Robb Report - Spring 2005

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SPRING 2005

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George Washington Smith’s picturesque homes continue to define Santa Barbara’s unmistakable style

SPRING 2005

VACATION 1-IOfrIES 99


MR. SMITH BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE

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poison is another man’s meat. So claims an old Spanish proverb,

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which might well add that one man’s horror is another man’s history Residents of the architecturally blessed town of Woodside, Calif., near Palo Alto, have in recent years grappled with this tender irony, as one of the Golden State’s leading entrepreneurs seeks to demolish the residence of one of its most prominent pioneers.

Preceding pages: Ravenscroft ($6.25 million> show cases the elegant tile and stone work of George Washington Smith’s homes. These pages: The 1926 Ogil~y House ($17.9 million).

Apple Computer cofounder Steve jobs, who purchased the 6—acre Daniel C. Jackling estate in 1984, has described the 17,000—square—foot home that occupies the property as “one of the biggest abominations of a house I’ve ever seen.”Jobs’ disgust notwithstanding, the Spanish Colonial Revival struc ture qualifies for the California Historic Register and, thus, for protection under the state’s Environmental Quality Act. An intimate of banker J.P Morgan, Jackling, who conmtis— sioned the house in 1925, revolutionized the mining indus try with a patented process for removing copper from low—grade ore.Yet it is the prominence of the home’s origi nal owner that has spurred local preservationists more than its architect, whose very name chimes with historical allusion: George Washington Smith. The name does not impress jobs, who, in statements to Woodside’s planning commission, has said that, although he studied architecture, had never heard of George Washington Smith, adding that he could build something far more histor ically interesting in its place. Others disagree, however.

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MR. SMITH BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE

LIVING WIT

GEORGE WASHINGTON SMITH

HAPPY KOLB of Sotheby’s International Realty in Santa Barbara likens the poten tial buyer of a Smith property to a vintage car collector, as opposed to someone who simply wants reliable transportation. “Some people just love the feel of a 1950s Mercedes, because they didn’t have the plastic—they had metal knobs and the feel of the leather is much bet — ter,” he says. “They’re more tactile and romantic than newer models, and so col lectors are willing to put up with their inconveniences and quirks. The same is true with older homes. People who are interested in provenance and pedigree are willing to deal with the lack of a big kitchen and family room, because of the wonderful depth of character the homes have.” Unlike many contemporary homes, Smith’s designs tend to be more formal; the open floor plans that many homebuyers now seek will not be found in Smith’s layouts, which emphasize the discrete rooms that residents naturally preferred in an era when live-in staff were common. Not all of them have been rewired for today’s technologies, either. An exception is the 1928 Park Lane car riage house ($5.83 million), beneath whose Old World patina can be found an advanced, state-of-the-art Panasonic Advanced Hybrid telephone system and a whole-house sound system with controls in all major rooms, including the patio and side terraces. The Ogilvy House ($1 7.9 million) also combines high technology with gen teel history: Throughout the 7,000-square-foot residence, which boasts cof fered ceilings and a magnificent sweeping Spanish-tile staircase, can be found computer-controlled lighting, and the previous owners also installed 37 data ports that connect to a discreetly located network room, all the while main taining the residence’s original Andalusian charm. In contrast, Ravenscroft ($6.25 million) remains relatively unchanged from Smith’s day, having been owned by only two individuals since its construction in 1922. The original owner, a survivor of the fires that followed the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, asked that her home be constructed entirely of poured concrete, including the beams. “Ravenscroft is absolutely like walking into a time capsule,” KoIb says. “It’s exactly the way it was the day George Washing ton Smith walked out the door. It is spectacular. Of course, it’s a fixer. It needs all mechanicals and everything, but it is absolutely a jewel in the rough—a won derful property with a court, pool and guesthouse and beautiful stables attached to the house.” By far the most spectacular property currently offered on the market, how ever is Robledal ($21.5 million), a 14,000-square-foot hacienda situated on almost 8 acres in Hope Ranch. Built in 1928, this meticulously detailed fivebedroom and seven-bath residence conjures images of old California, when the Spanish rancheros ruled the rolling countryside. Bordered on all sides by mountain views and the Pacific, the estate has beautifully manicured grounds that contain two guest apartments, a staff apartment, an enormous sapphirelike pool and a regulation tennis court.

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Harry KoIb, Sotheby’s International Realty, 805.565.8633, www.harrykoIb.com

102 VACATION nOMES

SPRING 2005

“Smith’s work is among the best of the period architecturally, not only in that [Spanish Colonial Revivalj tradition but any tradition,” says Los Angeles architect Marc Appleton ofApple— ton Associates, who published George Washington Smith: An A,cIiitcct~c Scrapbook.”He did wonderful houses and really had a wonderful feel for space.” In Santa Barbara far south of the land of silicon, where the predominant aesthetic tends toward septic, Zen—like minimalism to contemplate demolition ofa Smith home is inconceivable. In this seaside enclave, discriminating buyers


seek out Smith’s homes, of which around 50 were con structed from 1919 to 1930. “In our community, quite a high percentage of buyers look for the older homes,” notes Harry Koib of Sotheby’s International Realty who special izes in significant properties in the area. “They used to pay a 10 or 15 percent premium for Smith, and I think it may be even more now.You can’t say the same of other architects. Richard Neutra’s work has just exploded. We don’t have many of his homes here, but in Los Angeles, he’s the flavor of the era, Ten or 15 years ago, you couldn’t give those homes

away. But the opposite is the case with Smith. He has always been popular and, if anything, is getting more so.” Smith’s appeal stems from several factors, not least of which is the accidental nature of his career. Named for George Wash ington, on whose birthday he was born in the nation’s cen tennial year, when patriotic fervor ran high, Smith was raised in relative affluence by parents who, in keeping with upper— middle—class values of the day, steered him toward Harvard and his father’s profession as an engineer. But circumstances inter vened: His parents’ financial difficulties forced him to abandon

Robledal, built in 1928 for Milton Wilson, sits on nearly 8 acres with ocean and mountain views and expansive garden terraces.

