Page 78 - The Montecito Journal Magazine Winter Spring 2008

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spr ing
Eye on Montecito
The distinct and elegant Old Firehouse at 1486 East
Valley Road continues to function, although as office
space rather than its original purpose; Montecito’s new
firehouse is around the corner and up San Ysidro Road
he Old Firehouse at 1486 East Valley
Road was designed by A.B. “Bert” Harmer
in 1931. Harmer was a talented architect
whose name has largely been lost to his-
tory even though he created a number of
fine buildings in and around Montecito. Born in Santa
Barbara in1896 to an artistic family, Harmer demon-
strated architectural talent in his teens. While he never
attended a university, he learned architecture by obser-
vation, practice, and association with other talented in-
dividuals. During his professional life, Harmer formed
partnerships with both Wallace Neff and then later
Garrett Van Pelt, noted architects in their own right.
He specialized in Spanish Colonial Revival single-story
homes, but as his career progressed, he also worked on
larger commissions including the Montecito Inn.
At first glance, the Old Firehouse appears to be
just another single-story red-tiled roof Spanish build-
ing. But on closer examination, subtly proportioned
pilasters (engaged square columns that protrude only
slightly from the wall’s surface) organize the facade and
add a classical unity missing in lesser buildings. Harmer
utilizes a hierarchy of details to accentuate the more
important areas of the building while subduing the
lesser portions. This rich detailing simultaneously adds
texture, variety and the all-important shadow.
The tower provides an architectural focal point, al-
though its existence was mandated by pure function. In
the days of cloth-encased fire hoses, towers were used
to dry the hoses so that they would not rot. While no
longer a staple of the modern day fire house (just note
the recently completed Fire House #2 on Sycamore
Canyon at Cold Spring Road), the highly recognizable
drying tower usually added the focal point that helps
distinguish and identify the older fire houses from resi-
dences and typical commercial buildings of their time.
All in all, this building demonstrates that worthy archi-
tecture can be functional, beautiful, and contextually
pleasing without being on steroids.
by John Watson