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Montecito's Middle
updated: Dec 15, 2012, 12:00 PM

By the Urban Hikers (Peter Hartmann & Stacey Wright)

At one point, back when George Wright formed the Montecito Land Company, one road was smack dab in the middle of the property. Hence it was given its humble name, Middle Road. We wonder, and could speculate as to how and why High Road got its name, but we'll leave that to someone else. There's a lot of history and beauty crammed into one little area of Montecito and so we begin…

As you can see from the map, we have marked six points of interest. They are: the old polo field, the old playhouse, George Washington Smith's first home; Lutah Maria Riggs' home, a beautiful walking trail and the site of "El Molino", the old olive mill.

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As we cover the route, we'll tell you about the points of interest noted above and throw in a smattering of the beautiful details we observed on this hike. We'll also share our photos of some of the gates we passed, the lovely landscaping we enjoyed, remarkable homes we passed and even a little hiking trail, so magical that it seems faeries and gnomes live there amongst the oak trees. Last but not least, we'll share a little-known, and very useful pedestrian pathway connecting Oak Road with Olive Mill Road.

Walking up Middle Road from Coast Village, we searched for two white colonnade pillars which are reportedly the only remaining sign of the 1915 "Country Playhouse". The playhouse was reportedly a progressive little theater, having been built in an octagonal shape. The patrons sat in a circle around the stage which must have made its productions exotic and exciting. Legend has it that the theater was destroyed by fire in 1920, and that all remains are the pillars. We searched and searched for them (without leaving the public street) but sadly, were not able to find them... We've marked the map where we believe the playhouse sat, and hope that one of our readers has more information about this early Montecito attraction.

Further up Middle Road we found a home that had once served as the clubhouse for a polo field built in that location in 1916. William Bartlett reportedly bought 34 acres of land in 1913, which by 1916 had been transformed it into a posh polo field complete with grandstands, a stable and a "Mission-style" clubhouse. Unfortunately, like many dreams of that era, the Great Depression killed the notion of a polo club in Montecito. The clubhouse was later renovated to serve as a private residence. Today the home is at 184 Middle Road. We took a photo of a front pillar of what is modernly called "Villa Polo", and found an online photo of the home as it appears now.

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As our faithful readers already know, we both have an undying love of all things George Washington Smith… and it just so happens that we know George built his own home at 240 Middle Road. So we took a couple of pictures to show off its elegance and sublime beauty.

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Venturing further up Middle Road, we went in search of GWS's assistant's, Lutah Maria Riggs' home. For those of you who may not know, Ms. Riggs was George Washington Smith's right hand woman; she designed many notable local projects, her favorite being The Little Town Club on Carrillo Street. Unfortunately the home is now barely visible from the street; we got just a glimpse of it, and we'll share it with you, along with an interesting little bird plaque that may or may not be original to the home.

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Send this picture as a postcard

Now we diverge with a few random photos of some of the other lovely and unique homes we saw along our route.

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We also passed a variety of gates. Some are grand entrances, other are sweet garden gates and some just plain cool entrance gates.

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Send this picture as a postcard

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Send this picture as a postcard

Making the loop down Olive Mill Road, the next point of interest marked on our map is a quaint little hiking trail that skirts the property known as "Casa Dorina". Now a retirement community, the casa was originally home to Dorinda Bliss, but that's another story for another day… enjoyed by many, the trail is short, sweet and truly magical. If you haven't yet taken a stroll along that trail, we encourage you to do so.

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Send this picture as a postcard

Next we come to the old olive mill. On that location, back in 1923, brothers George and Fred Gould built an olive mill to process olives from their nearby orchards. The mill, located at what is now 200 Olive Mill Road was built of stone and functioned as a working mill for many years. When it was no longer economically feasible to operate, the mill was extensively renovated into "El Molino" a private residence. Because the home sits off the street and is obscured by a large hedge, we were unable to capture anything other than the entrance to the property. We aren't certain who lives on the property now, but we know that at one point it was the home of Lena Horne.

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Send this picture as a postcard

This area of Montecito is rich with a variety of wonderful little details. We'll share just a few of our discoveries - a mosaic turtle rock, a lawn jockey, a landscaping feature, two weathervanes, two mailboxes, the details of an entrance, and one street sign.

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Most of the area's homes are landscaped beautifully.

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Last, but definitely not least, we share with you images of a little foot trail that leads from the neighborhood at Oak Road to the busy thoroughfare of Olive Mill Road. You may or may not already be aware that we urban hikers simply LOVE pedestrian pathways, and this one is a beauty! It's utilitarian, peaceful and old.

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Send this picture as a postcard

Remember to save the date for the 2nd Annual Urban Hike Invitational!

