Fabled Gables: 1620 Grand Avenue
Original Owner: E.M. and Elizabeth Beckman
Year Built: 1887
Located in Santa Barbara’s Riviera, this grand mansion was one of the first built in what was once known as Hawley Heights, named after the businessman who first developed the area into a residential neighborhood.
In the fall of 1886, Walter Hawley arrived in Santa Barbara from the San Francisco Bay Area and acquired several land holdings from the estate of Colonel W.W. Hollister, who had died the year before. One of Hawley’s intentions was to develop the open hills east of Mission Santa Barbara into residential lots. Hawley’s improvements to the hills included planting trees, installing sewers, laying out streets, and installing two bridges. By 1887, the Southern Pacific Railroad brought northbound service from Los Angeles, signaling a land boom in Santa Barbara and Hawley’s uptown enclave.
Elizabeth Lamb was the wife of a solicitor (aka attorney) in Norwich, England, and became widowed when the youngest of her three children was a babe in arms. Upon her husband’s passing, she immigrated to Duluth, Minnesota, where she married wealthy retired gentleman E.M. Beckman in the mid-1880s. At that time, Santa Barbara was a favorite locale for wealthy retirees from the Midwest to winter, and upon their arrival to the area, the Beckmans immediately fell in love with Santa Barbara. By 1886, they decided to become permanent townspeople in the community.
Built in 1887, their home was designed with magnificent cabinetry, wood paneling, and ornate marble fireplaces on the inside, while the outside grounds maintained a carriage house with stables and a roomy hayloft. The outbuilding, seen in the far right in the archive photograph, was later converted into a private residence at 1615 Loma Street, a road which did not exist at the time the mansion was built on Grand Avenue. The Beckmans maintained the estate until E.M. Beckman’s passing around the turn of the century, when the estate was sold.
Around 1915, the residence was extensively renovated by one of the most glamorous film actresses of the silent era — who was under contract by Santa Barbara’s Flying A Studio — Mary Miles Minter and her Broadway actress mother, Charlotte Shelby. Together, the mother/daughter duo stripped the Victorian gingerbread trimmings — including its bay windows, the lovely tower, the finials, and ridgepole decorations — and converted it into its current French-inspired appearance. In 1921, rancher E.L. Patterson bought the residence and lived there until about 1927. After that time, a series of tenants occupied the mansion, including a sorority in the 1950s.
Today, most of the fireplaces are still intact, but the beautiful woodwork the mansion was noted for has been remodeled or painted over. The stone wall fronting Grand Avenue, built by Italian artisans, is still maintained. In the archive photo, the area where Elizabeth Beckman stands has since been replaced with a flat-roofed, street-level garage. The garage’s rooftop patio and the many windows from the residence still offer the magnificent ocean and city views that are the trademark of the Riviera.