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URBAN HIKE

Riviera Loop
updated: May 14, 2011, 9:45 AM

By Stacey Wright and Peter Hartmann

This week we continued our quest of walking all 256 miles of public streets within the city limits of Santa Barbara, and share with you a delightful little hike that encompasses wonderful things about our city.

This is a hike that afforded good exercise, gave us a peek at a really cool frog shrine, allowed us a glimpse of a really beautiful neighborhood, and had views that knocked our socks off.

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To begin this hike, we drove to Franceschi Park and parked in the parking lot. While at the park, we took a quick look at Franceschi House. We couldn't help but notice that the house, which in the past was the focal point of the property, is now in a state of serious disrepair. But we didn't dwell on that fact for long, since the place is in the process of being renovated, and the park is oh-so-grand. The park encompasses about 18 acres, which includes not only the park proper, but several public easements that connect it to a variety of Riviera streets.

We found that much has been written about this park and its benefactors. A Google search will provide you with quite a bit of interesting historical background, but for now we'll provide you with just enough to get you interested in learning more.

Dr. Francesco Franceschi, who hailed from a banking family, purchased the property in 1904. Having arrived in Santa Barbara in 1894, as Dr. Emanuel Orazio Fenzi, he established a downtown nursery, and then for reasons unknown, changed his name to Francesco Franceschi Fenzi. His mansion, called Montarioso (Italian for "airy mountain") was built in 1909. At the age of 70, Dr. Fenzi was called away (by the King of Italy no less!) to supervise a horticultural project in colonial Libya. He died there at the age of 81.

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Franceschi, as he is known locally, is best known for his activities between 1894 and 1913, when he imported over 900 species of plants from around the world, and cultivated them in Santa Barbara. Specifically, he is known for importing the Sycamore tree and the Pitasporum, both of which have thrived in our warm coastal climate. His very lofty dream was to import plants to Santa Barbara from every region of the world. Dr. Franceschi believed the soil and climate here were so conducive to growth that the imported plants would not only acclimate and thrive, but eventually surpass their growth in their native habitat. Dr. Franceschi and those who worked with him were known as the Southern California Acclimatizing Society, and they did much to promote this dream...we've just gotta love the good doctor for his pioneering horticultural work.

After Franceschi's death, his family sold the house to Alden Freeman, a gentleman who was active in liberal politics. He remodeled the home, and in the process, adorned the exterior with 63 dinner-plate sized medallions, each of which represented an important figure. Luckily for the citizens of Santa Barbara, in 1931 Mr. Freeman donated the house and its 18 acres of property to the City so that it could be preserved as a public park.

For this hike, we traveled down Franceschi Road to Mission Ridge, took a right on Mission Ridge and headed west. We passed the pathway that would, at the end of this hike, return us to the park. Here are a few of the sights we encountered along this leg of our hike.

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On the morning of this hike we even encountered a few cows, which are reminiscent of a bygone era in this part of town.

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After our hike, we found an old photo of this area from 1917 that shows Mission Ridge in the process of being graded. We thought it was definitely worth sharing...

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But back to the hike ... When we came to Moreno, we made a left turn and entered an area which was once referred as the Riviera Tract. It was developed by the legendary, and "pink bearded" George Batchelder of Atherton, California, a highly progressive developer in his time. Mr. Batchelder had several requirements of the folks who wanted to build homes in his tract, because he hoped to preserve the beauty of the area and promote the best possible views for all. As part of his plan, Mr. Batchelder under-grounded all of the utilities and required every owner to build a home of white stucco with a red tile roof. Additionally, he demanded that all construction cost a minimum of $4,000 and that every home be oriented so that it would not block any other homeowners' views. In fact, it was old "pink beard" who imported many of the Italian stone masons to work the local sandstone into the beautiful architectural features that are so prevalent in Santa Barbara today. Lastly, Mr. Batchelder created easements for the numerous footpaths that bisect the blocks and allow public access. These paths are simply an urban hiker's dream ...

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When we got to Paterno, we turned left and passed by a handful of gorgeous homes and gardens. On Paterno, we also encountered a shrine like no other we have ever seen before...this shrine involved frogs, and lots of them...if you go on this hike (and we hope you do), you are free to admire the frogs... and to leave one of your own...but whatever you do, but please don't disturb the 100's of frogs in residence on Paterno.

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After passing the frog shrine we came to the Paterno turnaround, which we'd heard had once been quite a make-out spot. We'd also heard that the turnaround was a place where the local youngsters came to watch the submarine races in the channel...on the day of our hike we didn't see any submarines, and we saw signs prohibiting nighttime parking but the view makes up for these things.

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Even though our loop didn't include Lasuen, we snuck over for a quick pic, because the view from that road was simply too tempting...

