Thursday, December 24, 2015

Photo Essay: The Crumbling Franceschi Estate

Sometimes, you have to snoop around a little to explore an abandoned estate with a fascinating history. (And sometimes you get asked to leave.)



But in the case of the estate of horticulturist Francesco Franceschi, it's become a park...



...despite the fact that the Franceschi residence is crumbling on the precipice of a cliff.



But Franceschi's home was never the entire focus of the estate, as the famous botanist planted many varieties of plants and trees on his property that were once considered exotic, but now are quite familiar to Southern Californians.



And although the house is boarded up, forbidding entry inside of it...



...it's not fenced off...



...permitting a good amount of exterior exploration.



Outside of it, you can take in the panoramic view of Santa Barbara below...



...and examine some of the other ruins of the estate...



...including tilework...



...statuary...



...and signature hand-traced into the sidewalk.



And, of course, there are the trees and plants, whose seeds and cuttings were planted in scientific groupings—but also in a way that would be aesthetically pleasing.



Perhaps this type of introduction of foreign botanical species (including a tree that would become known as the "Franceschi palm") would be discouraged these days, when focus has shifted more to native plants...



...but this estate was his laboratory, where he conducted many experiments in the ability of plants not from here to be able to survive in the semi-arid sub-tropical Mediterranean climate (which was strikingly similar to the Italian Riviera).



Upon closer examination, the exterior of the house is quite a curiosity.



The two-story manor was built around the turn of the century for Franceschi...



...with big bay windows to take in the view...



...but in 1927, philanthropist Alen Freedman bought the estate (after Franceschi moved back to Italy)...



...and added strange plaster medallions to the facade that pay tribute to various American historical figures and Italian immigrants.



The City of Santa Barbara has actually owned the estate since 1931...



...but in their stewardship, it has become dilapidated.



There is, of course, beauty in its disrepair...



...and at least it's still accessible...



...but the neglect feels a bit...tragic.

Some of the medallions have been stolen or have fallen off. (Though they're not original, they are part of its history.) Windows have been shattered. Who knows what condition the inside is in?

But it's amazing that a house like this can sit on a hill in a public park in Santa Barbara—more or less unattended—and not be completely vandalized or destroyed. Are Santa Barbara residents just more respectful than those of other cities? Or do its vagrants and ne'er do wells just have better things to do, and other places to frequent?

Or maybe everybody has just forgotten about this place...

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: San Marcos Mountain Lodge, a.k.a. Knapp's Castle
Photo Essay: Crystal Cove Cottages, Frozen in Time