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Question: I’m interested in the history of the Hotel Riviera.


The architecture of Santa Barbara has much more to offer than the seemingly ubiquitous Spanish Colonial Revival with its red tile roofs and white walls. Dotted throughout the city’s neighborhoods are superb examples of an architecture that flourished from the 1890s into the 1920s, especially in California. One of the most interesting examples of this Craftsman style is the Hotel de Riviera at 125 West Carrillo Street.

The arts and crafts movement in the United States developed from its British counterpart in the late 19th century. Looking to the medieval artisan guilds for inspiration, members of the movement emphasized the importance of handicrafts and decorative arts, as opposed to the fine arts such as painting and sculpture. Ceramics, furniture, textiles, metal work, and bookbinding were just some of the embraced mediums, with the idea that the designer of a piece should be its maker as well. A most important figure in transplanting these ideals to the U. S. was Gustav Stickley, who set up his arts and crafts workshops in upper New York State in the late 1890s and launched, in 1901, Craftsman Magazine, which became an important vehicle in spreading the philosophy of the movement.

The architectural component of the arts and crafts movement came to be known as Craftsman style. Craftsman style stressed the importance of a building’s relationship with its surroundings. The demarcation between outdoors and indoors was blurred by the use of natural building materials, such as wood, stone, and tile, and the frequent use of large windows and porches. Landscaping played an important role in the attempt to achieve this melding of structure and nature. California became an especially important center for the arts and crafts movement and Santa Barbara, with its beautiful natural setting, soon became home to a vibrant arts and crafts movement.

In late 1914, a permit was issued to Millie Bern and Carl Holstrum to build a two-story hotel at a cost of $15,000. Completed the following year, the main hotel building was built of redwood with a cut stone porch on the bottom floor and an open-air porch (later enclosed) on the second floor. The low gable roof and brackets under the roof overhang are both common features of the Craftsman style. Throughout the years, vines grew to cover much of the building’s fa┬žade.

Originally the hotel lot, since much reduced, included impressive gardens and featured an aviary and a pond with foot-long goldfish. Rocking chairs were placed on the lawn for guests’ comfort. From the beginning, the hotel was both residential and for tourists; rooms could be booked by the day, week, or month. The hotel was usually listed under “Apartments” in the city directory. Among the better-known residents was the famed ethnologist, John P. Harrington, who conducted seminal studies of the Chumash Indians.

The hotel had a number of rules to ensure occupant safety. For instance, guests were warned not to use gasoline in their rooms “in any form.” Gambling was also forbidden and the use of any electrical appliances in a room would incur additional charges. Finally, laundering, cooking, and smoking in bed (the latter could cause a “conflagration”) were also taboo. In the early 1930s, the going rate for a single was $1.50 a day; each additional person cost $1.

The apartment hotel went through the hands of a number of owners until the late 1980s when the Community Housing Corporation purchased it for $900,000, refurbished it, and leased it to the Vietnam Veterans of America as a residence for veterans suffering from mental trauma. The City of Santa Barbara designated the building a Structure of Merit in 1981.

Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Society, will answer your questions about Santa Barbara’s history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

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