Scaling the Heights of Las Alturas

My husband and I are renting on the Riviera while some work is done on our house, which means I get to walk new areas without having to drive anywhere. And because the rental is better suited to guests, it means we could take in our friends’ teenage daughter, Z., when she needed a place to stay for a few nights. Polite guest that she was—or perhaps she was simply bored with all the rain—she agreed to accompany me on an exploration of Las Alturas Road.

We started at the southern end, near where Edward the Fix It Guy is apparently headquartered. (Is he the one who turned his garage into a serious gym and then works out with the door open?) The first thing Z. and I remarked upon was how lush and vibrant the plant life is. The second thing was how there’s nowhere to go if a car comes barreling around one of the street’s many corners. You have to switch between facing oncoming traffic and crossing to the other side when approaching a blind curve.

This being Santa Barbara, some plants reminded us of Dr. Seuss.

And of course it didn’t take long to be dazzled by the views.

Those are the Channel Islands visible through the window….

And some people have truly magical parking moments.

Speaking of parking, I wouldn’t mind a sign like Charles Firestone’s for my birthday.

The architecture is a salmagundi of styles, stacked to maximize views—you’re generally looking up at the houses or down past them—with many examples of the short-in-front-long-in-back design we call mullets.

Because they don’t necessarily see what’s below their house, some people may not care what it looks like down there.

Overall, there are many terrific houses, and I found myself falling in love over and over. Do you feel like a different person when you move to a different style of house? Is it like changing outfits?

1131 Las Alturas sparked the Great Pacaso Scare of 2022 when one of the first fractional owners threw a loud party for his daughter. An anti-Pacaso sign still sits nearby.

At the top of Las Alturas are large properties with fabulous driveways. Unfortunately for us, the houses aren’t visible from the street.

The standout estate—at least on Las Alturas proper—is 931 Las Alturas, a.k.a. Montjoie. From a 2006 L.A. Times/Forbes article:

During a trip to the area in 1926, Montgomery Ward heir James Ward Thorne and his wife, Narcissa, purchased the land and enlisted their friend, Chicago architect Edwin Hill Clarke, to design a home. Two years later, the villa was completed and named Montjoie, meaning “mountain of joy.”

A circular, tree-lined motorcourt brings visitors to the home, with a façade that features wrought-iron window railings, elegant balconies, flared eaves and French doors.

Inside, visitors enter a galleria that connects several rooms modeled after spaces in 17th- and 18th-century Europe. In addition to the formal living room, the ground floor includes a dining room inspired by 18th-century Paris, a library that resembles a 17th-century Tuscan abbey and a ballroom that brings to mind 18th-century Vienna, all with intricately laid hardwood floors, marble fireplaces and generous windows overlooking the terrace and offering ocean, city and mountain views.

A few interior photos can be seen on Zillow from when it was on the market a decade ago; someone bought the property, which is nearly two acres, for $6.778 million in 2014. While I take a moment to wipe away bitter tears of envy, do go look at the photos.

The buildings that are less obviously appealing add flavor to the architectural stew.

Nothing enhances a beautiful view quite like a corrugated-metal roof, right? At least it’s not red.

The paragon of questionable architecture is 350 Las Alturas. It’s as delightfully wacky inside as it is outside, or at least it was when it last sold ($2.585 million) in early 2021. The way the staircase penetrates the entry arch makes me tingle if I look at it too long. (Cars approach from below, around the corner.)

I propose that one day each year trespassing laws be suspended so we can all wander freely on other people’s property. (Like The Purge, but without the body count.) Look at these paths and stairways and tell me you’re not into it.

Naturally, Z. and I came upon a few fun mailboxes, although the first one below—with windows!—lost some of its charm when we noticed a similar one up the road.

I love the nightlife, I’ve got to boogie, on the disco ’round….

We debated why anyone would build an overhang above his or her grill. It’s not big enough to protect from rain, and it’s not positioned to block the sun, so perhaps it exists to provide light? Or maybe it’s just a folly?

Stand in the right spot and I bet it looks like you’re wearing a boa.

It seems to me that putting a “W” on the side of your house could lead people to believe that there’s a restroom around the corner.

If there’s an explanation for this ladder, I don’t want to know.

The large spider caught our attention, and then we spotted the smaller one, so we spent a couple of minutes looking for more, to no avail. Love the pads.

At the top of Las Alturas, I gave Z. the good news: we were halfway done with the street, and the rest was downhill. The bad news was that we’d also be exploring the various dead-end spurs (with the exception of Terrace Road, because I walked right by it). First up: Las Alturas Circle, where we felt like we were in the Rockies, what with the big sky and the snow-dusted mountains. Judging from the consistent architecture, I would assume that a large lot was subdivided and developed.

Shwing!

Z. got points for noticing this statue.

Camino Alto isn’t a spur—it runs into Conejo Road—but I insisted we check it out anyway, because I wanted a better look at the house below, which I had noticed while visiting the newly built 20 Camino Alto (on the market for $8.499 million). 44 Camino Alto was built in 1974, and judging from undated Zillow photos of a rental unit on the property, it’s a full-on Monet. But wow, what an entrance!

And look at the 1927 beauty at 10 Camino Alto.

There’s quirk on Camino Alto, too: a herd of goat sculptures; a hexagonal roof doodad, a.k.a. Juicer of the Gods; and a four-eyed mailbox monster that eats plants.

