Queen of the Riviera
One of the First Riviera Residences
Address: 1538 Alameda Padre Serra
Status: On the market
Alameda Padre Serra — or APS, as the post office purportedly prefers us to use — is one of the most well-known streets in Santa Barbara; a landmark road that bisects the hillside, separating the lower Riviera from the sprawling upper Riviera proper. APS was originally the route of streetcar lines that were laid in 1910 as a state-mandated prerequisite for the construction of the Normal School, the precursor of UC Santa Barbara. The streetcar already ran from downtown Santa Barbara to the Old Mission; this extension ensured that residents in this nascent neighborhood would be able to travel into town.
As Walker A. Tompkins observed in his well-regarded history of Santa Barbara neighborhoods, “The flowing curves at the west end of Alameda Padre Serra today mark the old streetcar right of way, the curves being essential to provide a gradient which electric cars could negotiate.”
That rich local history was on my mind last week as I drove up to APS to visit the landmark home which stands at 1538 Alameda Padre Serra. It was built in 1914, the same year that the Normal School opened, a time when the area was being planned, landscaped, and connected to the rest of the community spread out below. This home was reportedly one of the first three homes on the Riviera.
The home stands on a prominent corner, its stark white façade peeking proudly above the surrounding greenery atop the hill. The home’s blocky angles provide a rare local example of secessionist architecture. Only a couple of houses in Santa Barbara are drawn from this school, which was founded by Gustav Klimt and others as a movement related to Art Nouveau. The secessionist style embraced geometric and abstract, organic designs. This style and this specific home were a distinct departure from other homes being built locally during this period.
The spacious interior of the five-bedroom, three-bath home features beautiful craftsman details such as patterned hardwood floors, three fireplaces, and built-in woodwork, exemplifying the charm of the era. More than 3,400 square feet of living space spans three stories plus a full 400-square-foot basement down below.
Wide front stairs lead up to a covered porch that opens into a grand foyer, with a library to the left and living room to the right. Both rooms are sure to be warm gathering places, with windows onto dramatic views over the city, harbor, and ocean beyond. These views give the American Riviera prime bragging rights, and this home enjoys them magnificently.
The living room leads to a central dining room, with the kitchen beyond. A laundry room plus one bedroom and a full bath complete the ground floor in a circular floorplan that is a preview of the layout upstairs.
Upstairs is an adventure. Anyone who visits is bound to get lost at least once while acclimating to this grand residence. Three bedrooms, two baths, a den, a sunroom, plus a large closet — or small bonus room — allow plenty of options. The primary bedroom offers those same sweeping views and sits next to the den, which boasts a fireplace and access to the sunroom and rooftop patio. I’m imagining cozy nights and warm summer days lounging high above it all.
To get even higher, a staircase leads up to a treetop bedroom on the third floor, which has yet another deck from this even higher vantage point. There’s no doubt one will feel the envy of all they survey from this private perch.
The historic ambiance continues outside, as the property terraces upward, encompassing more than half an acre. The backyard feels like a magic time capsule, with a koi pond, fruit trees, chicken coop, and winding garden walkways. The most notable structure on the property is an original water tower: a unique structure that stored water for the home’s use in years-gone-by and now stands as a testament to the history encapsulated in this Riviera jewel.
Designed by E. J. Jefferson, this home has been deemed historically significant by the City of Santa Barbara. The rare secessionist style, its location and history, and a distinctive sandstone wall that lines the property all contributed to the city’s designation. An original hitching post stands out front with a wooden address marker, providing tangible ties to the past. Parts of the home’s interior are somewhat dated, but deciding what and how to update will be part of the excitement for the new owners of this historic treasure.
I took the long way down APS past the Mission as I drove away, feeling the charm of the big white house on the hill as I descended into the city that it overlooks.
1538 Alameda Padre Serra is listed for sale in Santa Barbara by Randy Freed and Kellie Clenet of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties. Reach Randy at (805) 895-1799 or Kellie at (805) 705-5334 or email them at email@example.com.
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