Address: 505 E. Los Olivos Street
Status: On the Market
I have not been much of a churchgoer in my adult years, preferring to find spirituality in nature, and ponder life’s big questions via conversations rather than through organized religion. But walking through the Mount Calvary Monastery property last week, I was inspired by more than the views and lush gardens. As I felt the stone walls crafted by hand in the 1800s and listened carefully in the chapel, I felt a palpable otherworldly aura that struck me as sacred.
The location alone is deserving of reverence. The property at 505 E. Los Olivos Street boasts the Old Mission Santa Barbara as its next-door neighbor to one side and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History as its neighbor to the rear, just across Mission Creek.
Currently serving as Mount Calvary Monastery, it’s not surprising that this unique property has a rich history.
More than just adjacent to the Mission, it was once part of the Mission property itself before separating in the 1800s. In the late 1870s, local physician Dr. Samuel Knox purchased the property and built its first structures: a large house and a small two-bedroom cottage. The larger home was torn down by the subsequent owner, but the cottage remains today.
In 1885, Rowland and Margaret Hazard and family — renowned Rhode Island industrialists from the East Coast — were vacationing in Santa Barbara and purchased the property as a winter home. Over a number of years, the Hazards constructed both of the existing main houses, one in the 1880s and the other in the 1910s. Originally known as “Mission Hill,” the property became a center of Santa Barbara philanthropic and cultural life. As one example, the Hazard family donated part of their property for the land that is now the Museum of Natural History and grounds.
After the last of the local generation of the Hazard family passed away, their trust eventually transferred the property in 1952 to the Episcopal Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity, who operated it for many years as Saint Mary’s Retreat House for women. Guests attended services at the property’s chapel, which the sisters added in the late 1950s.
The sisters had close ties with the Brothers of the Order of the Holy Cross who ran Mount Calvary Monastery, then located in the foothills above Santa Barbara. When the Tea Fire destroyed the old Mount Calvary property in 2008, the brothers were invited to stay at Saint Mary’s Retreat. In 2013, the property was deeded from the sisters to the Brothers of the Order of the Holy Cross, who began operating it as the revived Mount Calvary Monastery.
Walking through the property today, it is hard to take in the entire five-acre property. The two estate homes built by the Hazard Family are now known as “the monastery house” and the “guest retreat house.” The original two-bedroom cottage built by Dr. Knox in the 1870s is now called the “guest house cottage” and sits between the two main houses. In total, there are 21 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms.
The monastery house from the 1880s has a sprawling two-story farmhouse feel with a formal living room, a grand wooden staircase, and a large covered porch upstairs with a sweeping ocean view. It has several bedrooms upstairs, plus common rooms downstairs for dining, cooking, gatherings, study, and fellowship.
The retreat house from the 1910s is a Tudor-style two-story home with 17 guest rooms along with a living room, library, and den. The chapel is located just across a breezeway from this house and can seat approximately 50 people.
The grounds have meandering pathways and gardens, gazebos and benches, and plenty of viewing areas. One of my favorite spots is a whimsical wooden tea house at one corner of the property that’s reminiscent of a fairy cottage.
A large front lawn with palm trees opens up to ocean views, and huge decks in the rear of the property offer incredible mountain and valley views as the high point of “Mission Hill.” Even the layout of the driveway adds to the serenity, with a one-way entrance that loops past the houses and exits at the bottom of the hill.
This is the first time that this property has ever been publicly offered for sale. Whether purchased as a residential compound or as a retreat or similar facility, the unique location, rich history, and abiding aura of spirituality will accompany it into its next era. The Christmas season seems like an appropriate time for this special property to welcome a new chapter, and for even the Grinches among us to feel the Christmas spirit.
505 East Los Olivos Street in Santa Barbara is listed for sale by Ken Switzer of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties. Reach Ken at (805) 680-4622 or KenSwitzer1@yahoo.com. View a dedicated website at SantaBarbaraHistoricCompound.com.
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