art that many of us feel,” says Appleton. “We decided it would be fun to see how many architects in town actually indulge their passion for watercolors.”
Quite a few, it turns out.
Anthony Grumbine, Jeff Shelton and Stephen Harby are among the well-known locals participating in “ARTchitecture,” along with Domiane Forte, Henry Lenny, John Margolis, Sean McArdle, Tom Meaney, Alexis Stypa and Qing Xue, who collectively contributed more than 75 works for the exhibit.
While the well-trained architects are all famous for designing homes, offices and/or public buildings around town, frequently employing beautiful architectural drawings to convey their vision, painting is a different matter entirely. Appleton jokes, “If I had to paint with the intention of making a living at selling my watercolors, I would be in the poor house.” However, Reynolds says the products of the architects’ art aspirations are anything but amateur hour. “Everything in the exhibition is frameable – they are fine art paintings that stand on their own,” Reynolds says.
Locals will recognize many of the scenes depicted in the watercolors, as a majority of the pieces focus on some of the most beloved buildings in town, including the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. The landmark shows up in paintings by three different architect-artists, each revealing an individual perspective – not unlike how they might design a building from scratch, although without having to please anyone but themselves.
Appleton says the focus required for watercolors is part of its appeal, perhaps even more so than the finished product. “You have to really look at the building or architectural scene and allow yourself to learn about what you’re seeing,” he said. “It becomes a way of remembering the experience that’s richer than a photograph.”
Harby, who has largely traded active design for a set of watercolor brushes and leading art-travel trips, goes even further. “The joy of experiencing spatial complexity, materials and light fueled my architecture career for a number of years,” he said. “Now, sitting in front of an astonishing and challenging building and trying to capture, and represent it, brings the same kind of thrill as creating it.”
Appleton agrees. “Watercolor is an extremely seductive art form,” he says. “We have our profession of architecture, which is a commitment like a marriage. But then we have watercolor as a mistress.”
August 19, 2022 § 3 Comments
“ARTchitecture” — a group exhibition of Santa Barbara architect-artists — is on view from September 16 to November 12 at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery at 1331 State Street in Santa Barbara. It runs alongside an exhibition of paintings by Michael Reardon, a renowned Northern California watercolorist with an architectural background.
Nearly a dozen of Santa Barbara’s finest practicing architects who also paint, primarily in watercolor, are featured in the exhibition. Among them are Marc Appleton, who helped organize the exhibition, Anthony Grumbine, Stephen Harby and Jeff Shelton. Also included are Domiane Forte, Henry Lenny, John Margolis, Sean McArdle, Tom Meaney, Alexis Stypa and Qing Xue.
“Art and architecture have always been closely related,” says Thomas Reynolds, who last year moved his gallery to Santa Barbara after 25 years in San Francisco. “Santa Barbara is notable not only for its magnificent architecture, but also for its concentration of respected architects moved to create art. We’re happy to bring some of them together.”« Read the rest of this entry »
January 20, 2021 § Leave a comment
By BETSY J. GREEN
A number of homes and estates in the Santa Barbara area have names. Some are fairly well known, such as Bellosguardo or Casa de la Guerra. Other names are less familiar. But the house at 1821 Anacapa Street in Santa Barbara has a name that no one — including the present owner — seemed to be aware of: Rosemary Cottage.
In 1919, the home’s most distinguished resident moved in — the landscape artist Thomas Moran and his daughter, Ruth. Moran’s main home was in East Hampton, New York, and is a National Historic Landmark. Starting about 1916-17, the 80-year-old Moran and his daughter began spending their winters in Santa Barbara. The first couple of years, they stayed at the Potter Hotel and other places. But about 1919, they bought the home at 1821 Anacapa Street and began spending every winter in Rosemary Cottage.
Moran was famous enough that the local newspaper published an article in 1917 titled, “Noted Painter of Big Views Arrives; Thomas Moran is Famous for His Canvases of Western Outdoor Wonders.” The article ended with a quote from Moran: “Santa Barbara is the most beautiful city, with its environs, I have seen in all California.”
Read more: “Rediscovering Rosemary Cottage“
July 9, 2020 § Leave a comment
By LYNDA MILLNER
Nature intervened in 1925 with a giant earthquake, which struck down the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and the Hall of Records. A $700,000 bond was passed, but expenses went up to almost $1.4 million. Now what? A stroke of luck. The Rio Grande Oil Co. struck oil at Ellwood, west of Santa Barbara. Revenue from the oil tax paid for the rest of the courthouse. And amazingly it was finished just two months before the stock market crash in 1929.
The Mural Room has never been a courtroom, but was the meeting place for the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors until the 1960s. Now the Mural Room is used for weddings, ceremonies, parties and the like.
Artist Dan Groesbeck wasn’t given many instructions except to paint the history of Santa Barbara on all four walls. He had two helpers and was paid $9,000. It took them four months.
