Consider for a minute, a site in the heart of Santa Barbara’s El Pueblo Viejo… the north-east corner of Santa Barbara and De la Guerra Streets. Now a verdant terminus to the street containing both the City Hall, De la Guerra Plaza, and the Casa de la Guerra.
In past centuries such an important site would have been the location of a civic building, perhaps a church or monument - but a present a park like vista framing the mountains beyond.
It is a site surrounded by significant examples of Spanish Colonial Architecture - The Presidio, Casa de la Guerra, El Quartel, Cañedo Adobe, Oreña Adobe… Earth bound, rustic, sparse, simple, crude structures, made mostly of mud - The adobes of the Spanish Empire’s/Mexico’s frontier.
So how would one design a structure “compatible” with the adjoining Historic Resources? Perhaps be inspired by the surrounding adobes, or by the later Monterey Style, or by the simplicity of the El Paseo village, El Paseo Office Building, or any number of the rustic and simple examples of the Spanish Colonial Revival. Or perhaps emulating the simplicity of the more recent Historical Museum across the street.
And “compatibility” was among the criteria requested by the Historic Landmarks Commission when a project recently appeared before this commission. As well as “rustic” and request to “simplify” - compatibility to adjacent resources, the historic district, and adjoining neighborhood.
The design that has prevailed, despite numerous comments by the public, suggestions, comments, and conditions by the HLC, is at best an architectural muddle and too much stuffed into too little.
A muddle of elements, some rustic, others inspired by the florid excesses of the Mexican Porfiriano Style - wood balconies, and an iron bridge, florid iron curlicues, a bit of this and a bit of that. A building oozing out of its shell here and there in a failed attempt to disguise the bulk. All topped by a cacophony of tiles in a hodgepodge of roof forms.
Why has this prevailed? Perhaps the inability of the designer to listen to the concerns of others, perhaps a lack of architectural vocabulary…. But also lack of the HLC to provide clear inspiration, and emphatic demand for a design worthy of this site.
One esteemed commissioner commented “one day we will walk by this building and be proud of it”…