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URBAN HIKE

Muy Rico Channel Drive
updated: Apr 21, 2012, 9:30 AM

By the Urban Hikers, Stacey Wright & Peter Hartmann

A couple of weekends ago we decided to hike from the corner of Channel Drive and Cabrillo Blvd. to the intersection of Coast Village and Olive Mill Roads (with a little extra). There are so many gorgeous sights along the way and so much remarkable history to tell about on this short stretch of street that we decided to break the story into three parts - today we present part II: The stairs at Butterfly Beach to the Coral Casino, including Hill Road and the "backside Channel Drive."

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There are a number of really unique and beautiful homes on Channel Drive between Butterfly and the Biltmore. That stretch of road has several unique and notable homes, and we just happened to really like this one in particular.

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Probably the most well known of the "private homes" on Channel Drive is The Breakers. On the day of our hike in early April 2011, the property had a "For Sale" sign out front, but these days the sign is gone, which makes us wonder if it has a new owner.

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Regardless of who currently owns the property, we can tell you with great enthusiasm that The Breakers is indeed a local gem with a very colorful history. The land was originally purchased in August 1902 by Demming Jarvis, and the construction of The Breakers was completed a couple of years later. Mr Jarvis, having been widowed in December 1902 and had subsequently remarried, moved from his home in Detroit to his new home, which the couple dubbed "The Breakers" in 1905. We aren't sure who designed the home, but would love to now the answer to that question. What we do know, however, is that the Jarvis' consulted local landscape expert Dr. Franceschi to assist with the planning of the the gardens and together they selected many exotic plants including a fig tree imported from India.

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Not entirely satisfied with their West Coast lifestyle, the Jarvis' left town in 1906 to travel abroad. They had planned to return after a year's travel but apparently got waylaid never returned to live at The Breakers. In 1911 the Jarvis' sold the property to Charles and Mary Raymond, a couple from Akron, Ohio. Mary's father was the president of B.F. Goodrich, and eventually made Charles the CEO of the company, a position he held until 1936. Coincidentally, Mary's uncle, Tod Perkins, was one of the principal investors of the Potter Hotel.

In 1912, Mary Raymond changed the name of The Breakers to Westholm and brought John Turnbull to Santa Barbara to serve as her landscaper and gardener. In 1919 John Turnbull subsequently opened a florist shop on Coast Village Road, a business that survived well into the next century. Along with Mr. Turnbull, Mrs. Raymond also employed Frank de Bernardi, who had relocated from Illinois to Santa Barbara, first to work on the Riven Rock estate and later to work with Mrs.Raymond at Westholm. One of Mr. deBernardi's projects was to complete the landscaping around a garden tea house. Later a beach house was added across the street on the bluffs of what is now Channel Drive.

On December 5, 1933 the Raymonds threw the grandest party that had ever been hosted at Westholm or The Breakers. The party was to celebrate the end of the Prohibition. As legend has it, 198 guests were in attendance that night, and the party went on well into the the early morning of December 6th. The last guests reportedly left around 4:00 a.m. and remarkably everyone behaved themselves during that very lively celebration.

A couple of owners later, in September 1978 the property was sold to Atlantic Richfield Company as a conference center and retreat for corporate executives. It was not, however, opened to guests until 1981, at which time its name was returned to the original name, The Breakers. At the time of its opening, Herbert Bayer, renown Bauhaus artist, teacher and designer had designed and crated a showcase for part of ARCO's massive art collection, reportedly the world's largest private art collection at the time. One of he main features of the property was a piece of Herbert Bayer's works, which still remains on the property. It's entitled "Walk in Space Painting," and is actually a sculpture installed in the back yard of the property. Bayer envisioned that observers would traverse the pool through on stepping stones, passing through colorful glazed tiled gates that seem like three dimensional paintings. Today the installation lacks the water envisioned by the artist, but the rest of the sculpture appears to be intact and as good as new.

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For those of you who may not be familiar with Herbert Bayer's name or his significance in the art world, as a Santa Barbara resident you are almost certainly familiar with at least of of his pieces of public art - the somewhat controversial "Chromatic Gate" sculpture across the street from Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort. Upon its installation in 1991 the sculpture looked like this.

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The last of the surviving masters at the Bauhaus, a German School (1919 - 1933), Mr. Bayer was an industrial, environmental, and graphic designer, as well as a sculptor, photographer, and painter. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1938, and after moving to Aspen, Colorado in 1946 had a chance meeting with Robert O. Anderson, later the founder of ARCO. According to reports, after Robert Anderson saw Herbert Bayer's ultra modern home in Aspen, he went to the house and introduced himself. From that point forward Anderson and Bayer were close partners and associates in the acquisition of Atlantic Richfield's (later ARCO's )massive art collection and the inception of The Breakers as a conference center/retreat for ARCO executive and others.

Herbert Bayer and his wife moved to Santa Barbara in 1966 taking up residence on Middle Road, and in 1991 was commissioned by ARCO to erect a copy of a Bayer sculpture (albeit a scaled down version of the original) that sits between two Dallas, Texas high rises. We understand that recently funds have been raised to restore the artwork to its original condition. Sadly, it has been seriously neglected and under appreciated - and as a result, is now something of an eyesore to many. Today it looks like this.

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We're gratified to know that some in town - whether they love the sculpture or not - are willing to help restore this piece of art, created by this very influential and forward-thinking artist, to its original condition. But as sometimes happens, we digress...

So, back to Channel Drive we go. After being home to the ARCO Conference Center for a number of years, Ty Warner purchased the property in or about 2000 for a reported $16 million. We aren't sure what, if any modifications were made to the property, but we are aware that at the time of the purchase the Mr. Warner reportedly had plans to remodel it into "The Breakers Spa and Club." That plan met with resistance from neighbors and others and it appears not to have become a part of additional commercialization of Channel Drive, at least not at this time.

