Kellam de Forest: 1926-2021

Kellam de Forest, a Santa Barbara native son with distinguished roots, died on January 19 from complications of COVID-19 at Cottage Hospital. He was born in that hospital on November 11, 1926, to noted landscape architects Elizabeth Kellam and Lockwood de Forest Jr. Kellam devoted the last decades of his life to preserving the aesthetic of the city they had helped design after the devastating 1925 earthquake, and for planners and historic preservationists alike, Kellam’s mere presence at a meeting raised the importance of the effort.

Both of Kellam’s parents were active in the community and instrumental in the rebuilding of post-earthquake Santa Barbara. His father was involved in planning and shaping the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (where Kellam’s maternal grandfather, Frederick Kellam, was also active as a boardmember) from its founding in 1926, and also designed the grounds of the Museum of Art and the Lobero Theatre, among others. His mother left her mark on many civic institutions and, near the end of her life, was the supervising landscape architect for Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden. His paternal grandfather, Lockwood de Forest, was a painter and interior designer important in the Aesthetic Movement who moved to Santa Barbara in 1915 to a home on Laguna Street.

Kellam stands on the back of his father’s converted work vehicle called “The Buffalo” and built on a Ford chassis, circa 1937, with his baby brother “Lockie” in the stroller. | Credit: de Forest Family Archive

Born eight weeks premature and weighing only two pounds, Kellam was the smallest baby ever to survive at Cottage at that time; and survive he did, to our great good fortune. The de Forests lived in the home and garden his parents designed on Todos Santos Lane in Santa Barbara’s Mission Canyon, and Kellam attended nearby Roosevelt School before enrolling in Crane School. He attended high school at Thacher School in Ojai (also his father’s alma mater), where he once astonished the faculty by riding his horse home for the weekend.

After graduation Kellam served in the army as a supply clerk stationed in Pullman, Washington, during World War II. He returned to study at Yale University and graduated with his history degree in 1949. He was working at the San Ysidro Ranch front desk when he met Margaret (Peggy) MacCormick. They married in 1952 and moved to Los Angeles, where Kellam established an independent business conducting legal, factual, and historical research for writers and producers in the nascent television industry. Typical for the time, much of his earliest work went uncredited, but throughout his career, he worked closely with producers, writers, directors, costumers, art directors, and prop masters in the collective spirit of the medium. It was during this time he and a young writer named Rod Serling became friends; de Forest Research would contribute later to the original Twilight Zone series.

One of his early projects was for the television show The Untouchables (1959-63). Mob boss Al Capone’s widow repeatedly challenged scriptwriters on their portrayals of her husband’s many crimes. In the days before the internet, de Forest Research dug up the archived newspapers and other records to verify that the episodes were factual and protect the studio from Mrs. Capone’s threatened lawsuits.

Always an automobile fan, Kellam in a 1946 project. | Credit: de Forest Family Archive

De Forest Research had access to the RKO Pictures photo archives, and later the MGM library, to which Kellam added to amass an extensive collection of still images. Using all his professional resources, he showed art directors what historic streetscapes, vehicles, and costumes looked like for their film projects. During his Hollywood period, Kellam developed a dogged and unrelenting method of research that was a later hallmark of his historic preservation work in Santa Barbara.

Over the next four decades in Hollywood, de Forest Research contributed to the authenticity and verisimilitude of hundreds of motion pictures, including acclaimed classics. The work on Chinatown (1974) was especially close to his heart because it dealt with Southern California water rights, which was the focus of a research paper while Kellam was a Yale student. Later in his lectures at UCLA, Kellam would use his suggestion of a main character’s name as an example of “the way Hollywood works.” Reviewer Pauline Kael had imbued Kellam’s suggestion (uncredited, of course) of “Noah Cross” with biblical implications and made his tiny detail into a big deal. Another classic, All the President’s Men (1976), is the rare film for which viewers will see “de Forest Research” in the rolling credits.

