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Look, Up In The Sky!
updated: Oct 25, 2009, 12:00 AM

Thoughts From the Garden of Ed

Look, Up In The Sky!
by Billy Goodnick

Red Tiles
When I think of October I think of Halloween, which gets me thinking about bats. Naturally bats conjure thoughts of belfries, which invariably lead to the topic of beavers.

I guess I need to take a step back. October is also the month of my birthday and my thoughtful wife and son gave me a righteously slick camera as a gift. They also arranged for a lovely day of rain and a brilliantly clear morning after. Inspired by the clean air, I grabbed my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 and hoofed it to work as the sun was making morning magic.

There wasn't much in the way of horticultural interest along State Street, so I turned my gaze a few degrees above the horizon and was dazzled by the kaleidoscopic cornucopia of roof embellishments that adorn the city's fine architecture.

Most locals have become hardened to the charms of red tile roofs, but not so for our visitors. If you pop in at the tourist information center on Cabrillo Blvd. you can pick up the Red Tile Walking Tour brochure. There's even an on-line video version narrated by John O'Hurley (J. Peterman from Seinfeld).

Perhaps this photo essay will entice you to slow your stride and raise your gaze next time you're tripping around downtown. For a link to more photos, join me at the end of this article.

Above All, Tradition!

Unless you're a bantamweight fiddler, don't expect the traditional red clay tiles to support much jumping around. This example of irregularly laid, lichen-aged barrel tile atop the Oreña adobe has a magical texture we don't find on newer buildings.

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One of my favorite little nooks downtown is the forecourt of this simple building on Presidio Avenue, Santa Barbara's oldest street. The graceful teal-glazed urns are like nothing I've seen anywhere in town, and lend exactly the right detailing on this otherwise humble structure.

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Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair

Am I the only person who expects to see a long hank of blonde hair hanging from that slotted window on the southeast corner of the County Courthouse? The verdigris copper roofing, intricate sandstone carving and the perfection of the cylindrical form make this a perfect confection for an already stunning building.

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Fire When Ready

I've long been intrigued by the roof drains at the upper corners of the Lobero Theater. If I had lived in Santa Barbara as a kid, my practical joking dad would have tried to convince me that pirates lived on top of the building and used those cannons to ward off attacking rivals. As often as I've looked at those gigasmic hose nozzles, I've never thought to observe them while it's raining. I'm assuming they're fully functional, but I sure wouldn't want to be standing under them when the heavens unleash their fury.

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Only In Santa Barbara

I've taken a number of projects through the Historic Landmarks Commission (a.k.a. The Taste Police) in my time working for the City of SB. The HLC is the review board that reviews most projects in the core area of town. They're a tough group-no shortcuts, no half-ass attempts to meet the rigorously authentic El Pueblo Viejo guidelines. They're very nice people, but they have standards to uphold.

For your consideration, Santa Barbara's newest parking structure behind the Granada Theater, complete with a gracefully placed gazing ball atop a classically styled finial. High standards and great expectations often spur the imagination of the architectural team.

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Just up from the Arlington Theater is a delicious little building which houses Indigo and Creative Stereo. It boasts a brilliant gold leaf dome and Moorish-style chimney, but if you stand in just the right spot and look from across the street, you'll see this mysterious little airplane and cobalt blue glass ball.

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Channeling His Inner Gaudi

I've heard from some people that Santa Barbara's architecture, though charming and quaint, is predictable and unchallenging. They point to Frank Geary's Kodak Theater in Los Angeles as the cutting edge. Santa Barbara, they say, is charming and quaint, but it doesn't have any 'tude. I'm guessing they haven't encountered any of Jeff Shelton's body of work.

Jeff's designs are one part Barcelona-gothic-meets-surrealist architect Antoni Gaudi, one scoop of Salvador Dali, a few milliliters of Timothy Leary, with a schmear of Looney Tunes thrown in for good measure.

I'm not sure whether the flue tiles of this Shelton chimney are being stuffed back where they belong or are trying to escape. Either way, they add animation to an otherwise utilitarian structure.

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The Ablitt House is perhaps his most whimsical residential project, shoehorned into a tiny space behind a row of lower State Street businesses and down a short alley accessible only from East Haley Street. Though not seen in this image, the façade is currently festooned with a "No on Measure B" banner held in place by a giant red sash girding the building. B is the ballot measure that seeks to reduce the building height limit. I hope it goes down in flames-the measure, not the Ablitt building. If Measure B had been in place a few years ago, this delightful tower would never have come to pass and Santa Barbara would have missed out on a unique architectural treat. This image shows the crenellation along the upper deck, the massive woven wrought iron guard rail and the keyhole window openings that look out over the city.

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Jeff's most recent work is the amazingly complex, artistically rendered El Andaluz along the lower Chapala Street corridor. It's pretty massive in scale, but the finesse and whimsy of the detailing make every square inch of its surface feel like a living thing. Jeff's buildings often appear to have been sculpted by someone with a touch of Parkinson's, eschewing straight edges and instead looking like a time-stressed sculptor formed it quickly from lumps of clay. These stark white urns roost over the roughly tiled roof. Note the detailing in the rafters.

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Leave It To Belfry

Now, back to those beavers. Okay, so it's a weather vane, not a belfry, but that's the only way I could get that first paragraph off the ground. Though not as adventurous as Mr. Shelton's undertakings, Jerry Beaver, local real estate developer, developed this mixed use building on the 1100 block of Santa Barbara Street and, I believe, still lives in the penthouse on the upper floor. What better symbol to finish off his project than an industrious, busy beaver?

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That does it for this week. If you see any interesting rooflines or out-of-the-norm detailing around Santa Barbara, drop me a comment below. I'd like to add it to my photo collection. In the meantime, I've got a lot more images uploaded at my Flickr photo-sharing site. Click here for a tour.

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Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.


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