Historic Arcady Estate

Italianate 1905 Arcady Villa

Credit: Rafael Bautista

Address: 833 Knapp Drive
Status: For Sale
Price: $5,350,000

Last week, I was invited to tour the home at 833 Knapp Drive; the original home on the historic Arcady estate in Montecito. The Italianate Mission-style villa was built in 1905 by artist Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, who established Arcady, a 70-acre estate named after Arcadia, a pastoral wilderness of Greek mythology. This is the stuff local legends are made of.


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In 1911, George Owen Knapp, president of Union Carbide, moved to Santa Barbara from Chicago with his wife, Louise, after his doctors suggested that the climate would benefit his health. They purchased Arcady from Whitehead and spent a year expanding the estate, with the instruction to architect E. Russel Ray to “not to disturb one timber” of the original construction. One of his stated goals of the renovation was “substantial comfort rather than gaudy embellishment,” and the home as it stands today bears witness to that. 

Photo: Rafael Bautista

Walking through the front door of 833 Knapp Drive, I was immediately struck by both the grand scale of the house and the compelling views. The home sits on a coveted hilltop, and the ocean views are focal points from the first step into the foyer and remain a consistent backdrop throughout. 

From the formal entry, the living room lies to the left, with the dining room to the right and the kitchen beyond. At over 800 square feet, the living room is massive, with a dramatic fireplace, hardwood floors, and beautiful vaulted 20-foot ceilings. 

Photo: Rafael Bautista

This room was Whitehead’s art studio, and Knapp used it to house his Aeolian pipe organ. Longtime locals tell stories of myriad parties held at the villa, including organ recitals with trees outside swaying in time to the music, courtesy of carefully orchestrated fans. Whether then or now, this room was made for entertaining. 

The living room opens out to a south-facing loggia that runs almost the length of the entire house. This generous patio space flows perfectly from the living and dining rooms as well as the kitchen, allowing guests to circulate throughout. It’s hard not to gravitate toward this indoor-outdoor room that overlooks the grounds, the sparkling swimming pool, and the compelling ocean view beyond. 

Before moving on, a curving wooden staircase in one corner of the living room caught my attention. It leads up to a loft space that originally housed the organ. Overlooking the action below, this room sports a built-in daybed that acts as a most glamorous reading nook, and an en-suite powder room. One could stay sequestered in this secret hideaway for days. 

Another staircase leads from the living room to the basement, which houses a wine cellar rivaling any that I’ve seen, along with a drive-in feature, offering the ultimate convenience.

Back on the main floor, the formal dining room boasts ornate carvings and another grand fireplace. The spacious proportions continue into the kitchen, which was recently upgraded with gourmet appliances, stunning limestone floors, and a glass-walled breakfast nook overlooking the gardens.

Upstairs are three bedrooms, including the master, which enjoys a private balcony to take advantage of the view. A fourth bedroom downstairs is currently used as an office, while a separate one-bedroom guest house offers a kitchen, fireplace, and its own driveway and entrance.

The gardens of Arcady were originally famous for the flowers, shrubs, and trees “collected worldwide from Argentina to Zanzibar.” Today, the acre of manicured gardens maintains that legacy of natural beauty, as well as more modern features including a barbecue area, an in-ground hot tub, and a charming gazebo. 

In his time at Arcady, Knapp was known as one of Santa Barbara’s five “hilltop barons,” a group of influential businessmen who made lasting philanthropic contributions to our area. Knapp was instrumental in the development of Cottage Hospital and Sansum Clinics as world-class medical facilities. He wrote in the hospital’s 1920 annual report that “the poorest charity patient in the hospital must have as good attention and care … as the patient with unlimited wealth,” an edict that is more critical in today’s environment than ever. 

I drove away from this fairytale estate, through the impressive gates of Arcady and back down the hill, feeling fortunate to have had the chance to visit this piece of Santa Barbara history. 

833 Knapp Drive is for sale in Montecito by Ashley Anderson, Paul Hurst, and Joyce Enright of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties. Reach Ashley and Paul at both@AndersonHurst.com, (805) 618-8747, or (805) 680-8216. Reach Joyce at joycee@bhhscal.com or (805) 570-1360. Visit 833knapp.com for more information. 

Historic details researched through the Santa Barbara Historical Society, Montecito and Santa Barbara, Volume II: The Days of the Great Estates by David Myrick, George Owen Knapp: A Splendid Secret by Benjamin Taylor and Linda Bresnan, articles by Neal Graffy, and Wikipedia.


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