March 11, 2019

Photo Essay: The Gardens of the Blacksmith (Los Jardines del Herrero), A Slice of Spain Outside of Santa Barbara

While the Steedman Estate in Montecito is open for tours by appointment, photos of the interior aren't allowed.

Fortunately, there's lots to see on the outside of Casa del Herrero...

...including, upon your arrival, the palm-lined, pebbled motor court that surrounds an octagonal tiled Moorish fountain.

Walk through the gated, whitewashed stone walls and around to the back of the so-called "House of the Blacksmith," a mansion built of reinforced concrete with red terracotta roof tiles.

This was the home of George Fox Steedman and his wife Carrie Howard—a pair of well-to-do Midwestern industrialists who moved out West from St. Louis.

Steedman was the "blacksmith"—a munitions manufacturer and metalsmith who served as president of the Curtis Manufacturing Company, a one-time producer of saws and pneumatic machines that switched its operations to shell forging. Most of the metalwork at his home (including wrought iron gates, window grilles, and balconies) was of his making.

Steedman worked closely with architect George Washington Smith on the Spanish Colonial Revival design over the course of three year—and the two finally came to an agreement on its completion in 1925 (with no less than seven stucco interior chimneys, and many other unique features).

Behind the house, the land slopes gently downhill, allowing water from an artesian well to pool into a tiled peacock, surrounded by citrus orchards.

The cruciform main garden and its surrounding spaces were created by Ralph Stevens (also known for his work on Franceschi Park and Lotusland). Later, they were expanded by Lockwood de Forest and Francis T. Underhill, who completed the project in 1933. They were inspired by Moorish gardens of the Palacio de Generalife and the Alhambra in Granada, Andalusia, Spain.

The 11-acre estate fits squarely within the American Country Place movement—which, with touches like a birdhouse sundial, brought a taste of Europe to the rough West Coast.

The garden has all these different tiled environments that act like open-air "rooms"...

...perhaps for a bit of romance...

...or business-oriented conversation.

After Steedman died in 1940, the estate remained largely unaltered—though his widow continued to live there until her death in 1962 and it was maintained as a private residence until 1987.

That includes the aluminum patio furniture created by Steedman, some of which include an image of a centaur—the icon that repeats throughout the estate and is said to represent the blacksmith himself.

Casa del Herrero was designated a national landmark in 2009—and not just because of the exterior architecture or the interior furnishings.

Sure, Casa del Herrero boasts an impressive collection of 15th- and 16th-century fine art and decorative objects from Spain. And yes, a significant 15th-century pine ceiling—removed from a Gothic cathedral in Spain—adorns the the entrance hall and is only one of two in the U.S. (The other belonged to William Randolph Hearst.)

But perhaps the most intriguing areas of the estate is across from the tiled sink at the kitchen entrance, next to the garage—the Steedman workshop, with tools, machinery, and a casting furnace intact from the 1930s. (Unfortunately, no photos allowed.)

Even if you never heard of George Steedman—or George Washington Smith, for that matter—Casa del Herrero is a lovely slice of Spain, just outside of Santa Barbara.

And although most of us will never be able to build our own dream home to our exact specifications, it's nice to spend a little time in somebody else's.

For more information, click here.

Related Posts:
Getting To Know What I've Got Before It's Gone (Or, How Lotusland Survived Fire and Flood)
Photo Essay: The Crumbling Franceschi Estate

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