1910 Laguna St. | Credit: Betsy J. Green

Address: 1910 Laguna Street

Tucked behind a hedge on upper Laguna Street sits an unusual home that looks very European, but definitely not Spanish. The only other home here that is similar is the Glendessary mansion at 2620 Glendessary Lane in Mission Canyon. Both were built in the late 1890s by the same builder — Christoph Tornöe. Both have light-colored stucco walls framed with dark brown boards that form decorative patterns.

The Glendessary house is Tudor style, which is based on a style derived from homes in England. The 1910 Laguna Street home is Swiss chalet style and resembles picturesque homes in the Alps of Switzerland. There is still a sandstone hitching post in front of the house, and there was originally a stable at the back of the property.

Credit: The Swiss Chalet in America, Fritz Ehrsam, 1916

A Master Builder

Tornöe was known for building homes that were sturdy as well as attractive. It was said that one house inspector who found Tornöe’s name on the rafter of a house said, “You can’t wreck this house; it was built by Tornöe.”

Credit: Betsy J. Green

Tornöe came from a Danish family and grew up in Germany, where his father was a shipbuilder. In addition to building homes, he was also a talented metalworker. He was known for hand-hammered articles, which he produced in his art metal studio in Mission Canyon. The studio was located north of Foothill near present-day Tornoe Road.

The first family known to have lived in the home was a retired British Army officer and his wife. Colonel Thomas O. Wingate had served in India many years. He and his wife rented the home when they first settled in Santa Barbara. In his obituary, it was mentioned that the colonel “leaves a long and stainless record of service for his country.”

One of the most interesting features of the home is the sculpture of a face set into a stone wall. Because Tornöe was Danish, I headed up to Solvang to the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art to see if they could tell me more about the face. “It’s the Green Man,” the staff told me. He is sort of the male equivalent of Mother Nature.

In 1902, Christoph Tornöe sold the home to Joseph F. Smart and his wife, Alice. I found the deed for this transaction, which mentioned that the property sold for $100. This was not a typo, and it was not the actual price either. Because deeds are public records that are available for anyone (like me) to look at, many people put a token amount on the deed. The actual amount of money paid for the property would have been in a contract of sale, which is not filed with the county.

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The Long-Term Owners

Credit: Betsy J. Green

After a few years, the Smart family sold the home to Michael and Jane Fox in 1905. Members of this family lived here for more than 75 years. Michael and Jane were Irish immigrants who had a 500-acre farm in the northern part of the county. The local paper wrote that they were “one of the pioneers of Santa Barbara County.” They had arrived in the county in the early 1850s and were ready to retire and enjoy their golden years in the Laguna Street home with their son, Basil; their daughter, Katy; and their four grandkids.

Credit: Betsy J. Green

The Fox family also owned the Fox Oil Company, which had wells in the Lompoc area. Basil was in charge of the family’s oil interests and was also a member of the Santa Barbara City Council in the 19-teens.

In 1907, after settling in their new home, Michael and Jane Fox celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. The local paper reported, “The house had been appropriately decorated with golden-hued blossoms and foliage.”

The current owners, who asked that their names not be published, have lived in the home since 1998. They told me they enjoy the home’s lovely vintage metalwork and carved wood features. They also pointed out the Roman numerals that are carved on the home’s wood trim.

Please do not disturb the residents of 1910 Laguna Street. 

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.

Credit: Betsy J. Green

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