Cristal's Blog


July 3, 2023

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Iconic architect George Washington Smith is thought of as Montecito’s and Santa Barbara’s most admired commercial and residential designer, hands down. Credited as the founding father of the California Movement in Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, he and his artistic sensibility made a lasting impact on the ambiance of our area.

Casa del Herrero, a classic Spanish Colonial Revival building in Santa Barbara, CA

Architectural Legacy of George Washington Smith

George Washington Smith, a name synonymous with architectural brilliance, left an indelible mark on the picturesque landscapes of Santa Barbara and Montecito. One such example is Casa del Herrero, pictured above, the iconic home of George Steedman, a prominent industrialist, which is now a museum. With its red-tiled roof, handcrafted ironwork, and lush gardens, Casa del Herrero stands as a testament to Smith's mastery of the Spanish Colonial Revival style. Other notable Smith-designed residences in the area include the Vedanta Temple, Casa Dracaena, and at least one home formerly owned by Ellen DeGeneres: each showcasing the architect’s signature design elements.

Nearly a century after his arrival, George Washington Smith's influence continues to shape the area's architectural landscape. Many contemporary homes in the community pay homage to his style, integrating Spanish Colonial Revival elements into their designs. Architects and homeowners alike recognize the enduring appeal of Smith's aesthetic, as it seamlessly blends historical charm with modern sensibilities.

Vintage black and white photo of architect George Washington Smith

The Early Life of George Washington Smith

Born in 1876 in Philadelphia, George Washington Smith was the son of an engineer who designed roadbeds and bridges for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Despite his upbringing in a family with a strong engineering background, Smith exhibited an artistic inclination from an early age. Although he initially pursued an architecture degree at Harvard, he found himself drawn to the world of finance and worked in the bond market. However, fate had different plans for him.

While his name is now associated with timeless Spanish Colonial Revival designs, Smith's journey to becoming one of the most celebrated architects of his time had humble beginnings. From his early career in the bond market to his eventual pursuit of painting and, ultimately, his destiny in designing homes, Smith's life and work continue to shape the architectural legacy of the region.

Starting in the late the ‘20s, Smith’s work designing homes for affluent clients helped popularize Spanish Colonial architecture at a time when Georgian and Colonial buildings were in favor. His work also helped provide a template for Santa Barbara after the city was hit by a massive earthquake in 1925 that, while tragic, offered the community a chance to rebuild. The adoption of Spanish Revival designs assisted the region with the development of its own unique style.

A substantial 2-story French Country-style residence with lush landscaping in Santa Barbara CA

The Birth of the Spanish Colonial Revival Style

Enamored by the beauty of Spanish haciendas during his travels through Andalusia, Spain, Smith drew inspiration from their timeless elegance. Blending the simplicity of Mediterranean design with the rustic charm of California, he introduced the Spanish Colonial Revival style to Montecito. This architectural movement emphasized stucco walls, red-tile roofs, decorative ironwork, and graceful arches, perfectly harmonizing with the region's natural surroundings.

Illustrating Smith's versatility and artistic brilliance, the Hedgerow Montecito home pictured above stands as a prime example of his architectural prowess. This French Country-style residence showcases one of the key elements that distinguishes Smith's work from his contemporaries and even resonates today—the seamless integration of indoor and outdoor living spaces. With its enchanting French doors opening to sprawling, meticulously landscaped gardens, the home embodies Smith's meticulous attention to detail and his ability to create a harmonious environment that embraces nature.

Smith's architectural creations were characterized by their graceful proportions, unassuming elegance, and attention to detail. He skillfully incorporated traditional Spanish elements such as central courtyards, wrought-iron balconies, and Moorish-style tiles into his designs. By integrating these features into the landscape, Smith achieved a seamless connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, taking full advantage of Montecito's idyllic climate.

