Style out of the Rubble

On the morning of June 29, 1925, a professionally dressed 53 year old woman carrying an overnight travel bag and a set of architectural plans stepped off the train in Santa Barbara, California. As she walked up State Street, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck, throwing her to her knees. Dazed, she crawled into the street feeling for the linear steel streetcar tracks to orient herself in the blinding dust.


1925 Earthquake (photo credit: Santa Barbara Historical Museum)

The woman was Julia Morgan, the first woman to earn an architectural degree from the respected École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the first licensed woman architect in the state of California, and the principal architect for William Randolph Hearst. It was for Hearst that she designed and constructed La Cuesta Encantada, better known as Hearst Castle.


The Margaret Baylor Inn designed by Julia Morgan

This earthquake was not her first rodeo. She was also in San Francisco during the infamous 1906 earthquake and fire, and had rebuilt the badly damaged Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill. Once the dust had settled, Ms. Morgan spent hours walking among the damaged buildings observing the dynamics of the construction materials and how they had reacted under stress.


Spanish Colonial door painted Santa Barbara Blue

The 1925 earthquake ended up destroying 85% of downtown Santa Barbara. Over 400 brick and mortar, mixed wood, and masonry buildings were demolished or irreparably damaged. Amidst the ruins, the devastated city seized the opportunity to rebuild, and selected Spanish Colonial Revival as its unifying architectural style.


Spanish Colonial Revival style courtyard with ornate Churrigueresque banner

The Spanish Colonial Revival style was popularized by Bertram Goodhue and Carleton Winslow Sr., ten years earlier at the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego’s Balboa Park. In developing the style for the exposition, the architects re-interpreted Spanish Baroque and Spanish Colonial designs including Mexican Churrigueresque detailing.


Lobero Theatre designed by George Washington Smith

Out of the rubble of the 1925 earthquake, Santa Barbara became a showcase for design and construction in this nascent architectural style. Architects James Osborne Craig and Mary McLaughlin Craig were early proponents of the style and masters of its form. George Washington Smith, who designed over 80 homes and buildings in and around Santa Barbara, is considered the “Father” of the Spanish Colonial Revival style.


Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Today, the appearance of the city is unified by its architectural style. Exemplifying Santa Barbara’s adoption of its civic style, the beautiful Santa Barbara County Courthouse has been called the grandest Spanish Colonial Revival structure ever built. The view of the city from the Courthouse clock tower reveals a characteristic sea of low-pitched red tile rooves and labyrinth of smooth white stucco walls.


Presidential Candidate Jill Stein speaking in De La Guerra Plaza

As we walk the streets that Julia Morgan did on that fateful day in 1925, the architectural elements of the Spanish Colonial Revival design are all around us. Moorish light fixtures, hand painted Andalucian tile-work, wood beamed ceilings, arched arcades, courtyards, patios, colorful wood trim, small balconies, and wrought iron detailing, are design attributes of a style that rose out of the rubble.


I am tired of architecture!


9 thoughts on “Style out of the Rubble

  1. So interesting! I knew she designed the Hearst Castle, but had no idea that she helped to design Santa Barbara’s return to glory after the earthquake (thank god the quake didn’t take place in the 50s or 60s, when the architectural styles were so ugly). The buildings do remind me a lot of Balboa Park.

    I envy your long stays in each place – they allow you to really get to know each location. Would you recommend the home you are staying in Santa Barbara?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You make a very good point, Janis. If the quake had struck during the 1950s, Santa Barbara would now be row after row of repeated modular elements made out of cast concrete. Instead, it is reminiscent of the beautiful California Quadrangle and El Prado Arcade in Balboa Park.

    Our rental home in Santa Barbara has worked out very nicely for us, and fits within our budget. You can check it out on VRBO #55959, “Secluded Treetop Getaway”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes indeed, Ann. I am impressed by any city that has the will to rebuild itself after a natural disaster. Santa Barbara went a step further by adopting a relevant and timeless civic style to guide their rebuilding efforts. The result is a stylish city of great beauty that has a unified character and appearance.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Anita, Thank you for your interesting comment and for making me aware of Lisbon’s architectural history. I just read an article on the Lisbon All Saints Day Earthquake of 1755. The magnitude 9 tremor and resulting tsunami was Europe’s worst-recorded earthquake, and it led to the continent’s first neoclassical urban planning and use of large-scale earthquake-proof construction. I hope to check it our for myself some day. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

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