Page 62 - The Montecito Journal Glossy Edition Summer Fall 2010

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New Residents Bring Big Changes
It was an era when the Catholics of Montecito, especially the Spanish
speakers, were socially marginalized compared to when they held status under
Spanish and Mexican rule. But it was only a matter of time before the wealthy
“Yankee” newcomers would include Catholics among them, and for Mount
Carmel, the tide turned with the arrival of the Cudahy sisters.
Midwesterners by birth, the three Cudahy sisters were of Irish Catholic
descent, their family fortune having derived from meatpacking plants in
Wisconsin and Nebraska. Two of the Cudahy sisters, Clara and Mary, never
married, but the third, Mrs. Elizabeth Cudahy Nelson, lived with her
husband in the community. Mary and Clara evidenced
an early interest in architecture, for in 1929 they
hired George Washington Smith to build them a large Tudor-style manor house
in Montecito. All three worshiped at the clapboard church, which in their eyes,
seemed embarrassingly modest for such a wealthy community.
In a 1935 letter to Bishop Cantwell of Los Angeles, Mrs. Nelson wrote:
“My sisters and I are very happy to be able to build a little church in Montecito
for, as you say, while our little church is very devotional, it is disgraceful to have
such a poor little edifice in such a prominent place in our countryside... As you
know there are very few people in our parish who can afford
to give anything so my sisters would like to give the
church as a memorial to our dear departed ones.”
The Bishop lost no time in taking the Cudahy sisters
up on their offer. The old church came down, and
in its place arose a completely different edifice, built
in the Pueblo-Revival style. The creator was Ross G.
Montgomery, a Los Angeles-based architect who once
considered a life in the priesthood. Instead of entering
a seminary and taking vows, Montgomery became “a
wide reader in the fields of secular and ecclesiastical history of
Spanish-Colonial America, especially that of the Mexican borderlands.”
Montgomery generously listed William Mullay (often
incorrectly credited as Mullary) on the project as “Associate
Architect,” but to anyone who knows Montgomery’s work,
Mullay’s contributions are a mystery, and may well have
been limited to clerical assistance.
The Archdiocese considered Montgomery “a splendid
Catholic Architect” who could work in a wide range of
styles. Perhaps his personal obsession with early mission
churches in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona compelled
him to suggest the Pueblo Revival style for the new
Mount Carmel. Plans were completed by Fall,
1935, and construction was finished by the next
year. The cornerstone, with its Latin inscription
fal l
Felipa Romero Pollorena,
wife of Hilario Pollorena,
was one of Mount Carmel’s
early parishioners. She lived
in a compound of several
houses that once stood at
the corner of East Valley
and San Ysidro Roads.
Note her black lace mantilla
and collar. (photo courtesy
of Montecito History
Mount Carmel’s bell is suspended
in an
, or wall belfry,
that is typical of Mexican and
Southwestern churches. Ross
Montgomery designed the cast
finials and iron cross.
(photo by Lynn P. Kirst)