Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsFixme

NEIGHBORLY ADVICE: MONTECITO

Quietly, modestly, tastefully rich

July 08, 2007|Ann Brenoff | Times Staff Writer

This is a place where less is more. Forget garish Beverly Hills mansions and Bel-Air palaces that scream "look at me." Santa Barbara County's Montecito is understated elegance, English gardens and the quiet genteelness that comes from having nothing to prove. It is, however, only for the chosen few.

Beginnings

Montecito, which means "little woods," once teemed with grizzly bears and wolf packs. And then the rich and famous discovered it.

At first, wealthy people came for the waters. There's a popular story that back in 1850, a gravely ill man named Wilbur Curtiss encountered a Native American here who claimed to be 110 years old. The secret, Curtiss learned, was the magic hot springs that cured the sick and made the old young. Curtiss, at first skeptical, bathed in the springs, and his good health returned. Being a smart businessman, he immediately filed a homestead claim to the four thermal pools. He later opened the Montecito Hot Springs, a spa and hotel.

Over the years, the resort grew and prospered, but in 1964 the property burned to the ground. The springs still exist, and many locals know how to find them, but the "no-trespassing" signs at the end of the hard-to-traverse trails keep most people away.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 28, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Montecito: An article in the July 8 Real Estate section on Montecito referred to the Montecito Hot Springs spa and hotel as having grown and prospered over the years until it burned in 1964. In fact, the growth was not continuous, and in 1908, after failed attempts as a hotel, the site was put up for sale and it became a private club. The story also incorrectly stated that there are no tract homes in Montecito.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, July 29, 2007 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 11 Features Desk 2 inches; 82 words Type of Material: Correction
Montecito: A story that appeared July 8 on Montecito referred to the Montecito Hot Springs spa and hotel as having grown and prospered over the years. However, the story should have reported that this growth was not continuous. Notably, in 1908, after failed attempts as a hotel, the site was put up for sale. Locals purchased the property, and it became a private club until it burned in 1964. The story also incorrectly stated that there are no tract homes in Montecito.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 29, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 83 words Type of Material: Correction
Montecito: An article about Montecito in the July 8 Real Estate section said the Montecito Hot Springs spa and hotel had grown and prospered over the years. However, the story should have said that this growth was not continuous. In 1908, after failed attempts to operate as a hotel, the site was put up for sale. Locals bought the property, and it became a private club until it burned in 1964. The article also incorrectly says there are no tract homes in Montecito.

Until the spa's demise, it continued to draw a steady stream of those seeking the curative promises of its waters.

What it's about

This is where the rich and famous come to be ignored. Many celebrities have found refuge here, including Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Rob Lowe, Kirk Douglas and Jeff Bridges. They tend to live behind gates but are often seen around town. Jonathan Winters is a regular at Tom's, the local coffee shop.

These celebs -- and the captains of industry who are their neighbors -- could hardly have staked out a prettier spot.

But what distinguishes it from some other places populated by the super rich is its lack of glitz and ostentatiousness.

On the contrary, there is a dignified Cotswold-like feeling to many of the streets and lanes, especially those in the Hedgerow neighborhood (named for the solid row of tall hedges that fronts each property). Mature eucalyptus trees form crowning arches over the streets.

Even the commercial areas are charming. In the upper village, there's a hardware store, post office, gas station, a drugstore, coffee shop and deli and the ubiquitous real estate offices. In the lower village, there are more galleries and frame shops, restaurants and, yes, more realty offices, but this is by no stretch a Rodeo Drive.

Good news, bad news

This isn't a place for the faint of wallet.

In 2006, Forbes Magazine declared the Montecito ZIP Code the seventh-highest-priced in the U.S., and the median price of a home is $2.9 million. High prices notwithstanding, sales remain brisk compared with the slowdown elsewhere in the state -- up 30% over the previous year. In March, for example, homes sold in an average of just 17 days, compared with 54.6 days in Los Angeles.

Schools are top flight, a draw for families.

Housing stock

Montecito developed "organically," said Brook Ashley, a child actress turned realty agent with Prudential California Realty. She has lived here for almost 20 years. There are no tract homes, and the densest housing development is a condo complex near the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel off Butterfly Beach.

Many of the original homes were somewhat ordinary, but over the decades they have been tastefully spruced up with creative landscaping and stone walls. Of course, there is no shortage of mansions on estate-size lots.

But even the small -- just several hundred square feet -- Moody Cottages, built by four local sisters, fetch a commanding price.

The Moody sisters, without formal construction training, built about 20 of their charming homes.

There are about 160 units for sale right now, almost 150 of them single-family homes. All told, there are nearly 4,200 housing units in the community, which has a population of about 10,000.

Report card

Children attend Cold Spring Elementary School, or Montecito Union Elementary, which scored 958 and 936, respectively, out of a possible 1,000 on the state 2006 Academic Performance Index Base report. Santa Barbara Middle School scored 763 and the senior high, 737.

Historical values

Residential resales for ZIP Code 93108:

Year...Median Price

1990...$837,500

1995...$525,000

2000...$1,100,000

2006...$2,575,000

* 2007...$2,900,000

* Year to date

--

ann.brenoff@latimes.com

Sources: DataQuick Information Systems;

Brook Ashley, www.brookashley.com; cde.ca.gov.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|