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MR. SMITH BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE

his studies and go to work, initially, in a Philadelphia archi tectural firm. Dissatisfied with the financial prospects before him, he quit the firm to become a bond trader, a position for which his quiet manner, gift for detail and deep intelligence suited him admirably. He acquired a modest fortune through his labors and, in 1912, retired from business to study paint ing in Europe. He had married Mary Greenough by this time, and the two of them traveled to France, Spain and Italy, where for the first time he encountered the highly stylized palaces, churches and rural farmhouses that would later inform his own designs.When war broke out in 1914, Smith and his wife returned to the United States, where his paintings appeared in exhibits in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Wishington, D.C., and the Panama Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco. While in California, friends invited the couple to Mon— tecito, near Santa Barbara, and here they determined to settle for the duration of the war, after which they planned to return to Paris. Smith purchased some property and, in 1916, designed a combination studio and residence in the style of the Andalusian farmhouses he had so admired on his travels. The house proved far more popular with clients than his paintings, and he found himself besieged with requests to design similar homes. In his own words, Smith “put away the

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VACATION I-~OM~S

SPRING 2005

brushes” and did not have a “moment to take them up again.” The Smith—Heberton house, as this first residence would be designated, provides the blueprint to Smith’s aesthetic and to its persistent allure for contemporary homebuyers (Mr. Jobs being, of course, an exception). Although the majority of Smith’s homes and public buildings were designed in the Mediterranean tradition, the mostly whitewashed structures retain an almost modern minimalism, an elegant austerity that imbues them with a sculptural grace that plays on the con trasting sunlight and blue shadows of the California climate. Smith incorporated the Santa Barbara setting a Capri—like collision of mountains and sea as a design element through out his buildings, which beautifully blend interiors and exte riors through careful use of causeways, terraces and patios. In effect, Smith approached architecture as a painter—creating a fully realized and very picturesque landscape in which people could live. “The thing about Smith’s work, in contrast to a lot of other Mediterranean or Spanish Colonial architecture, is that Smith had a ~vonderfiiI sense of composition,” notes Appleton, whose grandparents commissioned the 1926 Bryce House in Hope Ranch, a sprawling and lyrical residence considered to be one of Smith’s masterpieces. “His design was very

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1928 as a carriage house, the Park Lane house ($5.83 million) is approached by a wood footbridge. The home has been completely

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restrained, very poignant.Tbe houses were deceptively simple. He really was quite successful in creating houses that weren’t at all sel(conscious. Santa Barbara is historically not the kind of place that tolerates people who are too showy. lt~s a very quiet place, not flamboyant at all. Smith was perfect for that. His designs are part of the imagery that people associate with Santa Barbara. And so they’ve developed a kind of cachet for a lot of people, much in the same way that a McKim, Mead and White house on Long Island would, or an Addison Miz ner house in Palm Beach might.” Unlike Mizner, who also achieved renown for his Mediter ranean villas, few of Smith’s commissions incorporated rooms conceived for the purpose of impressing. Casa Bienvenida, one of only two Mizner homes on the West Coast, was built in 1929 for the Dieterich family, who asked Smith to design a small carriage house in which they could live while the enormous Spanish Gothic edifice was erected. That product of Smith’s drafting pencil is currently offered for sale at $5.83 million (see “Living with George Washington,” page 102), and its lines speak as eloquently to the visitor today as they did in 1928. “The carriage house has been beautifully renovated by a Hollywood family,” explains Kolb. “It’s only about 3,500 square feet, but it is just spectacular. You can understand how Smith came to architecture from the artistic

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side of his background, because even his large homes seem to have a very human sense of scale.” While the Jackling house in Woodside awaits the indigni ties of the wrecking ball (Jobs’ attorneys agreed last summer to delay the destruction of the house one year), Smith’s archi tectural legacy nevertheless remains safe and secure in Santa Barbara. I—us Casa del Herrero in Montecito, a graceful estate highlighted by exquisite wrought—iron details, has been con verted into a museum, and the majority of the homes he cre ated are cherished by their respective owners, who, like their predecessors, understand Smith’s unique contribution to the California architectural idiom. “Architecture nowadays seems to shout louder, to posture more and to call a lot of attention to itself,” observes Apple— ton.”And that’s the stuff that garners the attention in the press. The reality is that here you have architecture by Smith that’s simple, quiet and harmonious. It’s the frame for life—not the pictui-e. It accommodates our life in a wonderful way. People feel like they can occupy these houses and make them home, which is hard to do as an architect. Smith resisted the temp tation to strut his stuff, and he created a body of work that is enduring and timeless because of its simplicity” Perhaps, in the end, Steve Jobs will resist the temptation as ~vell. SPRING 2005

VACATION I-lOM~S


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