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Back on track, we headed east on Dover (which is to the east of the circle) and passed variety of more wonderful homes. If you take this hike, and feel like taking a shortcut back to your car, you could take this walkway (just across from this beautiful home), through Franceschi Park and back to the parking lot.

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Continuing along our route we passed more remarkable homes and gardens, creeks, canyons and other interesting urban hiking features...like this modern art..

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Next, we headed up Dover Hill (which like Dover Road, was named in honor of Joe Dover, the head stonemason working in the Riviera Tract). There we came to a path that has only recently been renovated and upgraded. This path, a part of Franceschi Park, is the wonderful little trail that took us right back to the beginning point of our hike - the parking lot at Franceschi Park. The path is so spectacular that we found ourselves stopping many times to admire the beauty and solitude that surrounded us.

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At the end of our hike, we were more grateful than ever that Santa Barbara is our home and that we have undertaken to learn more about this fantastic city.

And so, as always we encourage you to go out on an urban hike of your own, to meet your neighbors and see first-hand the pride they take in their homes and neighborhoods. We also remind you to keep your eyes, ears and minds open to all that you encounter along the way, and to be on the lookout for us. We still have the Harry's gift certificate, and are anxious to give it to the first person on foot who sees us during one of our hikes and says, "Hey! Aren't you the Urban Hikers?"

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

 COMMENT 173146 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-14 12:49 PM

Perfect reading for a Saturday afternoon. Love your stuff, thank you : )

 

 COMMENT 173184 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-14 02:27 PM

Wonderful hike and great photos! You even hit some "secret paths" that I've never seen. "Submarine races" - har!!! While Dr. Franceschi introduced a great variety of plants to our area, the sycamore, being native to the area, was not one of them. By the way...how many pairs of shoes have you gone through so far?

 

 COMMENT 173342P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-15 10:02 AM

Urban hiker Peter here-We hate having those proof reading errors like the sycamore in this article. I guess our minds were still on the Sailor's Sycamore of the Milpas story. Having said that, corrections and additions are always appreciated.

I am now on pair four of my walking shoes.....

 

 COMMENT 173353 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-15 10:39 AM

I LOVE the frog shrine! One of my freinds took me up there at night once and I could not believe my eyes! Soooo cool! Great for kids too.

 

 SEEDLADY agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-15 10:45 AM

Platanus acerilfolia (London Plane Tree) is indeed a European species, more 'demure' and neat in growth habit than the rangy native Plantanus racemosa . There are hybrids and selections available at specialty nurseries and growing grounds that perform even better than the species in suburban settings.

Our native California sycamore is best left to rural or open park stream-side settings where it can grow to it's full 60' height, and where its roots can range at will for plentiful water, instead of finding the nearest residential water or sewer line.

 

 RONNIEB agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-15 11:00 AM

Love those Urban Hikes! Thanks for sharing your experiences. Keep 'em coming!

In 1952 when I was in 8th grade m parents built a home on Mira Vista just below and to the West of Franceschi Park. (Re. your map--isn't Franceschi Park still above, not below, Mission Ridge Rd.?)

After about 4 years on Mira Vista we moved up to the top of the Riviera on another dead-end street, Las Tunas Road. At both locations the views of the city, harbor, channel and islands were spectacular. Often when the fog came in we would be enjoying full sun looking down on a sea of fog covering the city.

Thanks to Dr. Franceschi others who brought in all those exotic plants and trees Santa Barbara became the botanical paradise they envisioned. While the non-native eucalyptus is getting a bad rap these days, those huge ones up on the Riviera smell wonderful and when in flower provide apis mellifera (honey bees) with nectar that produces wonderful honey. What would SB be like without all the "exotic" plants and trees that thrive here?

 

 COMMENT 173377 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-15 11:58 AM

Re: Franceschi Park and Mission Ridge Rd:

I looked up a map of City parks, and several other versions of city maps, and they all show Franceschi Park lying entirely below Mission Ridge. Which is totally weird, because anyone who's been there knows you go up from Mission Ridge to enter by car. I did a Google Earth search and you can clearly see the entrance road, and the parking area, and the house and all its grounds, up above Mission Ridge and below Franceschi Road, just where they've always been :-)

I never knew the park extended below Mission Ridge Rd. I think that will be a Sunday hike for the family today.

 

 ESL TEACHER agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-15 12:06 PM

RonnieB is right. Unfortunately your map is misleading. Most of Franceschi Park lies between Mission Ridge Road and Franceschi Road. That said, this is a great hike and anyone who wants to explore more of this part of the Riviera should look out for the urban hike conducted by the Sierra Club periodically on a weekend morning. It begins on Pedregosa Street and climbs some of the hidden stairways leading uphill mentioned in this article. It's steep but rewarding.

 

 COMMENT 173507 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-05-15 08:23 PM

A wonderful article as always! Think of Franceschi when you drive or walkl on Anapamu:

link

 

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