The front of the historic landmark Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara CA, with its white facade and 3 large arches
Justin Rizzo-Weaver, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Notable Smith Works

Smith’s notable works include the city’s beloved Lobero Theater pictured above, which will turn 100 in 2024, and Casa del Herrero, pictured above, one of Santa Barbara’s historic homes which is now a museum. Both are registered as National Historic Landmarks. There are local civic landmarks designed by the prolific architect as well, including Montecito Club, the Santa Barbara News-Press buildings, and structures at the Santa Barbara Cemetery, including the chapel, which incorporates the flavor of 15th-century Catalonian chapels.

There are also several prominent estates here that bear the unmistakable hallmark of George Washington Smith's architectural vision.

A beautiufl estate compound with a fountain in the center and a blue an d pink sy above

An exquisite testament to the architectural genius of George Washington Smith, the Grand Montecito Estate pictured above stands as a prime example of his visionary work. This historic Spanish Colonial Revival masterpiece that I recently sold embodies sophistication, refinement, and impeccable design. Accessed through a private and gated entrance, this immaculate estate showcases the timeless elegance that is synonymous with Smith's architectural style. From its meticulously crafted details to its unparalleled sense of grandeur, this remarkable property exemplifies the enduring legacy of the architect’s design brilliance.

The historic 1920s era Natatorium  or indoor swimming pool with a large skylight in the Casa Blanca enclave

In addition to using his artistic touch in building homes here, Smith was frequently commissioned to add unique spaces to properties, such as the historic 1920s era Natatorium pictured above, an intimate community amenity for my Sand Point Beach Villa at Casa Blanca listing.

A  very large ocean view home with a green lawn and row of tall palm trees in front

Perhaps Smith's only venture into the German domestic architectural style popular around 1910 in Europe can be seen in Casa Paz del Mar pictured above. I represented both the buyer and the seller for this property, which features walls of glass and awe-inspiring grounds that capture the Mediterranean lifestyle we enjoy here in Santa Barbara.

Other George Washington Smith properties I’ve sold include an Architecturally Significant Montecito Estate, a George Washington Smith Estate, and a George Washington Smith Carriage House, as well as a George Washington Smith Inspired Compound and the Montecito Mediterranean Compound, both prime examples of his influence over the years.

If you are ready to buy your own masterpiece designed by a man significantly influencing the primary design of Santa Barbara’s commercial and residential architecture, or any of our iconic architects, please contact me by calling (805) 886-9378 or via email at

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- J & A

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- M.F.

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- P.B.

“We have used Cristal now several times and cannot express how grateful we are for her expertise, dedication, and unwavering support throughout the entire home-buying process. Cristal is knowledgeable, patient and attentive. Her attention to detail is remarkable, and she consistently went above and beyond to provide us with all the information and resources we needed to make informed decisions. Cristal is a skillful negotiator and advocate. She can navigate complex negotiations with professionalism and grace and felt like a true partner to us in the home-buying process. Cristal has a genuine passion for real estate and a deep commitment to her clients' satisfaction. I cannot speak highly enough of Cristal and her exceptional service. She is a true expert in her field and her dedication to excellence, combined with unwavering support is the reason we choose to work with her for all our real estate buying needs.”

- T.C.

“Cristal is a top-notch realtor who sold my home before it ever went on the market. I had two competing offers that enabled me to get top dollar for my home. Not only is Cristal superb but her team is extraordinary. I cannot say enough about Cristal and her team. They are simply phenomenal, the consummate professionals, who took care of every possible detail, making the sale and transition period, smooth from our end. They are also lovely, caring people, who knew all the right professionals, to get the job done. Thank you, everyone!”

- D.R.

“I could list lots of cool adjectives to describe Cristal. All good by the way. But, that is not why I or anyone should hire Cristal. My reason for hiring her, which proved to be correct, is very simple. She got the job done. And, she does it time and time again and with zero issues. And, that is why she is one of the top agents in the country. End of subject. ”

- M.A.

“Working with Cristal was a complete pleasure. Cristal was extremely patient with us as we evaluated nearly 2 dozen homes over a span of 2 years. Her knowledge of the market is unmatched. Cristal provided us with exceptional counsel as we evaluated opportunities and negotiated pricing. The closing process was handled thoroughly and efficiently. We could not be happier with our purchase and even more happy to now call Cristal our friend.”

