History of the Casa del Herrero

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. 

 

A number of other artists and architects were involved.  Antiquarians Arthur and Mildred Byne set the tone and thematic content of the gardens, interior design, and the furnishings of the house.  Above all, the guiding force in the creation of Casa del Herrero and the selection of talented designers and advisers was the owner himself, George Steedman.

The Steedmans’ decision to build in Montecito was probably made after a visit of several months’ duration in 1921.   Between 1922 and 1925 George Steedman worked closely with George Washington Smith and Ralph Stevens in the design of the Casa and its landscape.  As testament to how involved George Steedman was in all aspects of the house, he traveled through Spain in 1923 with antiquarians Arthur and Mildred Stapley Byne to view sites and purchase antiques, tiles and furniture.

In the early 1930s, George Steedman worked with architect Floyd Brewster on the design of his workshop.  Steedman became interested in silversmithing in the mid-1920s and in 1927 studied with George Gebelein, the foremost American silversmith, in Boston.

George Steedman died in 1940 and Carrie continued to live in the Casa alone until her death in 1962. Younger daughter Medora Bass inherited the Casa and made no significant changes in the house, gardens or décor. She was hopeful that the Casa would become accessible to the public for tours and educational workshops focused on horticulture and architecture. Medora Bass died in 1987 and the creation of The Casa del Herrero Foundation fell to her son, George S. Bass, who generously organized and endowed the 501(C)3 nonprofit foundation in 1993 with the support and assistance of  members of the Montecito community.

 

 

  

 

 George Steedman and Daughters

George Steedman’s heart condition worsened in the early 1930's, but his love for metalworking kept him in his workshop as much as possible until he passed away in 1940 at age 69. Carrie Steedman remained at the Casa with her staff until her death twenty-two years later. 

Thereafter, the family kept enough staff in place to maintain the property, until the Steedmans’ younger daughter, Medora, moved into the Casa in 1977 with her husband, George Bass. She was a well-educated and strong-minded woman, who was determined that her father’s great creation should be preserved. Mr. Bass predeceased Medora, and when she passed away in 1987, the family felt it was time to permanently preserve their grandparents’ unique and masterful estate, so its architectural legacy could be shared with the public.

 
©2013 Casa del Herrero Foundation
1387 East Valley Road, Santa Barbara, CA  93108
Phone - 805-565-5653 Fax - 805-969-2371
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