The company was also behind the scenes for thousands of television episodes, beginning with The Untouchables and Profiles in Courage (1964-65), and continuing through several generations of Star Trek. One of Kellam’s enduring contributions to popular culture was suggesting the name “Archie Bunker” as the lead character for the long-running sitcom All in the Family (1971-79) when the name the producers suggested conflicted with an actual resident of Queens. For the entertainment industry, the “de Forest Report” set industry standards for the legal clearance and errors/omissions work that are now part and parcel to virtually every script in production.

After Kellam retired in 1992, he and his beloved Peggy returned to Todos Santos Lane in Santa Barbara, where Kellam dedicated the rest of his long life as a tireless advocate for the post-1925 Santa Barbara his parents helped create. A city staff member recalled, “One time about 10 years ago, I called Kellam with information related to a project he was interested in, and his wife, Margaret, answered the phone. She elegantly called out, ‘Kellam, my darling … telephone!’ I will never forget that.”

Kellam reunited with “The Buffalo” during the Pearl Chase Society 2005 Historic Homes Tour. | Credit: Pearl Chase Society

An active boardmember of the Pearl Chase Society and longtime chair of its Preservation Committee, Kellam frequently attended meetings of the city’s Architectural Board of Review (ABR), Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC), and Planning Commission whenever historic structures or properties were on the agendas, particularly if they were jeopardized by new development. His attendance was always noted as commissioners braced for his remarks.

Kellam’s steadfast energy and enthusiasm in the cause of historic preservation was well-known. He was easily recognizable as the elder statesman and activist spokesperson for local preservation. In 2010, Kellam received the Pearl Chase Historic Preservation and Conservation Award from the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.

Two years later he was named by the Santa Barbara Independent a “Local Hero” as a historic preservationist. At his then-young age of 86, the acknowledgement foretold he would remain a preservationist to the end and historic in his own right. Following that, Kellam was awarded Santa Barbara City’s 2013 joint ABR/HLC Saint Barbara Award as a civic activist and historic preservation advocate. He was awarded the Santa Barbara Beautiful Jacaranda Award for Outstanding Community Service in 2016.

Upon news of his passing, the accolades moved from plaques to paeans. The comments of many official board, committee, and commission members recall the pithy signature cadence of his public remarks and their own humble respect.

Due to his longevity and personal family history, Kellam was one of the few people who could advise with authority on historical matters.

There was no small talk with Kellam. He went right to the point, and his mind’s momentum was always several steps ahead of me

For many years, he addressed HLC with comments that provoked me to think to myself, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ or ‘Gosh, he’s right on.’ Kellam’s brilliant mind never wavered nor missed a beat toward the mark. He taught ABR, HLC, and the community what our town is really about.

I also would listen carefully and then feel embarrassed that I had not had his insight.

He was fearless in his endeavors to preserve our community’s beauty and places of historical significance. Nothing could stop his desire to be the best voice for preservation. For some reason I thought he would just keep on going forever.

Kellam was a consistent voice for the value of our local history. No one was more vigilant in protecting our heritage. We should all remind ourselves of that and do our best to carry on, following Kellam’s example.

Kellam was known and clearly loved for his sharp, inquisitive mind, his exceptional memory, and his dogged research skills, as well as his gentle dignity. He will be sadly missed by his three children, Ann, Carmaig, and Elizabeth de Forest; their spouses; and six grandchildren, along with a great-grandchild-to-be. He will be missed also by his many dear friends in Santa Barbara, especially in the preservation community for whom he served as historic memory and conscience for the past 25 years.

Pictured with Kellam and Peggy de Forest at their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 2002 at San Ysidro Ranch are the de Forest children Carmaig, Elizabeth, and Ann. | Credit: Courtesy

The family requests donations in Kellam’s name be made to The Pearl Chase Society, or PO Box 92121, Santa Barbara, CA 93190; or to the Cottage Hospital Foundation,


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