Lastly, we can't help but tell you about a visit to The Breakers by "The Iron Lady" herself, the former Prime Minister of Britain. According to reports in the LA Times, in December 1990, Mrs. Thatcher, the newly resigned Prime Minister, received a personal invitation to visit Santa Barbara from two friends - Ronald Reagan and ARCO's Chairman Lodrick Cook. The purpose of the visit was to celebrate the 80th birthday of Ronald Reagan, and having not been to California since 1969, Mrs. Thatcher readily accepted the invitation. During her stay in Santa Barbara, Mrs. Thatcher and her husband reportedly spent two nights at The Breakers, and later were flown in an ARCO helicopter to Los Angeles where they hobnobbed with Tom Sellcek, Merv Griffin, Eva Gabor and John & Julie Forsythe. In all it sounds like it was a lovely visit for Ms. Thatcher.

As we hiked down Channel Drive, the next marvelous sight is the Biltmore Hotel.

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And in order to give you a better understanding of this beautiful property, we think a bit of Santa Barbara history is required. So indulge us for a moment if you will, while we take a quick look back in time.

Back in the 1920‘s Santa Barbara lost two grand hotels. The Potter Hotel, which stood opposite West Beach, was lost to a fire in 1921, and then in 1925 the earthquake destroyed the Arlington Hotel, which encompassed the entire block of State Street, where the Arlington Theater now stands. This loss of these hotels, and the rooms they offered to the booming tourism business in Santa Barbara was viewed by the Biltmore Hotel chain as an opportunity to expand into the local market. Initially, developers proposed a 600-room hotel on the Mesa bluff, now home to Santa Barbara City College. That plan fizzled and was supplanted by a plan for a much more modest hotel on Channel Drive. Reginald Johnson was named as the architect, and in March 1927, construction of the hotel began. Built with amazing efficiency, the hotel opened as The Biltmore on December 16, 1927.

Cultural, technological, and economic factors of the 1920s were beneficial for the success of The Biltmore. The rich and famous from the East Coast and West Coast came to stay at the new hotel and to party hearty. Partying was less of a problem at The Biltmore than at other fancy hotels due to its close proximity to the beach and its access to numerous local bootleggers. During those "Roaring ‘20s," Prohibition was in full force but so were the late night parties at The Biltmore.

The 1930's were not so good for The Biltmore. A worldwide depression had set in and many could no longer afford a stay at the swank hotel. Times were becoming increasingly difficult, and money was so tight that foreclosure proceedings were initiated in December of 1932. In 1936, The Biltmore was sold to a company, the majority of shareholders being Robert O'Dell and his family. Robert O'Dell saw the beauty and the potential of the hotel and accordingly took a strong personal interest in the hotel property.

Under new ownership, the property was extensively renovated, including the addition of the Coral Casino, a beach club with a larger than " Olympic" sized salt water pool. The renovated Biltmore and the newly finished Coral Casino opened in July 1937, and both have been a Santa Barbara institutions ever since. The O'Dells owned the Biltmore for many years, selling it in the 1970s to the Marriott Hotel chain. About a decade later, in 1987, the Four Seasons hotel chain purchased the property.

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For many years members of the O'Dells lived on The Biltmore grounds in a little cottage, aptly named the O'Dell Cottage. The Craftsman style cottage was designed and built by architect Francis Underhill in 1904 as his personal residence, prior to being a part of what is now The Biltmore. Following the death of the last of the O'Dell family member - in the late 1970s - early 1980s - the cottage was incorporated into The Biltmore Hotel for use as a guest cottage.

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Most recently, Ty Warner purchased the hotel in 2000, and retained the Four Seasons as the hotel operators. Mr. Warner also commenced an extensive plan to renovate and restore The Biltmore to bring it up to its current top notch condition. With the completion of the renovation in 2006, the cottage once known as the O'Dell Cottage is now called the Ty Warner Cottage and is the premier suite for hotel guests.

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The last of our stops on Channel Drive takes us to the Coral Casino. Before we take you inside, we need to give you a little history about this beautiful place.

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Back into the 1930s, one of the early major problems facing the owners of The Biltmore Hotel was a vanishing beachfront. This was the direct result of the newly constructed Santa Barbara breakwater and harbor. The breakwater, which was a necessary part of the harbor design, had the impact of damming the lateral flow of sand along the local beaches. The City of Santa Barbara gained about 10 acres of sandy land west of the breakwater as a result of the construction of the breakwater, but this sand was also essential to the beaches east of the breakwater to replenish sand lost during winter storms. With the loss of a naturally reoccurring sand supply, the beaches east of Santa Barbara shrank dramatically, wreaking havoc on the cabanas next to The Biltmore wall. To deal with this problem, Mr. O'Dell engaged the architect Gardner Dailey to build an art deco themed beach club which he named the Coral Casino. The newly constructed Coral Casino opened in July 1937, along with the re-opening of the just renovated Biltmore Hotel. The Coral Casino, though extensively remodeled by subsequent owners, is still anchored by its faux art deco lighthouse.

After purchasing the Biltmore property in 2000, Ty Warner also commenced an extensive renovation and restoration of the Coral Casino. In doing so, among other improvements he restored the faux rotating beacon to working order (which for many years prior had not been operational), and made public beach access more accessible and attractive. By the end of the project, the Coral Casino, like The Biltmore was brought up to its current top notch condition.

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Lastly, we rounded the corner at Hill Road off Olive Mill and took the loop back to the intersection of Hill and Channel drive. These are a few of the lovely sights we passed along our route on Hill Road.

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Stay tuned for more to come as we make our way from the Coral Casino to Olive Mill Road, but that will be another day and another story.

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

 

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