What’s the Story With This House on W. Cota Street?

There’s a big house with a lot of parking at the corner of W. Cota Street and Bradbury Avenue. What’s it used for? —J.

Finding remarkably little online, I reached out to John Ummel of Santa Barbara Free Walking Tours, which has just introduced a new tour of that part of town. His reply:

It’s called the Pierce Mansion, home to the widow of Charles Pierce, Santa Barbara’s first lumber dealer. The house was built in 1896. It’s built in the Queen Anne style. There was a huge redwood tree planted in the front yard in 1929, and a restaurant called the Redwood Inn operated here for a number of years as did an antique shop, Redwood Antiques. It’s currently being used as a residence.

One of the few things I did discover in my research was that Santa Barbara has designated the building a Structure of Merit. City project planner/architectural historian Nicole Hernandez sent over a report from last year. While it’s almost entirely about the architecture, the report does say that the aforementioned widow, Mary Pierce, “lived in the house only a year or two before selling it to A.J. Abraham, butcher and proprietor of Bon Ton Market. Abraham lived in the home for 25 years.” Consequently, the report refers to the building as the Pierce-Abraham Residence.

According to a historical rundown of Santa Barbara restaurants on the Independent’s website, the Redwood Inn debuted in 1966; however, a 2021 News-Press obituary of Bessie Mae Hawkins, who worked at many restaurants before cofounding the Redwood Inn, places that date a bit later:

When the highway was widened in 1961, The 101 [restaurant] was torn down. She moved on to Chris Prip’s restaurant in Radio Square at the corner of Carrillo and De La Vina Streets. During her time at Prip’s she and her business partner, Jim Smock, bought the old, Victorian house at the corner of Bradbury and W. Cota Street. Both families spent seven years restoring the old place and turned it into one of the most famous restaurants in S.B. at that time, The Redwood Inn. The upstairs was turned into the living quarters for her and her family. The restaurant was so popular that lines of people would stand on the porch and walkways to wait for one of her famous meals. Her son, Ken, the wine steward, would offer free glasses of wine to the eager patrons outside. Eventually she sold her interest in the Redwood Inn to her business partner.

The Independent’s 2011 obituary of Jim Smock’s wife, Berka, offers more color about the restaurant (and explains the literal catwalk on the Bradbury Avenue side):

Everyone in the cat world of Santa Barbara of the old days knew of Berka. I don’t think it would be far-fetched to call her the Original Cat Lady of Santa Barbara. It started with one stray cat when she and her husband, Jim, ran the Redwood Inn restaurant, which featured German food. Berka did the cooking while Jim baked the pies. That historic Brinkerhoff Avenue house is still standing, as is its huge redwood tree. After they closed the restaurant, Berka operated Redwood Antiques there, for many years.

Lastly, let’s revisit the city’s report for more on the architecture:

Two gables peek out from a center hipped roof, with a stunted octagonal tower whose roof barely meets the peak of the gables. Another gable peers out where the driveway is too, adding to the asymmetrical footprint of the building. The distinct massing of the building, and characteristic angular tower places the home firmly in the Queen Anne style. […]

Many of these Victorian and classical architectural features [seen in the Queen Anne style] can be found in the Pierce-Abraham Residence. Take a look at the wide overhanging eaves, bracketed with chamfered posts on the front gable. Also, notice the lattice-pattern near the gable peaks—these are Victorian features that add a decorative dimension to the home. The carved wood brackets that support the large projecting lattice eaves on the bay windows, with decorated rounded finials, also add another kind of overhang.

The differences between the first and second stories are also highlighted not only by the overhangs, but in the wood siding. The upper story has crenellated shingles, while the lower story is basic horizontal wood siding. […] The use of simple wood siding and complex shingling indicates a sense of wealth and status not usually found in downtown Santa Barbara. The feeling of status is enhanced with the use of classical porch columns that support a classical frieze and cornice, as do the arched transom windows above the porch. All these details mentioned so far make the home an excellent example of Queen Anne styling.

Got a question you’d like investigated? Email [email protected] or text 917-209-6473.


Previous Burning Questions:
↓↓↓ What are those little houses on Santa Barbara Street?
••• Which Highway 101 exits are getting renamed?
••• Why is so much of the Macy’s store empty?
••• Will Delta Air Lines ever reinstate service to Santa Barbara Airport?
••• Is the Music Academy of the West adding pedestrian gates?
••• Is the county really taking private property for trailhead parking?
••• Why does the Coast Village Road median look so bad?
••• Is Santa Barbara going to introduce residential compost bins?
••• When will Santa Barbara Junior High’s flagpole be replaced?
••• What’s the point of this light pole near the freeway?
••• Why is the Hermosillo exit on the 101 closed?
••• Has Victor the Florist closed for good?
••• Why are the city’s parking lots scanning license plates?
••• What’s inside Paseo Nuevo’s State Street tower?
••• What’s the point of these markings on Laguna Street?
••• Why is there a giant red shoe off Highway 101?
••• Will the Dorinda Triangle ever get beautified?
••• Are we no longer allowed on the SBHS baseball field?
••• What does “SBTP” on this post mean?
••• What’s up with the “no e-bike” signs on local trails?
••• Why is Franceschi House in a holding pattern?
••• Why is there a train station inside this State Street storefront?
••• What’s happening with this derelict house in Summerland?
••• Is there a story behind Lucky Penny’s bell?
••• Why is there wood on some power lines?
••• Can you explain how sundowner winds work?
••• Why is there a pressure cooker attached to this utility pole?
••• What’s this concrete ramp thing on East Beach?
••• Why does “USA” get written on the street?
••• What are those poles in the ocean near the Ritz-Carlton Bacara?
••• Are people really allowed to set fires in the middle of Montecito?
••• What’s the story with the half-finished lot next to the Montecito Country Mart? 


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Shirley Roby

Thanks Erik, this is interesting! Cannot remember if I went there to eat but do remember going to the Antique store.