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STYLE : DESIGN : Laps of Luxury

July 31, 1994|BARBARA THORNBURG

Not far from Santa Claus Lane in Carpinteria lies an indoor pool that would make any sultan feel at home. Designated Santa Barbara County Landmark No. 28, this 20-by-60-foot Moorish-style natatorium was designed in 1927 by California architect George Washington Smith for millionaire playboy Albert K. Isham.

The pavilion, unscathed by a Pacific storm that destroyed Isham's residence decades ago, has recently been restored. The roof retracts for gazing at the sun, moon and stars, but the splendid tiles are what catch and tickle the eye. A wainscot resembling an Oriental carpet surrounds the pool with interlocking geometries in cobalt, gold and terra-cotta. Arches, columns and windows are embellished. And at the north end, a mural depicts an underwater fantasy of fish, seahorses and coral.

The origin of these tiles remains a mystery. Former owner David Serena says Smith's original plans called for "Tunisian tiles." (The MacElhenny Group of Santa Barbara acquired the property last year and plans to use the pool as a clubhouse for a new housing development.) But whether the tiles were made in North Africa or locally is unknown: Gladding, McBean & Co. of Glendale is the supplier of record; Ron Rindge, grandson of May Knight Rindge, who owned Malibu Potteries, speculates that his family's business was probably a subcontractor for many of the tiles. Enigma aside, this is a pool with a colorful past: Legend has it that Isham once drove his Duesenberg into the water, a champagne-sipping starlet on each fender.

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