Cristal's Blog


July 4, 2024

Back to Articles

When we think of Santa Barbara's architectural charm, the timeless beauty of Spanish Colonial Revival style often comes to mind. Two names stand out in this genre: William Albert Edwards and James Joseph Plunkett. They formed a prominent architectural firm here in 1925 and helped shape Santa Barbara's identity, blending aesthetic elegance with historical reverence.

View of the facade of the Santa Barbara Airport Terminal with its white stucco walls and red tile roof, and a lawn and trees in front
Santa Barbara Airport Terminal, originally designed by Edwards & Plunkett, architects. Creative Commons license.

The Early Years

William Albert Edwards (1888–1976), a Santa Barbara native, refined his architectural skills at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania before returning home to establish his own firm.

James Joseph Plunkett (1900–1946) was born in Rome, New York, and moved to California in 1922, starting his career at the Santa Maria Inn. His talents eventually led him to Santa Barbara, where he made significant contributions to projects for the Mount Diablo Building Corporation before forming a partnership with Edwards.

The Birth of Edwards and Plunkett

Edwards and Plunkett, united by their passion for sustainable design and community engagement, established their firm in the aftermath of the 1925 earthquake that shook Santa Barbara. On the day of the disaster, they secured a permit to assess the damage, which led to numerous reconstruction commissions and marked the beginning of their collaboration. Central to their shared vision was the belief that architecture could catalyze positive change by creating spaces that harmonized with their surroundings and enriched the lives of their occupants.

The firm rapidly garnered acclaim for its designs, seamlessly aligning with Santa Barbara's vision of embodying a Spanish Mediterranean village. Edwards and Plunkett imprinted a lasting influence on our distinctive look, making our coastal hamlet what it is today.

A Spanish Colonial Revival-style home with a red tiled roof framed by mountains and a beautiful yellow and gold sky

Edwards and Plunkett Influence

The image above of my listing called Villa Cortina, stands as a poignant testament to the lasting impact of Edwards and Plunkett on the architectural landscape of Santa Barbara. Through their unwavering dedication to the Spanish Colonial Revival style, these visionaries instilled a profound sense of historical continuity and refined elegance in our built environment. Their influential portfolio encompasses a range of iconic landmarks that have become integral to the city's identity including:

  • The revered Arlington Theatre, with its distinctive Mission Revival facade, and richly adorned interior,
  • The historic Janssens–Orella–Birk Building, characterized by its timeless architectural details,
  • And the original terminal building of the Santa Barbara Airport.

Each of the above projects exemplifies Edwards and Plunkett’s ability to blend traditional Spanish motifs with contemporary design principles seamlessly.

The facade and markee of the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara, with its three-arched entryway and blue sky overhead.
Creative Commons

The Arlington Theatre: A Revered Architectural Gem

Perhaps the crowning jewel of Edwards and Plunkett’s portfolio is The Arlington Theatre, a historic movie theatre. Constructed in 1931 for Fox West Coast Theatres, the local landmark has undergone multiple renovations while preserving its atmospheric Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

This representative of classic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture embodies Southern California's cultural and architectural resurgence in the early 20th century. The Arlington was designed to evoke the charm and elegance of old Spanish towns with its distinctive Mission Revival-influenced façade, red-tiled roof, and ornate details.

The theater's interior is equally impressive. It features a grand lobby with a vaulted ceiling adorned by Catalonian chandeliers and intricately designed steps leading to the balcony with ironwork balustrades and Tunisian tiles. The auditorium is a marvel, originally framed by a 50-foot-wide, 30-foot-high proscenium arch crafted to resemble a stone bridge, complete with Spanish village motifs that blend seamlessly into the theater's architectural theme.

As for its historical significance, the Arlington Theater is a registered landmark. It holds a special place in Santa Barbara's cultural heritage, not only for its architectural splendor but also for its role as a cultural hub hosting a wide range of performances: from film screenings to live theater and musical events, including the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

The Tower at the Santa Barbar Airport with its red tiled roof, gently curving staircase, and arched windows.
Creative Commons

The Santa Barbara Airport

The original Santa Barbara Airport opened in 1942 and marked a significant development in regional aviation infrastructure. Edwards and Plunkett infused the airport’s terminal building with elegance through Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, characterized by its low-slung red-tiled roof, white stucco walls, and arched doorways and windows. This design choice was deliberate; aiming to evoke the charm and sophistication of Spanish Colonial architecture that still defined the area.

Beyond its architectural significance, the original Santa Barbara Airport connected the city to broader transportation networks and facilitated commercial and private flights. It represented a commitment to modernity while honoring local heritage, making it a practical gateway and a cultural landmark that resonated with the city's identity. Today, while the airport has undergone expansions and renovations to meet contemporary demands, the legacy of its original design by Edwards and Plunkett remains intact.

A street view of a historic Spanish Colonial style building in Santa Barbara.
Creative Commons

The Janssens-Orella-Birk Building

For nearly six decades, the Janssens-Orella-Birk Building stood as a hub of social activity, drawing in the city's literati and celebrities alike. The building’s architecture epitomizes the elegant fusion of Spanish Colonial Revival and broader Mediterranean influences. Designed with meticulous attention to detail, the building features a stately facade adorned with stucco detailing, wrought iron accents, and red-tiled roofs that evoke the charm of traditional Spanish villas.

Its grand entrance, framed by arched doorways and windows, welcomes visitors into spacious interiors with high ceilings, graceful arches, and gracefully proportioned rooms. Inside, natural light filters through large windows, illuminating tastefully appointed spaces that once hosted literary salons, art exhibitions, and cultural gatherings.

Their Legacy Continues

Even in modern times, the allure of Edwards and Plunkett’s designs persists. In 2020, celebrities Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom purchased an estate in Montecito designed by the celebrated firm and renovated by Lutah Maria Riggs. The classic property, transformed through Riggs' expertise while preserving the essence of the original vision, stands as an example of how timeless architectural principles can seamlessly blend with modern lifestyles and preferences. The legacy the Edwards and Plunkett architectural firm enriches the narrative of every Spanish style property in Santa Rosa, and reinforces the unique charm that defines our beautiful city.

If you're looking to find your own piece of architectural genius, explore my current listings. Feel free to contact me at (805) 886-9378 or at for a complimentary consultation.

Of Related Interest:

Back to Articles

Client Reviews

“It was an emotional experience selling our mother’s home in Montecito that we all loved so much but Cristal made the process easier on our whole family by guiding us through the transaction every step of the way. She knows the market so well and everything she recommended was on point including the asking price, painting, and staging the home, which looked beautiful and helped the buyer envision her new home. We sold it the first day it hit the market with an offer above asking! Cristal did an incredible job communicating with us and the buyer to ensure that the transaction would run smoothly. We highly recommend using Cristal, she was a pleasure to work with! ”

- J & A

“Cristal is a pleasure to work with! Her knowledge of the local real estate market coupled with her amazing listening skills resulted in her showing us an array of homes that were all excellent choices. Her low-pressure patient attitude made us feel extremely comfortable with the whole process. I cannot recommend her highly enough.”

- M.F.

“Cristal Clarke is #1 in her field - and you don't become #1 by luck. Cristal works harder, and longer, and with more charm and patience than any real estate agent I have ever worked with in the past; her calendar has no weekend, her days have no clocks, her only concern is selling your property as soon as possible and for the best price on the market. Am I a fan? You bet!”

- 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.”

- S.N. Decker Ph.D.

“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

“Cristal is very straightforward, cheerful, helpful, professional and trustworthy….we felt very lucky to work with her.”

- 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