VII. Sunday, February 16, 1947

Plans, Planting Branch Fought ‘Cupola War’

This last article on the Community Arts Association, dealing, as it will, with the Plans and Planting Branch, and how under its guidance Santa Barbara “leapt at the throat of the cupola era”, should spur on a “leap” on bad modernistic [sic] that is threatening to engulf American towns – including Santa Barbara ­– this moment.

In reading over old Community Arts files and the glowing press Santa Barbara received from ocean to ocean for its effort toward beauty and uniformity, one finds it hard to believe that the aura of the Golden Age could so have waned that contemporary residents are found inflicting and permitting outside interests to inflict, architectural monstrosities in the name of modernism on State Street.

Public opinion was once so thoroughly aroused against banality here that newspaper comment of the ‘20’s was found granting that certain architectural and business practices might be all right for other streets in other towns, “but this is Estado.” Because this community feeling has disintegrated, it may be providential that, if any one of the four Community Arts Branches was destined to survive, as such, it should be the Plans and Planting.

The efforts of this Branch have always been largely educational. Artists and art patrons will always be found to keep the cultural hearth fires burning, but only an aroused community itself can save a town from its own degradation.

‘Santa Barbara Unique’
Irving F. Morrow, San Francisco architect, once wrote:
“Every little town is pathetically afraid someone may suspect that it is not New York. … Santa Barbara stands unique among American cities in that it cannot so much as boast of a major axis, and remains unashamed.” He went on to observe that “it required insight and clear-headed purpose to turn a deaf ear to the arrogant pretensions of Beaux-Arts grandiloquence” even here.

When we speak of the educational work of the Plans and Planting Branch we refer to pamphlets of the ‘20’s, which dinned into the public such slogans as: “If you would have America beautiful, tell business to respect beauty.” “Buy your gas from the best-looking filling station and your food from the stand that is attractive, not ugly.”

The Branch fostered children’s gardens; a home garden campaign for adults; wildflower planting on vacant lots; the planting (in 1923-24) of 26 small yards with the assistance of Landscape Architects Morrison and Deforest, and the cooperation of local nurserymen. It helped with flower shows, originated garden tours and extensive cooperation with the National Better Homes in America Campaign, which Herbert Hoover initiated at about that time. This cooperation included a competition for small house designs among pupils of the High School.

War on Ugliness
In July, 1926, Kenneth L. Roberts, writing an article in the Saturday Evening Post, on “California’s War on Ugliness”, declared: “Greatest of all the examples of California’s war…is found in the City of Santa Barbara…”

He continued: “The campaign to save the Missions spread up and down the state. The Community Arts Association came into existence in 1920 for the purpose of affording training and expression in drama and the allied arts. The members kept on rubbing the dust out of their eyes and watching a few more ancient adobes vanish before the heavy foot of progress. In 1921, the Community Arts Association started a music branch and watched the rise of a few more samples of cupola-era architecture. In 1922, the association started what is known as the Plans and Planting Branch, and the work of rescuing Santa Barbara from the engulfing fog of the cupola era was on in earnest.”

Came the Quake
He goes on to say – and truly: “The stage having thus been set, the Community Arts Association received unexpected assistance – assistance that would probably have been refused if it had been offered ahead of its arrival.” Mr. Roberts referred to the earthquake of 1925.

It was then the Plans and Planting got in its best educational licks. Bernhard Hoffmann, who was its chairman, took the lead in a move to rebuild the town “safely and beautifully.” Spurred on by the Branch, the city set up an Architectural Board of Review and a Community Drafting Room. J. E. White was elected Board chairman; William A. Edwards, the late George Washington Smith and the late Carleton M. Winslow, architect-members, and Mr. Hoffmann secretary. Plans for everything from laundries and round-houses to hotels and railroad offices, had to be approved by the Board. Sometimes that meant complete revision of a plan and a lusty protest followed. But cooperation was usually spontaneous.

Very modestly a Community Arts report to the Carnegie Foundation in 1925-26 observed: “The guidance in the rebuilding of Santa Barbara was very largely left to those who had worked and planned for its development along beautiful and appropriate lines and were ready to serve devotedly in the emergency.”
Mr. Hoffmann, who was also President of the entire Association, resigned in 1927 to devote all his time to the Board of Review. Miss Pearl Chase, to whom goes most of the credit for keeping the Branch intact today, became its chairman, and is still holding that post.

Better Homes Prizes
An example of typical Community Arts originality was the manner in which the Plans and Planting Branch added its own ideas to the local observance of the annual National Better Homes Week Campaign.

The Branch established a small house and garden competition of its own with cash awards – a plan immediately approved by the National Headquarters and later copied extensively throughout the country.

This resulted in Santa Barbara City and County receiving the highest national award 17 times, sometimes in urban, sometimes in city and county and other times in county divisions, the award being based on “the educational quality” of the Santa Barbara campaign, not merely on the excellence of the small house and garden designs.

Demonstration houses were “borrowed”, either furnished or unfurnished (in which latter case local merchants loaned furnishings for the week) and these were opened to the public during Better Homes Week with hostesses from various organizations in attendance in each room.

Last Contest in 1941
The 17 national cash prizes were used by the Branch for putting out photographs and printed descriptions to aid in future competitions. Last of these was held in 1941 through Purdue University where the Better Homes Headquarters is now housed.
One of the publications was a Book of Small House Designs edited by Edward F. Brown and Carleton M. Winslow. It contained 62 plans submitted in the National competition of 1923. Seven of these plans were sold for $35 each to local home builders by the Plan division, whose idea for a home planning service was extensively adopted throughout the country. The book also was widely circulated, in America and abroad.

Among those who have served as Branch sub-chairmen are: Plans committee, L. Deming Tilton, John Frederic Murphy, Chester Carjola, and Wallace Penfield; Planting committee, the late George S. Edwards, Mrs. Charles B. Raymond, the late Miss Sophie Baylor, Mrs. Thomas M. Dillingham, Frederick B. Kellam, Herbert F. Greene and Mrs. John F. Manning.

Weekly Garden Tours
Among activities of the Branch today are the weekly Garden Tours in season; a monthly free Garden Hour giving advice in planting and care of gardens; and a constant stream of educational material for city beautification. The Branch cooperates extensively in putting on the Fiesta and the Community Christmas. During the war it sponsored an organization known as Garden Hosts for entertainment of officers and their families stationed here.

Currently it is repeating history by throwing its weight with the new Architectural Board of Review, set up to preserve a uniform architecture on State Street. Mr. Murphy is representing the Branch in this important move to counteract a trend as bad as the cupola craze.