Address: 421 East Figueroa Street
Status: On the Market
I love walking through Santa Barbara’s neighborhoods and imagining the stories of the houses themselves and the people who have lived there. The adobe home at 421 East Figueroa Street contains enough history to fill volumes, its saga entwined with that of Santa Barbara itself. Barely visible from the road, the house sits in the middle of the block, up a slope, and behind a garden wall. As I walked toward it last week, I felt transported back in time. As I became acquainted with the home’s background, I realized that this feeling was warranted.
As the home is a designated city landmark, historic documentation pinpoints its construction date as “no later than 1852.” Details that helped determine this date include square-cut nails in the windows and front door, early 19th-century glass, and original hardware, including the front doorknob. A pitched, wood-shingled roof and exposed exterior walls differentiate it from most traditional adobe construction of the period.
Also on the front door, the initials CK are carved into the lower left doorframe. This is a signature, preserved through the years, of Carlos Kirk, son of Francis Kirk and Angustias Arrellanes, the home’s namesakes.
José Teodoro Arrellanes was one of the original Spanish soldiers who founded the Santa Barbara Presidio in 1782, along with Pablo de la Guerra, José Ortega, and José Carrillo, whose familiar names are memorialized all over town.
Arrellanes was awarded two land grants from the Mexican government: Rancho El Rincon in 1835 and Rancho Guadalupe in 1840. Cattle ranching was lucrative, and the family’s wealth grew. During this time, José Arrellanes was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the city.
Arrellanes had three sons, including Francisco, born in 1814. Francisco married Barbara Dominguez, the 12-year-old daughter of a prominent family whose roots also went back to the founding of the Presidio. Francisco and Barbara had seven children, including a daughter named Maria de las Angustias Crisogona. Known as Angustias, she was born in 1848, the same year that California officially passed from Mexican to United States rule.
By the 1850s, the extended Arrellanes family owned several houses in the downtown area. In the 1860s, they purchased the block that includes the adobe at 421 East Figueroa Street.
In 1866, Angustias married Francis Marion Kirk, a carpenter from Indiana. Francisco and Barbara sold a portion of the block, including the adobe home, to Angustias and Francis in 1868, shortly after the birth of their first son, Carlos. The couple went on to have a total of six children. When Francis died in 1886, Angustias sold her portion of the block, including the house, to Mrs. D.E. Lawrence for $100.
Over the ensuing century, the home passed through many owners and saw numerous renovations. While the interior was heavily modified, the exterior was left largely unchanged. In 2002, 421 East Figueroa Street was purchased by local architect J. Allen Zimmer. By this time, the home had fallen into disrepair. Zimmer conserved this historic landmark through an extensive, careful renovation.
He undertook a complete rebuild of the house with exacting specifications — maintaining the historic adobe portion and updating the rest of the house. Additions included thick, solid wood doors; skylights; radiant heat under the concrete floors; two fireplaces; two fountains; and huge walk-in closets. The kitchen was redone with upgraded appliances, a prep sink, and a wine cooler. A detached artist’s studio, separated from the main house by a charming courtyard, was also updated.
While I walked around the property today, the old-world charm captured my attention and my heart. The home and gardens have been lovingly preserved and cared for by Zimmer’s three daughters, Kirsten, Maud, and Augden. I had the pleasure of meeting two of them and hearing them reminisce about the property.
A vertical window was almost certainly a doorway at one time, and local lore has it that priests from the Mission would travel to the house to perform wedding ceremonies, using the window as an altar. A wooden wall in one bathroom contains dates and names from previous owners carved into its face, including one of the members of the Kirk family from 1862.
The gardens were my favorite part of getting to know this property. Blooming succulents jostle in a lush setting of curving pathways and multiple intimate patios and alcoves. The entire outdoor space exudes a serene, welcoming ambience. The longer I lingered, the more I wanted to stay.
It seems fitting that this three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath landmark is nestled behind a garden wall, so that its unique history is only hinted at from the street. Passersby can catch a glimpse and make up their own stories, feeling the allure of old Santa Barbara that emanates from this lovely home.
421 East Figueroa Street is listed for sale in Santa Barbara by Reyne Stapelmann of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties. Reach Reyne at firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 705-4353. Historical information included in this article came from reports provided by the current owners.