A Timely Idea: Part Four

Miraflores

This series, A Timely Idea, tells the history of the Music Academy of the West – a story of innovation, rising to meet great challenges, and transformational philanthropy. Be sure to catch up on parts onetwo, and three.

 

 

Part Four: Miraflores

As is so often the case with seemingly mundane events over 100 years in the past, the information regarding the transition of the old Santa Barbara Country Club property to the ownership of J.P and Mary Jefferson is somewhat hazy. All parties agree on two key points: that the property was sold in the mid-1910s and that the old clubhouse was extensively remodeled by the architect Reginald Johnson. Beyond that, sources and local stories often diverge. Some say that Reginald Johnson’s redesign was done at the behest of the Country Club, while others say he was hired by the Jeffersons. The timeline, too, is up for debate, with dates ranging from as early as 1915 to as late as 1922 given for both the purchase of the property and Reginald Johnson’s remodeling.

Based on the extensive research of volunteer Music Academy historian Konnie Gault, along with some additional follow up, here’s what likely happened.

J.P. Jefferson

Mary Jefferson

An article in The Morning Press, a now-defunct paper that comprises the “Press” part of today’s Santa Barbara News-Press, dated November 15, 1916 reports on J.P. Jefferson’s purchase of the property through an intermediary. It also indicates that the Jeffersons were unlikely to take possession of the property for a year or more and that the Country Club would continue to use it in the interim. “At that time,” the article states, “[Mr. Jefferson] will either tear down the present building and build another to be used as his home, or remodel the club house to meet his requirements. The house is not yet five years old, and is of concrete construction.” Based on this, it seems fair to say that the remodel was completed after the Jeffersons purchased the property and certainly no earlier than 1917.

A view of the rear of the Marilyn Horne Main House. The house’s Spanish Renaissance style features were the work of architect Reginald Johnson

When the Jeffersons hired him, Reginald Davis Johnson was still in the early stages of what would become a storied career as one of California’s most renowned architects. He was a proponent of the Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture, which is certainly evident in his redesign of the clubhouse. The smooth, unadorned plaster walls; small balconies; low-pitched clay tile roof; and cast concrete ornamental finishes around doors and other openings are all typical of the architectural style that took southern California by storm in the early decades of the twentieth century. He would later put this style to great use in other local landmarks, including the Santa Barbara Biltmore Hotel (1927), The Cate School (1928-29), and the Santa Barbara Post Office (1937).

But the real jewel of the new estate was its gardens. The Jeffersons hired German-born, Los Angeles-based landscape architect Paul Thiene to redesign the grounds. Thiene had studied with Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect responsible for, among other things, New York’s Central Park. After moving to the west coast, he collaborated with Lloyd Wright – Frank Lloyd Wright’s son – and was by the mid-1910s one of the most sought-after landscape architects in California.

An estimate for the work detailed a new grand driveway, terraces, reflecting pools, a tennis court, several distinct garden spaces, and an orchard. The approximate cost was listed by Thiene as $22,840.83 – nearly $400,000 in today’s money. The May 1918 date for the estimate hints that most of the heavy construction on the property must have been complete by spring of that year.

The finished product was stunning. Just past the new grand entry gate, Thiene had created a long, straight allée lined with black acacia trees designed to draw the eye toward the remodeled mansion. Flanking that drive were a greenhouse, lath house, and rose garden, as well as a cutting garden to provide flowers and other foliage for arrangements. Behind the house a gorgeous Mediterranean-style terrace overlooked a lush garden, complete with one of the property’s two reflecting pools. The other pool Thiene located near the entrance to the property in an area described as the “formal garden.”

The finished estate brought acclaim to both Johnson and Thiene; the property was awarded a gold medal by the American Institute of Architects in 1922 and photographs of the gardens are included in the Garden Club of America’s collection of “Notable American Parks and Gardens,” now housed at the Smithsonian Institution.

Cover page of Paul Thiene’s estimate for the landscaping of Miraflores

Excerpt from Thiene’s landscaping estimate

The long drive was designed by Paul Thiene to draw the eye toward the house

The Jeffersons named their magnificent new property Miraflores, Spanish for “look at the flowers.” Again, no exact date is preserved for when the work was completed and the house ready for occupancy, although the society column in the May 21, 1919 edition of The Morning Press says, “Mr. and Mrs. John Percival Jefferson gave a small dinner . . . at Miraflores, their very beautiful new home in Montecito, to which they have recently removed from their smaller house on Eucalyptus Lane.” Miraflores would remain their home for the next 32 years before an extraordinary act of philanthropy transformed it into a conservatory.

– Henry Michaels
Resonance editor, Audience Services and Community Access Manager, Music Academy of the West