Like last year, we'll take a New Year's Eve Day wander, with Santa Barbara's celebrated local historian and stand-up comedian, Neal Graffy. This year there will be no ceremonious pageantry - just an urban hike and some shenanigans as we explore the Funk Zone and its environs. Neal will narrate a fascinating walking tour of the area, and we'll visit some of the lesser-known spots, both in and outside the Zone. We plan on starting at the Dolphin Fountain at 2:00 p.m. and covering the streets shown on this map. We'll end at around 4:00 p.m. in the heart of the Funk Zone, with some well-deserved refreshments, as we begin saying our goodbyes to 2012 and head into 2013.

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As always, we encourage you to go out and explore the neighborhoods, keep your eyes, ears and minds open to all that you encounter, and above all expect the unexpected.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 354453P agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-15 12:16 PM

Thank you; thank you. Stories and pictures such as these are one of my favorite parts of Edhat.


 COMMENT 354466 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-15 01:05 PM

Before Lena Horne owned El Molino , the Dodsons owned it for many years. Superior Court Judge Floyd Dodson and family.


 CHERIDIANE agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-15 03:06 PM

Oh, for me too, thank you, thank you. You are one of my favorite things about Edhat. I so want to find that pedestrian trail and walk it.


 ROGER DODGER agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-15 03:49 PM



 COMMENT 354527 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-15 04:34 PM

I went to a party when the Dodsons owned El Molino; the senior Dodsons were out of town. I think I was maybe a junior or senor in High School Great pictures of a beautiful part of town.


 COMMENT 354588 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-15 07:39 PM

A book! I'd love to see a compilation with pictures, maps, descriptions, etc. Please! It would make a great 2013 Christmas gift for everyone on my list!


 COMMENT 354604 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-15 08:57 PM

Yes! A book, please. Thank you for this great post.


 HOOSIER NOT agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-15 09:15 PM

Love the idea of a book! I would so buy it!


 FIRST DISTRICT agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-15 09:37 PM

Marvelous, marvelous!

The trail by Casa Dorinda is 'The Peter Bakewell Trail' so named for the man who worked to establish it. The one entry pillar needs to be restored. It was recently damaged by a nearby fallen oak. I believe the pillars mark what was the entrance to an estate called 'Everdene' which was owned by Mr. Gould many years ago.

Thanks so much. I'll look at this again and again. . .


 COMMENT 354648 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-16 07:40 AM

Would that be the same Mr. Gould who had a mansion on top of the hill on land that became Ennisbrook?


 COMMENT 354649 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-16 07:43 AM

I think "El Molino" was actually built in 1893, it was turned into a residence in 1923. Most of the brush and hedges have been cleared away over the last year or so, and you can now see the house from the front gate.


 COMMENT 354661 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-16 08:27 AM

Another wonderful travelog of our neighborhoods. I really appreciate your organization and planning and your eye for interesting, informative detail. Thank you.


 COMMENT 354678 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-16 09:30 AM

Dear 649 - Thank you for the fact-check. You’re right about the date. The mill was operational in 1893, producing olive oil, olive soap and even olive oil candy. Yuck. By 1905 the last of the “El Montecito Manufacturing Company” goods had been produced and the mill was shut down and sold. And yes,we did notice that much of the shrubbery around the residence has recently been cleared away, making the house much more visible. The problem is that in order to take a photo showing more of the house, we would have had to wander up the drive to the gate and shoot beyond it. We recall not that many years ago when a small stone wall surrounded the property, allowing an unobstructed view of the magnificent old building.


 MTNDRIVER agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-16 10:32 AM

Thanks, as usual, great pics and history.

Didn't Lutah Riggs also design the Vedanta Temple? That's such a lovely building.


 HOLAZOLA agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-16 10:38 AM

Stace - I'm sure you already know, but for everyone else: the picture of the brown gate with the two square lanterns is in front of the first Frank Lloyd Wright house built in California - and also the only one in our area. the Stewart house was built in 1909, and is owned by TC Boyle. At the corner of Summit / Hot Springs Rd.

Thanks again for the great articles.


 FLICKA agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-16 12:25 PM

Thank you, Urban Hikers! You do such a great job. I grew up in Montecito and rode my horse on the areas you've covered. It was more open in the 1950s, without all the gates. Peter Bakewell helped start the Montecito Trails Foundation; they are responsible for many of the trails, and oversee 300 miles of trails, keeping them cleared and in good shape. Anyone joining MTF is given a map of all the trails, and helping with their upkeep. Listed in phone book.


 COMMENT 354772 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-16 03:08 PM

Looking at the original map when you started Montecito, I didn't see Alcala Ln, a small cul de sac off of Camino Viejo. It's the opposite direction from Mt. Carmel. It's just before the sign designating Santa Barbara boundary.


 COMMENT 354781 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-12-16 04:00 PM

First Cormorants, then Spanish town, and now an invite to the NYD urban hike.
I'll try to join you, but failing that I will use your maps sometime soon.
Thank you,


44% of comments on this page were made by Edhat Community Members.



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