Victorian Home Under a Majestic Tree
The c. 1884 home of Kay and Frank Stevens is clothed in soft shades of yellow and green and nestled in an award-winning garden (Santa Barbara Beautiful, March 2012). The Stevens have lived here under the shade of the ancient camphor tree on the corner of Valerio and Laguna streets since 1996. They are only the home’s sixth owners. This Victorian farmhouse constructed of redwood with its elaborate bay windows was built by Henry and Eliza Keller. Henry was a cabinetmaker, and the interior woodwork reflects his attention to detail.
According to an 1898 bird’s-eye-view pictorial map, this was the first house on the block. The home’s original property stretched 100 feet along Valerio and 225 feet along Laguna. I checked the Sanborn maps online at the Historical Museum’s Gledhill Library website which showed this home for the years 1907, 1930, and 1950. I could see how the home became surrounded by newer homes over the years. One interesting tidbit that I learned from the maps is that there was an outhouse in the home’s backyard as late as 1907. One wonders when the home first had an indoor bathroom.
A Troubled Time
Another source of information about older homes is newspapers – many of which are online now. I discovered several articles in the 19-teens about William and Louise Pestor, the home’s third owners. Pestor was German born, and ran into trouble during World War I because of anti-German sentiment at that time.
In 1917, Pestor applied for U.S. citizenship. He stated that he was doing so to benefit his American wife who had lost her U.S. citizenship when she married him. (Before 1922, a woman who married a non-citizen lost her citizenship status.) When asked about his attitude toward U.S. involvement in World War I, he gave some responses that were deemed unsatisfactory.
His request for citizenship was denied. The Morning Pressannounced on September 8, 1917: “WILLIAM PESTOR ALLEGIANCE IN DOUBT . . . William Pestor has been denied admission to citizenship because . . . he is not willing to give entire allegiance to our country.” In 1920, Pestor and his wife left Santa Barbara, and rented the home until selling it in 1944.
History Came Knocking – Twice
Sometimes you have to look for history; sometimes it finds you. About 15 years ago, a couple of women knocked on the door of this home. They explained that they had grown up in the home in the 1940s and 50s. They mentioned that their family’s bedrooms were on the first floor of the home, and that the second-floor bedrooms had been rented to girls who were studying at the college on the Riviera. The Stevens were surprised to hear that as many as nine students had lived on the second floor, sharing four bedrooms and one bathroom.
One of the former students dropped by another time, and shared interesting tales of the students’ hijinks in the home. The students attended the University of California Santa Barbara College, which was located at what is now the Riviera Theater and the Riviera Park on Alameda Padre Serra.
What do the Stevens like about their home? The home’s history is at the top of their list. Kay told me, “We are so fortunate to have good detail . . . it was one of the earlier homes in this neighborhood and, to us, it has a lot of personality. When people see it for the first time, they are pretty impressed.”
“Also, we like the proximity to downtown. Ordinarily, that means walking to restaurants and movies. Hopefully that will happen again! Especially now . . . when we don’t have much to do, we take walks every day and have many choices of places to explore.”
What’s her advice for people considering buying an older home? “The obvious thing is to be aware of . . . the upkeep they will face in the future. Be prepared financially and with some energy to do what will be necessary.”
Please do not disturb the residents.
All photos by Betsy J. Green