He began with the Canalinos Indians watching Juan Cabrillo landing near Santa Barbara in 1542. Then in 1602 along came Vizcaino, a Spanish explorer and mapmaker. He arrived on December 4, which was Saint Barbara’s feast day, hence our name and claim of the territory for Spain.
The next part of the mural is when Mexico was independent of Spain, beginning in 1822 and lasting only until 1846, when Captain John Fremont descended through San Marcos Pass and claimed Santa Barbara for the United States.
The third wall portrays what makes Santa Barbara’s economic engine run. First came minerals: oil, silver and diatomaceous earth. Next came cattle: thousands, giving hides and tallow until the big drought in the 1800s. Lastly agriculture: strawberries, broccoli and grapes, grapes, grapes.
On the same wall there is a painting of California’s symbol, the grizzly bear. Peeking out from around a tree is a young boy with a pixie hat depicting Peter Pan. What did he have to do with Santa Barbara? At the time a film company was out on one of the islands filming the story of Peter Pan, silent and in black and white.
The back wall shows the Chumash Indians working on the Santa Barbara Mission — the fourth since 1786, when our mission was 10th in a line of 21 in California. The signature in the bottom left-hand corner is a forgery. After Groesbeck was paid and on his way to Europe, they discovered the mural was unsigned. Upon being asked to return and sign his work, he said: “No. Just have someone do it.” And so they did.
MORE: “A tour of the courthouse“
‘The grandest ever built’
By RAY McDEVITT
Santa Barbara is one of the 27 original counties and the City of Santa Barbara has always been the county seat. By the 1870s, the Anglo political and economic ascendancy had become evident in architecture as well. The 1875 courthouse designed by Peter Barber, in a restrained classical style, was welcomed in part because it represented such a decisive break with the Hispanic past.
At the turn of the century, however, changing fashions led to a new appreciation of the provincial Spanish adobes now becoming scarcer. After World War I, interest in reclaiming the city’s Spanish architectural heritage intensified. The old courthouse, though a distinctive piece of architecture when built in 1875, had been outgrown by the 1920s. But no real progress was made in planning for its replacement until matters were brought to a head in 1925 when it was severely damaged by a powerful earthquake.
The board of supervisors commissioned William Mooser Co. Architects, the oldest architectural firm in the state, having been founded in 1854, to develop plans for a courthouse in harmony with the Spanish origins of the county. William Mooser Jr., son of the founder, was an accomplished architect. His son, William Mooser III, a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris who had lived for 17 years in France and Spain, returned from Europe to assist his father.
They succeeded beyond all expectations. Architectural historian David Gebhard assessed the Santa Barbara courthouse as “certainly the public monument from the 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival in California.” Charles Moore, in The City Observed, deemed it “the grandest Spanish Colonial Revival structure ever built.” Harold Kirker praised it as “a beautifully integrated structure . . . sensitively related to a vast sunken garden of stone terraces and half century old pines, palms and redwoods. The courthouse is equally impressive from every vantage point and is rich in wit, fantasy and surprises. It is a treasure house of architectural and decorative devices — archways, towers and loggias; tiled walls, vaults and floors; wrought-iron grills, balconies and landings — in which nothing is repeated or exactly alike.”
— Excerpted from Courthouses of California (Heyday Books, 2001), edited by Ray McDevitt. REVIEW by Thomas Reynolds
December 22, 2019 § Leave a comment
ARCHITECT AARON GREEN, who lived in an apartment overlooking San Francisco’s Lafayette Park for many years, helped Frank Lloyd Wright establish an office here in 1951 at 319 Grant Avenue.
Green’s mother-in-law, Jeannette Pauson Haber, lived near him at 2510 Jackson Street, on Alta Plaza Park, with her sister, Rose Pauson, who was a former client of Wright’s. In 1940 she had built the Pauson House in Arizona, which was destroyed by fire in 1943.
Rose was a painter, and Jeannette a ceramicist. When Wright decided to create red tiles, inscribed with his initials, to be affixed to a select number of his buildings, he asked Jeannette to fabricate them. Wright provided a drawing of what he wanted; Jeannette formed the tiles; Aaron Green inscribed the initials — FLLW — into each one; and Jeannette produced the “Taliesin red” glazed surface that Wright specified.
Among the Bay Area buildings that Wright designated as worthy of bearing the tiles were the V.C. Morris shop on Maiden Lane — his only building in San Francisco and a precursor to the circular Guggenheim Museum in New York — and the Marin County Civic Center, which was completed by Aaron Green after Wright’s death.
— From Frank Lloyd Wright and San Francisco, by Paul V. Turner, published by Yale University Press.
February 11, 2018 § 1 Comment
IN THE dwindling days of December, an historic Presidio Heights Tudor sold for the first time — ever — making it the biggest single-family home sale of 2017 in San Francisco.
