R.M. has two turn-of-the-20th-century chairs that carry significant Santa Barbara history.
His family has treasured them since 1906 when they were purchased as part of the original furnishings for the Nardi Hotel on the corner of Anacapa and East de la Guerra streets.
R.M.’s great-grandfather built the hotel in 1906. R.M. has enlightened me with historical information on the hotel. I will tell R.M. that the style of these chairs “fits” with the great respect that his great-grandfather had for cross-cultural influences and the styles of the past!
Read on to discover why.
A building similar to the original Nardi Hotel exists on that corner. Although the original hotel was torn down in 1946, the original shape of the building lives on because the Nardi Hotel was created in the Italian Revival Style, and the existing building was designed in the Spanish Colonial style. Both hearken back to a shared stylistic past founded in the Renaissance.
The photo R.M. sends me of his great-grandfather shows a proud man with a massive handlebar mustache in a sober dark wool suit. R.M.’s family has felt his presence for more than 120 years.
Francesco’s wife was a descendant of a Spanish Presidio soldier, which must have made for an interesting marriage.
When Francesco passed in 1944, the family owned both the hotel and the building across the street at 100-110 E. De la Guerra St. High taxes due to WWII necessitated the sale of whichever building sold first. The hotel sold, and R.M.’s father opened a business in the other building called Lloyd’s, which sold wines, spirits and fine foods from 1945-1972. This kind of business (fine wines and foods) is also a legacy from Francesco (you’ll read why soon).
R.M.’s Law offices were housed in that building until he recently retired. Next time you pass, wave at the intersection, because it is a testimony to the intersection of cultures that existed in the Presidio area in the early 20th century, as well as to the spirit of non-Anglo early Santa Barbara entrepreneurs.
In the early years of the 20th century, the Nardi Hotel housed a bakery and wine and grocery concern on the bottom floor. The family lived upstairs as well as offered guest accommodations.
R.M.’s father grew up in the lively atmosphere of the intersection.
A 1993 publication from UCSB and the Trust for Historic Preservation states that the hotel was located at a crossroads of action. A gang of Italian stonemasons lived in the hotel. Visitors to the family included extended Nardi family members, the former chief of police and the fire chief.
One block away from Chinatown, looking from the windows, you would have seen activity at City Hall and the jail.
During those years, many residents of the Presidio area were Catholic, having had roots in Hispanic, French or Italian heritage. By the 1920s, Anglo businessmen eyed the cheaper real estate in the area and began to buy property. Francesco was keenly aware that the nature of the neighborhood was changing.
This effort by Francesco for our shared past carries a moral. Respect for tradition can be exercised in tangible ways if someone has the courage to buck a trend.
Why the Presidio area was about to change under the watchful gaze of Francesco is a fascinating phenomenon in architectural style called the Spanish Colonial vogue.
Businessmen outside the Hispanic culture were actively removing the old adobes of the area and rebuilding in the Spanish Colonial Style, which is to say that the real architecture of the Spanish past in Santa Barbara was being rebuilt in a repacked romanticized version of the Spanish past.
Developers turned a blind eye to Californio culture and rebranded it. Many old adobes were lost; Francesco mounted a campaign to save what he could.
Thus the Lugo adobe, the Miranda adobe, the adobe that abutted his hotel, and the Santiago de la Guerra adobe were all saved because he and his wife respected their shared past, as well as the future of Santa Barbara as related to the Californios culture.
R.M.’s chairs fit with this ethos. The chairs are styled in the Renaissance Revival tradition, hearkening to the Italian Renaissance, a style popular in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Even the furniture chosen for his hotel back in 1906 had Francesco’s taste and respect for the traditions and styles of the past.
The value of the pair is $600, but the story they carry is irreplaceable.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.