It is difficult to imagine, especially considering the beautiful and gentile environment that exudes in Montecito today, that a 150 years ago the area was better known as a haven for bandits and highway robbers! They would hide in the vast oak groves and verdant canyons, preying on traffic on the coast route between the towns that developed around the Spanish built Missions.
by the end of the 1860s the bandit gangs were gone, and other settlers arrived, including, interestingly, many from Italy. They found an area reminiscent of their homes in Italy, they built farms and gardens similar to those which they had left behind.
Around the end of the 19th century, rich tourists from eastern United States began to buy land in the area: it was near enough to Santa Barbara for essential services and was beautiful, secluded, boasted perfect weather. Montecito had several nearby hot springs that became well known for health ailments – plus, at the time, land was cheap.
From the 1920′s through the 1930′s many wealthy
Easterners came and built large, lavish, estates in Montecito. Noted architects, Reginald Johnson, Joseph Plunkett, Lutah Riggs, Winsor Soule, Carlton Winslow, George Washington Smith, Adison Mizner were among the creative sources that provided an architectural style and integrity to the area. They partnered with landscape notables, like Lockwood de Forest, to create classic and lasting gardens. The Italian stone masons, who had immigrated to the area at the early part of the century, created stonework that still exists today.
Most of the early inhabitants made their fortunes elsewhere. They migrated to this area to live the California dream lifestyle, often to escape harsher weather regions or they came for health reasons, but many came to raise their families in this ideal environment. Montecito was as close to paradise as they could get. Some will say the grandness of old Montecito was due mostly to the ideals and large vision of these early residents.
Another key element to establishing the unique quality was the street layout design for Montecito. The streets are not laid in grids. They were purposely designed with narrow and winding lanes to slow traffic down, not to move people as fast as possible from place to place.
After WW II, the fortunes of many declined and for many the upkeep and maintenance of these grand estates became increasingly difficult. Many of the larger properties were broken into smaller sections, parcels sold off and for the most part the old homes fell into disrepair. It was not until the 1980′s that a small visionary group of people began to buy and restore these old homes and whatever land and gardens still remained.
A renaissance began. Montecito started to re-invent itself. The estates, large and small, the gardens vast and intimate began to be restored and coveted. People, not only from Southern California, but also throughout the United States and indeed, throughout world, saw this area as the haven offering an unrivaled beauty and quality lifestyle.
With the ocean on one side, the mountains on the other, there is a finite geographical limitation to the quality real estate. Prices escalated rapidly.
Today, Montecito has retained the character acquired early in the 20th century, an area of exclusive estates and second homes and exquisite lifestyle.