New Urbanism: an urban design movement which (among other things) promotes more sustainable modes of planned development by encouraging mixed use, increased density and diversified housing types near the downtown core of the city. This serves to discourage reliance on automobile use while encouraging pedestrian, bicycle and public forms of transit.
Red tile roofs, wrought-iron embellishments, earth-tone facades, arched entrances—ever since the city of Santa Barbara rose from the ashes of the 1925 earthquake, these Spanish-Moorish influences have dominated the town’s architectural style. This unified look is largely due to the strict architectural guidelines for El Pueblo Viejo, “The Old Town” historic district in the downtown and waterfront areas first established by the city’s Architectural Board of Review shortly after the earthquake and still in modified operation. According to City of Santa Barbara Senior Planner Jaime Limón, the three Hispanic traditional architectural style types for El Pueblo Viejo include California Adobe, Monterey Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival (1915–1930).
Current chair of the Architectural Board of Review (ABR), Kirk Gradin of Banyan Architects, says, “These guidelines were adopted as part of the city charter in 1960 in order to ‘preserve and enhance the unique heritage and architectural character of the central area of the city.’ In addition to protecting architectural landmarks, the ‘cohesiveness’ of the area is achieved by the regulation of architectural styles. Within the district, it is required that all new buildings and significant remodels of existing structures utilize architectural forms that have evolved out of the Hispanic-Mediterranean tradition, particularly those represented by the white-washed cities of Andalusia in southern Spain.”
Alma del Pueblo and Santa Barbara Public Market
The Alma del Pueblo and Santa Barbara Public Market complex is a prime example of a recent project that meets the strict El Pueblo Viejo architectural standards while serving as a showcase for state-of-the-art 21st-century interior design.
Owner Marge Cafarelli tore down the existing 1959 Art Deco building, which most recently housed a Vons grocery store, and built the Alma del Pueblo condominiums and Santa Barbara Public Market from the ground up. The exterior architecture blends seamlessly with that of the adjacent Arlington Theatre, built in the 1930s. But the building also earned LEED platinum status for its sustainable construction.
“We built a very timeless style of architecture that represents not only Santa Barbara Spanish-Mediterranean-Andalusian architecture, but also high-performance building,” says Cafarelli. The spacious market interior, which drew inspiration from San Francisco’s Ferry Building, public markets in Madrid and London, and Pike Place Market in Seattle, sports an industrial look, with high ceilings, skylights, stainless steel and muted background colors that provide a subtle background canvas on which individual tenants can reflect their own creative displays.
The Alma del Pueblo project also reflects lifestyle desires of many Santa Barbara residents.
“People living downtown and walking to services, that’s important to the overall value of the project for the community and residents,” says Cafarelli. “It’s a gathering place for the community. You want people on the streets, it’s healthy for a city to have eyes on the street, it’s healthy for other retail in the neighborhood…We’ve got people who want to walk to the Apple Store, then pop into the market for dinner where local tenants are doing fun and exciting things with food.”
ABR’s Gradin says, “What puts the public market/Alma Del Pueblo in the ‘new trend’ category is that it fits neatly within the aesthetic guidelines of this historic district, while also incorporating core elements of what (since the 1980s) has been called ‘New Urbanism.’ New Urbanism is an urban design movement which (among other things) promotes more sustainable modes of planned development by encouraging mixed use, increased density and diversified housing types near the downtown core of the city. This serves to discourage reliance on automobile use while encouraging pedestrian, bicycle and public forms of transit.
“In my view, this is the most significant recent trend in public awareness as well as in city planning that has affected, and will continue to affect, the architectural character and livability of Santa Barbara,” says Gradin.
New Urbanism appears to be taking firm root in nearby industrial zones that border El Pueblo Viejo. Buildings here need to conform to city guidelines, but have more flexibility in their exterior look. Architect Anthony Grumbine of Harrison Design says many owners in these zones keep the building shells and play up the industrial roots going back to the early 1900s. But the interiors tend to reflect a decidedly 21st-century contemporary look, with all the high-tech conveniences that go along with it.
