Fabled Gables: 5490 Hollister Avenue, Goleta
Original Owners: Joseph and Lucy Sexton
Year Built: 1880
Architect: Peter J. Barber
Known as the Sexton House, this Italianate-style home was originally owned by famed area nursery owner and horticulturist Joseph Sexton. The son of a gold-rush entrepreneur, Sexton began his nursery business in the late 1860s on a portion of the newly subdivided Rancho La Goleta. Located between the ocean and foothills in the Goleta Valley, it was considered a prime sea-to-mountain agricultural spread.
In addition to profitable land holdings along Hollister Avenue, the Sexton family — which consisted of Joseph, wife Lucy, and 12 children — maintained the well-respected Santa Barbara Nursery and Floral Depot on lower State Street. By 1880, the family had outgrown its modest two-story farmhouse nearby and commissioned noted architect Peter J. Barber to build this family compound.
Beyond his work in Santa Barbara’s South County, Joseph Sexton established himself as a boundary-pushing horticulturist who sought to transform Southern California’s chalky crossroads and immense grazing land into highly profitable farms and nurseries. According to Victoria Padilla’s Southern California Gardens: An Illustrated History, his Santa Barbara–based enterprise “was considered to be one of the most complete and extensive” in the United States at the height of the Victorian era, with both imports and exports taking place between Hawai‘i, Asia, Australia, Chile, and southern Europe.
In 1992, the Sexton family estate was deeded into the National Register of Historic Places. It is now open for tours, and you can make an appointment by calling Pacifica Suites at (805) 683-6722.