- D.K.

“Cristal Clarke has conducted numerous real estate transactions for me beginning 13 years ago with the purchase of a Lemon Ranch. She has handled both large and small purchases and sales with equal dedication. As a negotiator, you can’t find anyone better. Her transactions are always conducted in the most appropriate and professional manner. Cristal has considerable knowledge of the Santa Barbara market.”

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“Living in Europe, we were to say the least, unaccustomed to the nuances of Real Estate acquisition in California and Cristal steered us through the process with absolute professionalism and personal attention to detail at every turn. Her in-depth knowledge of the market place combined with enthusiasm and drive was the only reason we secured the property of our dreams and will be forever grateful. If you are looking for personal discrete and private representation of the highest quality we suggest you look no further than Cristal Clarke.”

- Johan and Paula van den Berg

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- John and Lacey Williams

“After considering our many choices, we are grateful it was Cristal Clarke of Sotheby’s International who represented the sale of our Montecito cottage. We are familiar with Cristal’s reputation of hard work and dedication to clients, but it was her attention to detail that made our experience so positive. She offered suggestions for staging the property, worked in harmony with potential buyers and was even able to secure back up offers. The sale of our cottage was completed much sooner than we expected, due in great part to Cristal’s professional skills and support. We highly recommend Cristal as a first choice for anyone needing representation with real estate.”

- Michael & Nancy Lee

“Our experience in working with Cristal Clarke resulted in the successful and discrete acquisition of a property which was not yet on the open market. Her knowledge of the Montecito/Santa Barbara area and vast expertise blended with her passion for real estate and architecture, provided us with the very highest level of professionalism and personalized services. Cristal exhibited a rare combination of excellent communications, attention to detail, creativity and patience.”

- Richard and Catherine Frinier

“Cristal really breaks the mold. She knows every nook and cranny of this real estate market, understands value, and follows up on everything, all the time. She was incredibly patient with our two year quest to find the perfect house. Every house hunting trip from across the country was well planned, and our time was never wasted. On top of her professionalism and expertise, she is delightful to spend time with. We are thrilled with the home we purchased, and grateful to Cristal for so wisely advising us through this process, right through to the close and beyond.”

- Laurie Siegel

“We met Cristal first in the course of renting a winter home (for three years), then buying a house using her as our agent. She was amazingly good at listening to our wants and showing us homes that fit our needs. Her mastery of the paperwork was perfect. Most importantly, there was never a situation where we doubted her straightforwardness or integrity. If we do another real estate transaction in Montecito (which I doubt, we’re happy with what we purchased), without question we’d use Cristal again.”

- Ken Saffir

“Susan and I just want to thank you for your efforts in the sale of our home. You are really quite amazing. Your competence, persistence, optimism and humor made the entire process effortless. Every problem that arose, you somehow fixed; any obstacle, you overcame. We have bought and sold many homes. It has never been such a painless and enjoyable process!”

- Michael & Susan Marquart

“A little something about “our” realtor, Cristal Clarke. My wife and I came to Santa Barbara about fifteen years ago looking for a seasonal home from which to enjoy the weather and amenities of the central coast. Being in the real estate business myself I was familiar with agents and brokers so entered the market with open eyes. We “flipped” a few houses in the early years, dealing with various agents and finally ended up in Montecito. That’s when good fortune put us together with Cristal. To say we were impressed is to put it mildly. Cristal really knows the market. She is familiar with the area, its history and trends. When we have questions about a particular property she either has the answers immediately or gets back to us by phone or email. There is no waiting or wondering with Cristal. She is an agent who is “on top of it.” Her recommendations as to price points, contractors, inspectors and title agents have proven to be exceptional, showing great insight and the highest professional standards. We consider ourselves exceedingly fortunate to say that Cristal Clarke is our realtor and would recommend her services to any serious buyer or seller.”

- Rob & Judi Kelch