Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate title=
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate
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(Image: House & Garden, April 1, 1906)

By Betsy J. Green

Santa Barbara’s Nature Study Club was fortunate enough to be allowed to wander around one of Montecito’s grandest estates in March 1919. In the words of the local paper, the excursion “was not a bird trip, but it certainly was a lark.”

The estate was “Riso Rivo,” on Cold Springs Road belonging to Charles Eaton. “Riso Rivo” means laughing stream. The local paper wrote, “Charles Eaton has added to the beauties of nature by marvelously devising grottos, rustic bridges across baby canyons, and ferneries of infinite charm.” 

“Riso Rivo” was used as the location for three “Flying A” movies. You can read more about them in my forthcoming book about silent movies made in Montecito. 


Betsy's Way Back When book -- 1918 -- is now available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com. This is the fifth book in her series of the history of Santa Barbara, one year at a time. Learn more at betsyjgreen.com

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bjgreen Mar 19, 2019 06:31 PM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

El Mirador explained - The whole confusion over El Mirador really bugged me, so I dug a little deeper, and finally sorted it out. (1) The El Mirador estate was named and owned by Emma L. Hambleton as early as 1912. It adjoined the Riso Rivo estate. (2) In 1916, Hambleton sold El Mirador to Lolita Armour. (3) Also in 1916, Lolita Armour bought the Riso Rivo estate to make one really large estate. (4) Armour decided to call her entire property El Mirador, and drop the name Riso Rivo.

a-1568540698 Mar 18, 2019 06:45 PM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

Is this the same estate where Charlie Chaplin stayed while having the Montecito Inn built? Although he may have stayed at the Pillsbury Estate, but I am not sure if that estate was even built at that time.

Flicka Mar 17, 2019 05:10 PM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

George F. Hammond I moved to Montecito when his mother, Esther Hammond, bought Bonnymede in 1911. George told me the meat packing people, Armour, Swift, and Cudhay, all had places above E. Valley Road and locals referred to that area as the "butcher block".

Luvaduck Mar 17, 2019 11:56 AM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

Curious: Was CF Eaton a scion of the Eaton paper people and was L Armour related to the Armour meat people? A lot of the early estate owners seem to be descendants of Eastern industrialist families--I suppose b/c their families vacationed here. Fascinating.

bjgreen Mar 17, 2019 12:22 PM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

Good questions! Lolita Armour was related to the meat-packing Armours of Chicago. I can't find any link between Charles F. Eaton and Eaton paper. (I used to live in Chicago, and after I moved here, I was surprised to find a number of Chicago names in the history of Santa Barbara, such as McCormick, Oakleigh Thorne, and Hobart Chatfield-Taylor.)

bjgreen Mar 17, 2019 10:41 AM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

According to Myrick’s book - the Riso Rivo estate was sold to Lolita Armour in 1916. At some point after that, the name was changed to El Mirador, so Rex and El Barbareno are right about that. (Not sure why the 1926 Garden Club visit considered them two different estates. Hmmm.) Are you ready for more naming conundrums? There was another estate in Montecito named El Mirador judging by three articles in “The Morning Press” in 1912 that predate Ms. Armour’s acquisition of Riso Rivo: https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=q&hs=1&r=1&results=1&txq=%22el+mirador%22&dafdq=&dafmq=&dafyq=1912&datdq=&datmq=&datyq=1912&puq=MP&txf=txIN&ssnip=txt&oa=&oa=1&e=-------en--20--1--txt-txIN--------1 Can anybody clear that up for me?

REX OF SB Mar 17, 2019 03:48 PM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

BIRD: Johnny Mitchell was Lolita's adopted son, not brother. He was a local attorney. I'm pretty sure he died a few years ago. Her adopted daughter, Tita Lanning, died here a few months ago

Bird Mar 17, 2019 02:05 PM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

I can't clear it up but if Johnny Mitchell, Lolita Armour's brother, is still around, perhaps he could do so. Thanks for the url --- I did not know of the UCR Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research. Trivia note, how nice to see the adjective "gay" used as it used to be! :)

SBArts Mar 17, 2019 10:36 AM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

Charles Frederick Eaton was an artist and landscape architect. His large estate, Riso Rivo, extended from Cold Spring Road (then a private road called Palm Avenue) to Ashley Road and from Mountain Drive down almost to what is now Lotusland. (Parts of that estate are still preserved at El Mirador). He collected plants from around the world for his own garden and designed other gardens such as those around the old El Encanto Hotel. He and Italian horticulturist Francesco Franceschi founded the Southern California Acclimatizing Association in 1893, which intended “to introduce plants from other countries having a climate similar to ours, and through appropriate culture, make them thrive and bear.”

El Barbareno Mar 17, 2019 08:36 AM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

To Rex of SB - Yes, Riso Rivo was sold by Charles Eaton to Lolita Armour who renamed it El Mirador. As for the plural - Cold Spring vs. Cold Springs - though there are actually two springs, the creek name is singular as applied by the US Geographical Survey. The road name as plural dates back to 1929 when it was renamed from Palm Avenue by the Board of Supervisors to Cold Springs Road. Controversy of the singular vs. plural did ensue following the new naming. Even the maps couldn't decide with some calling it Cold Springs Avenue and others Cold Spring Road (as did the city directories). Though today, the two signs along the road spell it as singular, the real estate listings seem to prefer the plural. Singular for sure is Cold Spring Tavern and if owner Audrey Ovington (RIP) ever heard you utter the plural she'd fine you a dime on the spot!

bjgreen Mar 17, 2019 08:12 AM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

Hi Rex - to answer your question about the relationship between Riso Rivo and El Mirador, I turned to David Myrick’s book “Montecito and Santa Barbara,” vol. 1. On page 216, a chapter about the Garden Club of America visiting Montecito in 1926, mentions the club members visiting the Riso Rivo and Piranhurst estates in the morning, and then going to El Mirador in the afternoon. So, that takes care of the first part of your question. Now on to the Cold SpringS Road v. Cold Spring Road question. Google Maps uses the singular. Other maps use the plural. I pulled out the second volume of Myrick’s book, p. 503, which muddies the waters by stating that although there are two springs, the U.S. Geological Survey uses the name “Cold Spring Creek.” The book notes, “The road uses the plural term, and until formal steps are taken, Montecito will have Cold Spring Creek and Cold Springs Road.” Are you still with me, Rex? I say we should all meet in a park, put the COLD SPRINGS proponents in one line, the COLD SPRING folks in another line, and settle the discussion once and for all with water balloons!

REX OF SB Mar 17, 2019 08:40 AM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

Hi, Betsy—thanks for the information! Wow, I had no idea that the Cold Spring/Springs situation was a real thing. I'd always thought it was Cold Spring (singular) exclusively, but as you say, a Google search for residences there reveals both spellings. Lotusland chooses the singular. I like the idea of a water balloon fight. Manning Park would be a good venue. Oh, and to further add to the mix, the bridge near the top of 154 is officially the Cold Spring (singular) Arch Bridge, and the nearby bar on Stagecoach Road is the Cold Spring Tavern, although pretty much everyone calls them both by the plural.

bjgreen Mar 16, 2019 12:31 PM
Way Back When: Visiting Montecito's “Riso Rivo” Estate

I have 12 photos of the "Riso Rivo" estate in the early 1900s - the pond, the home, and forest paths, as well as some scenes from the movies that were filmed there. So far, no pix of grottos or baby canyons, but I'm still hunting for photos.

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