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.
Steedman Family History
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 I.
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 change.
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 Club.