679 Mission Canyon Road | Credit: Betsy J. Green

The spotlight on Santa Barbara adobes tends to focus on 200-year-old adobes such as the Casa De la Guerra and the Hill-Carrillo Adobe. But a century later, we had an adobe renaissance. These newer adobes are now a century old. Some are modest-sized, and some are quite large.

1001 W. Micheltorena | Credit: Betsy J. Green

When the construction boom began in the Roaring Twenties, interest in adobes began to build. In 1920, the local paper wrote, “Adobe May Solve Building Problem. Adobe, once so essential to building and lately scorned, is coming back. It promises to solve the building problem of Santa Barbara. At least, that is the opinion of City Building Inspector Steward, after a conference with John Chard, regarded as an authority on adobe.”

The journal Architect and Engineer interviewed Chard. “He asserts that if properly prepared, this native material can be used to very considerably cut the cost of building …. As a building material, it is far stronger than is generally supposed …. The proper plaster protection will insure an adobe wall against deterioration …. As a building material, adobe is everlasting, soundproof, nonconductive, and fireproof, always of normal temperature, and is cool in summer and warm in winter.”


Well, okay, it was two women, and they had the help of Chard, but it still made the news in 1922. “Proof that man’s work can be done by woman is shown by two Santa Barbara women, Mrs. Anna P. Knight and Mrs. Thaddeus Welch, who are building a home on the Mesa … Chard is the architect who designed the new home.”

1528 Cliff Drive | Credit: Betsy J. Green

In 1921, another Santa Barbaran named Fred Roskop was also building with adobe. He built at least eight homes on the Mesa. His ads in the newspaper read, “A House to Last One Hundred Years! is What You Get When I Build an Adobe for You. A House of Which You are Proud.”

He described the process, “The earth is reduced to the proper consistency by the gradual addition of water and is then mixed into a smooth, thick batter, into which straw or shavings are introduced in just such quantity as to make cracking or checking unlikely.” The blocks were then dried in the sun. 

Sometimes old adobe blocks were reused. An ad in the paper in 1920 read: “FOR SALE – Old adobe building being razed; genuine adobe blocks … can be used for building purposes.” When the original adobe Lobero Theater was razed to make way for the present building, some of the blocks were reused to construct residences. 


A common brick is about 8” x 4” x 2” and weighs about 4 pounds. Adobe blocks measure about 20″ x 12″ x 4″ and weigh about 30 pounds. Want to fondle an adobe block? There is usually one on the floor of the El Cuartel Adobe next to the main Santa Barbara Post Office.

2127 Red Rose Way | Credit: Betsy J. Green

HELP WANTED! If you own a home that you would like to see in my Great House Detective column, contact me through my website: betsyjgreen.com. I’m looking for homes built 1920 or earlier, in the central area of Santa Barbara.

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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