“It’s like a New York loft experience,” says Grumbine. “There’s revitalization…a contrast of rough, raw materials with refinement and an entertainment setting.” Many recent designs include extensive use of repurposed materials like old-growth wood, metal and brick. Grumbine says that being environmentally sensitive is a trend that is indicative of our culture and time.“To take the shell and reuse it, to revitalize a building and give it a new twist, that is the trend.” Designs are also incorporating settings that enable people to entertain and socialize. Grumbine says that a number of recent projects are “deep-reaching commentaries on current Santa Barbara culture and lifestyle. It’s a snapshot of us now.”
A very recent example of this architectural trend is The Mill, a collection of businesses on Haley Street that opened in late summer 2015. Darrell and Kirsten Becker, owners of Becker Studios Premium Design and Construction, had their eyes on a cluster of dilapidated buildings on the corner of Laguna and Haley streets for years. The largest was built as a feed mill more than a century ago. Today the corner stands in the heart of Santa Barbara’s manufacturing and design services district, where residents shop and glean ideas at Home Improvement Center, Santa Barbara Design Company and home design showcases. When the opportunity to purchase the cluster arose in 2012, the Beckers jumped on it.
“This corner is zoned for manufacturing, and the Haley corridor architecture is supposed to be Spanish-Mediterranean and/or speak to the historical nature of the environment,” says Darrell.
“Our design scheme was inspired by a desire to restore the main barn building and others to their original state,” Kirsten explains. The Beckers cloaked the main building with repurposed siding from a barn in Wisconsin. A former woodshed in the back and other buildings also reflect the site’s original mill roots.
Apart from the exterior, the Beckers envisioned a social and retail haven that reflected the modern spirit of the city. “We’re renewing what is lovely about Santa Barbara,” says Kirsten. “We wanted a lifestyle place where people of all ages could connect in a manufacturing setting—which in today’s Santa Barbara is making wine or beer, furniture, food…It’s fully complementary, with the things we love all in one place. All the businesses are run by locals who have a passion for their crafts. We have a brewery, a winery, a restaurant, a grab-and-go food outlet, a fitness center, an architectural design firm and our own company. We have music in the courtyards, special events…there’s something for everybody—kids, adults, all generations together.”
Another example of Santa Barbara’s “New Urbanism” trend is 131 Anacapa in the city’s Funk Zone, which encompasses The Lark restaurant, Lucky Penny, Les Marchands wine shop and the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. The historic main building once housed Castagnola Brothers, a fish-processing warehouse built in the 1920s with wide doors to enable workers to load rail cars and trucks with products.
Although the site is just outside El Pueblo Viejo, “Our intent was to honor the historic use and style of building and neighborhood,” says Lark owner Sherry Villanueva. “We were careful to maintain the building and context, honor history, embrace the space…we also wanted to honor Castagnola Brothers’ history by delivering a quality product.” Overall, says Villanueva, “We’re just connecting Santa Barbara with roots that were established long ago. Santa Barbara’s manufacturing today is of lifestyle products, and people want to be a part of it.”
Villanueva kept the exterior of the building and the roof structure intact, and chipped away layers of concrete by hand to reveal brick. At the same time, she replaced every electrical, mechanical, plumbing and structural system to comply with modern standards.
Villanueva is currently working on another nearby project—a restaurant at 202 State Street, this time within El Pueblo Viejo. This means more design guidelines, “but we have the same intent [as with The Lark]—honoring history, embracing the space,” she says. The new restaurant (as yet unnamed) is traditional-Spanish themed inside and out, and even the menu will showcase traditional Spanish dishes.
As more projects loom on the horizon, what can we expect to see in the coming decades?
Local architect Brian Cearnal, AIA, states, “I think the strong trend toward sustainability within the architectural community here and around the world influences our perspectives and is an important part of the recent evolution of our architecture. Not only are the architects who are doing the work evolving, but so are those on the boards reviewing their work.”
He continues, “I don’t think the strong Spanish-Mediterranean roots of our local architecture will ever diminish within our El Pueblo Viejo, but how it is interpreted and how those interpretations are judged must evolve for the sake of future generations so that our architecture is a marker of time.”
This story originally appeared in the winter 2015/16 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.