After years of unofficial historical recognition, Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos has been officially nominated for designation as a county Historical Landmark. On January 13, the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance announced that they would be submitting the nomination to the County’s Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission (HLAC) for consideration. The Valley Alliance has proposed that the protected area include the tavern itself, the cottages, the historic water tower, specimen trees, and the site of the Keenan Hartley House. The requested protection of the area as a whole is reportedly rooted in the importance of the complete property as a reflection of a historical time period.
Built in 1886, Mattei’s Tavern (originally called Central Hotel) is believed by many to qualify as an historical landmark not only because of its age, but also because of its unofficial but widespread recognition as a “landmark.” One of most familiar historic sites in the valley, Mattei’s was the social center of Santa Ynez Valley from the 1890s through the 1930s. Beloved by many, it is widely believed that the designation of the property as a historical landmark has been a long time coming.
In 1997, the Santa Barbara County Historical Landmark Advisory Committee decided in a unanimous vote to “designate the entire Mattei’s Tavern property as a Place of Historical Merit.” However, the designation was never finalized due to an unfinished paperwork process. The committee’s most recent decision triggered much confusion in the community since most people believed that the tavern was in fact already an official historic landmark.
A lot of concern has been raised by the property owners’ proposed plans to develop a hotel with approximately 60 rooms throughout one- and two-story cottages. Both residents and visitors have objected to the possible changes to the tavern structure and its surrounding area. One valley resident said in a letter to HLAC, “I would hate to see the Tavern be altered in any such a way that it would diminish this rich history of Los Olivos and our Santa Ynez Valley.” Many share this sentiment, and HLAC has received a variety of letters urging the protection of the historical area.
While some see the nomination as a way to protect Mattei’s from potential changes, the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance has denied any connection between their efforts and the current owners’ planned developments for the property. “The application was not about the contemplated development,” said Valley Alliance Coordinator Mark Preston, “but was instead about the historical merit.”
“Becoming a landmark doesn’t mean it can’t be altered or changed,” said HLAC Chair John Woodward, going on to explain that while changes are possible, they must be reviewed and approved by HLAC. If the landmark nomination is successful, Woodward estimates that the process will be completed sometime in April or May, likely before the approval of any development plans. For those looking to preserve the unaltered area, this could mean there is a chance that the changes may never happen, but currently nothing has been finalized one way or the other.