An Adobe Home with Heart

La Casa Nichita Inspires Centuries of Service

679 Mission Canyon Road | Credit: Betsy J. Green

Address: 679 Mission Canyon Road

Was it something about this 1907 adobe home that inspired its long-term owners to contribute to the community? Fernand Lungren, a famous landscape artist, built the home and lived here for 25 years. He was one of the founders of Santa Barbara’s School of the Arts, and when he passed away, he donated his paintings and artifacts to local institutions. Barbara Tellefson, another owner, lived here for 35 years and created The Unity Shoppe, an organization to benefit the members of our community who need it the most.

In the early 1900s, Santa Barbara adobes were being bulldozed to make way for modern buildings. Down by West Beach, an old adobe was erased to make way for the Potter Hotel. In 1902, the local paper wrote, “The people of Santa Barbara … will witness the speedy change from the picturesque old mound, with its adobe house, to the modern, up-to-date tourist hotel.” But up in Mission Canyon, Lungren and his wife, Nettie (Henrietta), were having their dream home and art studio built of adobe. The Potter Hotel is gone; the adobe at 679 Mission Canyon Road is still here.

Did luck have something to do with the home and its owners? In 1907, the cornerstone for the home was laid on the seventh day of the week, which happened also to be the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the century.

La Casa Nichita

When the home and studio were completed, the local paper described them as “snuggled away in the very heart of Nature, and still within a stone-throw of the arteries of commercial life … the walls are 18 inches thick … every window has a pretty view.” The Lungrens named their home La Casa Nichita, after Nettie’s nickname Nichi.

Portrait of Fernand Lungren | Credit: Courtesy of Art, Design & Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara, 1964.1110

Lungren was well known for his paintings of desert landscapes of the Southwest. One of his fellow artists here in Santa Barbara included Thomas Moran (see my January 2021 column to learn about Moran’s house). You can view some of Lungren’s works in the Borein and His Circle of Friends exhibit at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum from now until January 22, 2022. Lungren willed his paintings to the Santa Barbara State Teachers’ College, now UCSB. 

Many of the Native American cultural items he collected were left to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Some of the items — tiles created by a famous Hopi artist — are still in the house decorating the fireplace surround. Jan Timbrook, curator emeritus of ethnography at the museum, told me, “I hope a future owner will respect the tiles and the distinguished history of the house, La Casa Nichita, as subsequent owners did for so many years.”

In 1920, Lungren helped found Santa Barbara’s School of the Arts and served as a boardmember until he died in 1932. Classes at the school were open to all regardless of their ability to pay. Lungren’s philosophy was, “The greatest thing in the world is love, and love’s best expression is service to humanity.”

Another Owner with Heart

Barbara Tellefson | Credit: Courtesy

This philosophy could apply equally as well to the home’s most recent long-term owner — the late Barbara Tellefson — who lived in the home for 35 years. To quote from her obituary in this paper, “Barbara arrived in Santa Barbara in the mid-1960s – penniless and alone. She secured work as a travel agent and soon after met and married Clair Tellefson, an engineer, in 1969. It was then that Barbara vowed never to forget her roots or life’s rough patches. She began to actively focus on volunteer work to help struggling single mothers raise their children, much as she had.”

In 1987, she founded the Unity Shoppe, an organization that enables Santa Barbara’s low-income families, seniors, people with disabilities, and disaster victims to receive the help they need. On Sunday, December 12, the Unity Shoppe will hold its 35th Annual Holiday Celebration to honor their community of volunteers. Tune in to KEYT-NewsChannel 3 from 4 to 8 p.m.

Please do not disturb the residents of 679 Mission Canyon Road.


679 Mission Canyon Road is for sale, listed by Kathy Hughes of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties. Contact Kathy at kathyhughes7@cox.net or (805) 448-4881. Betsy J. Green is a Santa Barbara historian and author of Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood, Santa Monica Press, 2002. Her website is betsyjgreen.com.


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