Bernard Maybeck’s Roos House, at 3500 Jackson Street, sold for $11 million, down from its original asking price of $16 million. Since its construction in 1909, the home had been passed down through family members, making this its first-ever sale.
“Architecture is Life-Poetry,” Maybeck once said, quoting Louis Sullivan. The house Maybeck designed in 1909 for the Leon L. Roos family “was definitely Life-Poetry,” wrote Sally Woodbridge in her definitive book, Bernard Maybeck: Visionary Architect.
Woodbridge wrote of the Roos House:
In Mrs. Roos, Maybeck had a client whose interest in theater paralleled his own. The house was a wedding present from her father, Morris Meyerfeld, who was a partner in the Orpheum Theater Circuit company. He had taken Elizabeth Leslie with him when he traveled to Europe in search of talent, and these tours gave her a lasting enthusiasm for the theater and for theatricality. When she heard that Mr. Maybeck designed theatrical houses, she rejected the architect her father had chosen and hired Maybeck.
At about 9,000 square feet, this is Maybeck’s largest San Francisco residence. It has two distinct sections: a two-story front part with dining room, entrance hall, kitchen and service spaces on the ground floor and bedrooms above; and a back part with only one floor but nearly the same height as the front part. The back part contains the great two-story living hall, the largest room in the house. Though difficult to ignore for other reasons, the house does not immediately reveal its considerable size. Instead of the grand entrance typical of mansions of the time, the front door is at the end of the loggia on the east side of the house, and it is not visible from the street.
The Roos family entertained frequently and formally. Their guests would approach the house through the loggia, which serves as an open foyer, and enter the low-ceilinged, skylit entry. From this point the sequence of spaces along the lengthy north-south asix is visible. The passage from the dining room at the front to the secondary living room, or alcove, at the back is also a progression from the closed and private street side to the more open garden side. The low-ceilinged alcove is a setting for contemplation of the view through the large window overlooking the Presidio grounds and Marin County across the bay.
While the guests proceeded into the living hall, the hosts would descend from the upper floor by means of a stair hidden behind a wall and appear on a stagelike landing to greet those assembled in the hall. The landing, raised four steps above floor level, forms one end of a cross axis anchored on the opposite side of the room by a caststone fireplace that rises to the ceiling. After making an initial appearance, the hosts would usually stand by the hearth and receive their guests less formally. Dr. Jane Roos, who inherited the house in the late 1970s, recalls that she first saw her mother-in-law dressed in a tea gown, standing by the fireplace.
The Rooses had a wonderful time living a baronial life. Leon Roos, who was an owner of Roos Brothers, one of San Francisco’s major men’s furnishing stores, designed a family crest and commissioned furniture from Maybeck to complement the pieces they purchased in Europe and elsewhere.
December 15, 2016 § Leave a comment
IN 1939, after seeing his Hanna House at Stanford, Sidney and Louise Bazett retained legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new house for them nearby in Hillsborough, south of San Francisco.
When construction began the next year, the Bazetts agreed to Wright’s request that one of his apprentices, Blaine Drake, come to the site during construction to supervise and make sure Wright’s intentions were being carried out — with the apprentice to be housed and fed by the Bazetts.
Even during construction, the house was already attracting attention, and another legendary architect stopped by to take a look. As the roofs were being finished, Blaine Drake reported to Wright: “Bernard Maybeck, the architect, was over to see the house — he was both puzzled and intrigued.”
— From Frank Lloyd Wright and San Francisco by Paul V. Turner
May 10, 2016 § Leave a comment
SO WHAT ABOUT San Francisco’s extravagant new Museum of Modern Art? Well, it’s big, that’s for sure. And there is much to recommend:
• Photography gets respect. There are hundreds of photographs in dozens of galleries — almost the entire third floor and more. The “California and the West” exhibition is terrific.
• California art gets greater prominence, including a three-part “Art of Northern California” inaugural exhibition.
• The highlights of the permanent collection — Matisse! Rivera! — still have pride of place in the still-grand second floor galleries.
• Unlike much of the Fisher Collection, which will appeal to some more than others, the Calder sculptures are a delight, especially in front of the living wall.
Mostly the new building works. It is a huge cruise ship beached between the Mario Botta building (a relic from all the way back in 1995) and Timothy Pflueger’s magnificent Art Deco backdrop from the 1920s. But it is functional — and it has beautiful wooden stairs and windows framing views of the city.
Two complaints about the architecture:
• Botta’s beautiful entry has been eviscerated and replaced by a vast empty space with the kind of lean-to staircase that might take you over the dunes onto the beach. A crime.
• And the magisterial enfilade of galleries marching across the front of the second floor has been blocked off to create separate spaces, presumably. Surely this is not permanent.
Go and visit. There are much worse things than another new museum in town.
MORE: “Transforming SFMOMA“