The Steedman Estate is one of the best preserved, historically significant,
and intact examples of the ‘heyday’ of Montecito estates in the 1920s. The
creation of the property reflects a remarkable synthesis of culture, artistic
expression, natural environment, and historical antecedents.
San Diego’s Panama-California International Exposition (1915) exerted great
influence on the horticulture, landscape architecture, and architecture of the
American West The following decade saw the emergence in Santa Barbara of
a distinctive California style of landscape design that derived its inspiration
from Mediterranean sources, most importantly the gardens, countryside, and
palaces of southern Spain, but gained its expressive power from the ideas,
talents, and imagination of American clients and their designers.
George Fox Steedman and Carrie Howard Steedman moved into their new house on
the day of Santa Barbara’s devastating 1925 earthquake, when much of the
business district was leveled. Thus the Casa del Herrero is linked to an
important aspect of Santa Barbara’s architectural and cultural history.
It was after the Santa Barbara earthquake that civic leaders proposed that the
massive rebuilding required should be consistent architecturally. The
style adopted was Spanish Colonial Revival, which continues to this day to
contribute to the city’s beauty and dominates its cultural identity.
The principal architect of the
house was George Washington Smith, one of the architects credited with creating
the city’s rich legacy of Spanish Colonial Revival design. The site plan and
the spatial organization and horticultural display of the grounds and gardens
are the work of landscape architects Ralph T. Stevens and Lockwood De Forest
with contributions by Francis T. Underhill while architectural aspects of the
gardens and patios were contributed by architect George Washington Smith, and
his assistant Lutah Maria Riggs.
Casa del Herrero was conceived by its owners, George Fox Steedman and his wife
Carrie, in conjunction with their architect George Washington Smith.
George Fox Steedman was born in St. Louis in 1871, one of three brothers.
The family purchased Curtis & Co., a foundry and machine shop, and in time,
the three boys turned it into a large and successful company. Steedman had
graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in engineering. By 1904, he had
become president of Curtis & Co. and in 1915, the Company was awarded
a major contract from the British government for projectile ammunition. George
Steedman was the one to design a plant with special equipment to fulfill this
contract, and he was able to double production. He secured a patent on this
equipment, but he later gave his invention to the Allies for use in World War
Steedman had married Carrie Robb Howard in 1903, and their two
daughters, Katherine and Medora, were born respecitvely in 1904 and 1909. By
1917, Steedman found the work at Curtis & Co. to be increasingly
stressful, and in 1922 he was diagnosed with dilation of the arch of the aorta,
a serious heart condition. He realized he needed to shift his focus away from
engineering, and his older brother’s illness turned out to be the catalyst for
In 1921, Dr. William David Sansum (later, of the Sansum Medical Clinic,
founded in 1928 in Santa Barbara, California) was perhaps the foremost diabetes
specialist in the United States. James Harrison Steedman came to
Santa Barbara for treatment, and George and Carrie came to visit. Like so many
other wealthy visitors of the time, they fell in love with Santa Barbara’s
beauty and its fine Mediterranean climate, and decided to build a second home
in the area. They purchased eight acres in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, and
this property would grow to be the focal point of Steedman’s life.
After his retirement from Curtis Manufacturing Co. on Armistice Day, 1918,
and with the completion of construction in 1925, Casa del Herrero became the
part-time home of Mr. and Mrs. Steedman, and in 1930 they made it their
permanent residence. George concentrated on his silversmithing, metal working,
photography and wine making, while Carrie was intimately involved with
overseeing the garden, and participating in the Santa Barbara Garden