I thought this was an exciting new fruit, but Z. said that it’s actually an unhealthy avocado tree. UPDATE: “The sickly avocado is actually a Chorisia speciosa Silk Floss Tree (the plant geek in me feels compelled to tell you this),” says PL. “When the pods split open they are full of silky fluff that was sometimes used as stuffing. Beautiful pink flowers, too.”

More mullets can be found on Camino Verde; the first one below, 20 Camino Verde, is pretty cool inside, and it recently got price-chopped to $8.875 million. There’s something to be said for a view property where you don’t have to spend a lot of time/energy/money maintaining land.

Come for the view, stay for the indoor-outdoor staircase.

The stub of a street called Alturas del Sol looks like a bunch of UFOs landed on it—I wish I could’ve seen it when, I’m guessing, they all resembled the wood-clad one. (“Hi!” a recorded voice announces as you pass the white house. “You are currently being recorded!”) And one hopes that the tennis/pickleball court is shared by those two houses—otherwise, building it was a rather aggressive move.

Rincon Vista has nice views, and I quite liked the old house at left in the first photo below. Alisal Road, meanwhile, quickly ends with a pair of driveways, even though Google Maps shows it looping back to Las Alturas.

Did the paint run in the rain? I kid! This house on Pueblo Vista Road has undeniable flair.

Holmcrest Road boasts a classy stone staircase, a vintage Jeep, and what might be the best carport ever. The street ends with a chained-off driveway (?) that I thought would make more sense—perhaps it’s the back entrance to a house on a different street?—when I looked at it later on Google Maps. But it didn’t.

The final spur was Drexel Drive, which can feel both rural and rules-y. The basket of rocks didn’t have a sign saying not to take any, but I resisted just the same.

This honeybun was a sweet way to end the outing.

P.S. Is BRN2WLK taken?

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Walk With Me…

Downtown Santa Barbara
The Presidio: In the Footsteps of Old Santa Barbara
Brinkerhoff, Bradley, and Beyond
Mixing Business and Pleasure in East Beach
It’s Only Milpas Street (But I Like It)
↓↓↓ The Haley Corridor Is Keeping It Real
The Small Pleasures of Bungalow Haven
• Is There a Better Neighborhood for a Stroll Than West Beach?
E. Canon Perdido, One of Downtown’s Best Strolling Streets

Oak Park / Samarkand
The Side Streets and Alleyways of Upper Oak Park
The Small-Town Charms of Samarkand

Eucalyptus Hill
On the Golden Slope of Eucalyptus Hill
Climbing the Back of Eucalyptus Hill

San Roque
Voyage to the Heart of the San Roque Spider Web

TV Hill / The Mesa
Walking in Circles in Alta Mesa
West Mesa Is Still Funky After All These Years
A Close-Up Look at TV Hill

Hidden Valley / Yankee Farm
An Aimless Wander Through Hidden Valley
• The Unvarnished Appeal of Yankee Farm

Hope Ranch / Hope Ranch Annex / Etc.
A Country Stroll on El Sueno Road

Montecito
The Heart of Montecito Is in Coast Village
• Quintessential Montecito at Butterfly Beach
Once Upon a Time in the Hedgerow…
Where Montecito Gets Down to Business
In the Heart of the Golden Quadrangle
Up, Down, and All Around Montecito’s Pepper Hill
Montecito’s Prestigious Picacho Lane
School House Road and Camphor Place

Summerland / Carpinteria
A Stroll in the Summerland Countryside
Admiring the Backsides of Beachfront Houses on Padaro Lane
Whitney Avenue in Summerland

Goleta / Isla Vista
• Where the Streets Have Full Names
The Past Is Still Present in Old Town Goleta
Social Distancing Made Easy at UCSB

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Comment:

9 Comments

Stephen

There is a private garden/nursery where Camino Alto and Conejo meet called Aloes in Wonderland that has been on my list to visit for a while.

You also missed a this installation of head statues by 6 months or so that was next door to the Pacaso house: https://www.instagram.com/p/CamuuUDl-AZ/

Reply
Kimberly Hitch

My grandparents Bob and Berniece Blau owned 12 Camino Verde while I was growing up. They rebuilt after it burned in the Sycamore Canyon fire. Some of the greatest memories of my life are walking around Las Alturas and visiting with all the neighbors.

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Brad Avery

Hello Kimberly, I bought 12 Camino Verde in July 2020 from Jacqui Bravo who bought it around 2000. We love the Riviera, and walking the loop to Franchesci park and back. The house came very close to burning in the Tea fire of 2012, the house next door burned down along with four other houses on the street. I’d be interested to hear about the sycamore fire, your parents experience back then, etc. rebuilding. No doubt there will be more fires coming down the canyon over the years. Best Regards, Brad

Reply
PL

I always love your walks, thank you.
The sickly avocado is actually a Chorisia speciosa “Silk Floss Tree” (the plant geek in me feels compelled to tell you this). When the pods split open they are full of silky fluff that was sometimes used as stuffing. Beautiful pink flowers, too.
Salmagundi! Las Alturas really is a like lovely salade composée.

Reply
DW

My father was the paint contractor for Montjoie in the 90s. It had fallen into major disrepair and was a sad gray color. The owners were set on painting it all white, but my father convinced them to paint it canary yellow with white trim — because in his eyes, it resembled the buttery Von Trapp Family estate in the Sound of Music! The family loved it so much they even wallpapered a powder room with edelweiss print!

Reply