Below is a short story I wrote in 2000 about living in Montecito CA (Santa Barbara area)… where we lived for a few years in the 1990’s. We left in 2001 and moved back home to downtown San Luis Obispo, CA.
Despite what you might think… well… Montecito is just a pretty odd place to actually live. There are houses here and there… usually on at least 2 acres… but I somehow don’t have any neighbors really. I know, I know… what about Oprah and all the movie producers etc etc. Well, it is not exactly as it seems.
I was one of the lucky ones… or so everyone thought anyway… I looked lucky after all… I had sold my company… I had lots of funny cool shoes from Europe and had a new Audi wagon and a cool small 50’s modern house with a nice view and old oak trees. My wife and I were young… in our thirties… we had nice bookcases with interesting books and we had some nice paintings.
But nobody really lives in Montecito as it turns out. This was somewhat disconcerting at first. You’d really never know it for all the activity going on.
I was walking across San Ysidro Rd. one day… at the corner of East Valley… on my way over to Pierre’s (the deli) when I noticed that all four cars at the intersection were Range Rovers… probably all Realtors…all talking on separate cell phones… and even the passenger of one of the Range Rover’s was talking on a cell phone… (that’s 5 phone calls at a 4 way stop). I had to hurry so as not to get run over by one of them (no doubt discussing the proper spelling of “Palladian” with her assistant).
So I was pondering about realtors and real estate as I walked over into the parking lot at Pierre’s. It was a normal day… I noticed nobody noticing Christopher Lloyd having coffee. Nobody noticed Sandra Bullock either… I’m pretty sure it was her… I was trying hard to be cool and not to gawk.
I got my coffee and I began ruminating on the fact that the house next to mine has been remodeled three times in the last five years… and all the while it has never been lived in. It sold for 1.2 about three years ago… then 2.2 about a two years ago… and now I expect it will be 6 to 7 as the most recent remodel involved scraping the entire old structure (a somewhat odd but fine old house) and building a new 5500 square foot palladian (there’s that word… see) villa. Basically this house has been more of a business for developers than a home.
It is one of 5 houses in my neighborhood that have recently become palladian villas. In fact I would say that most of the houses in the area have been going through some sort of Tuscanization process of one sort or another constantly since we moved here. (save three that are owned by people who are so old that they still keep horses on the property)
The house two over was leveled and got built into a 10,000 foot mansion a few years back. It sold just over a year ago for around 8. The new owners are adding on… they needed another 1000 feet. I have yet to see them… no sign of them anywhere. Up the hill a bit is another. It was modern…now it’s been hispanificated and sold… then sold again. Another sold on the first day at 9.9. One magazine article from LA calls these houses “white piles”… the subcontractors call them “big dick” houses.
The house across the street sold to a corporation before anyone knew it was for sale. It’s now the latest in the “scrape it and build a huge mansion on it” category. Montecito ABR reviewed it and declared it will be beautiful enough (preserving the character you know). New landscaping will replace existing landscaping.
I have never hired a building contractor but I know all of them some how… Paul… Doug… Rick…. Mark… Mike. Always a four-letter name. Anyone who actually lives here knows them too. You see them all the time… over various fences… they are quite similar to neighbors actually.
Montecito may not be a place people really live I guess… it is just the impression of a beautific enclave… a well disguised business for Realtors, gardeners, and home builders… except maybe on Sundays… but during the week it is major earthmoving equipment of one sort or another… with a light topping of leaf blowers and chainsaws… punctuated by the din of “tres million watt” Mexican radio stations (the guys building all the walls around the houses nobody lives in).
So meanwhile back at Pierre’s some LA producer type drives up in his new Aston Martin. He’s probably here to look at some houses. He’s not staying at the Miramar mind you because despite whatever Schrager’s Gucci wearing team of PR people are telling Wallpaper… there doesn’t seem to be much construction going on. He’s probably staying at one of the “Beanie” hotels owned by Ty Warner (Beanie Baby fortune… why does that sound so goofy)
Anyway… he gets out of the car and it’s horn beeps as he locks it… never mind that the only other cars in the lot are a whole slew of BMW’s, a Mercedes 600CL, a Turbo Porsche with ceramic brakes, four or five Mercedes wagons (the Montecito Taurus), the aforementioned RRR (Realtor in a Range Rover) and an Audi wagon (the dot com influence you know)… and the only people sitting there that would possibly steal anything from his $200,000 car are six or seven old timers and a smattering of young retired entrepreneurs in huaraches, old shorts and scrappy t-shirts quietly arguing about how the cinnamon rolls used to taste better.
So… after my coffee I walk to my car in my huarraches… and yes… it is the Audi… parked at Pierre’s even though I went to the Pharmacy (hey I did buy a coffee and I would have bought a cinnamon roll except… well you know) I drive over to the Post Office and park in front of Tecolote book store, quietly kicking myself for buying that last book on Amazon.
On the way home I drive by an open house (It’s Wednesday… caravan day for the RRR’s) It’s a decent older modern house with a terrific view of the mountains. I’m told it “might have been designed by somebody famous”. Most agents are calling it a scraper. It’s priced at 3.5 on 2 1/2 acres.
Later that evening my wife and I go to “the Ranch”… to the Plow and Angel restaurant… because it is only about 1500 feet from our house. Bill Gates and his wife were eating dinner at the table two over. The last time we went to the Plow and Angel Oprah was there… although at that time I didn’t know that she was buying the Bacon Estate.
I do suppose all this construction will have to die down a bit someday. It can’t go on ad infinitum. Harry Dent says the Boomer earnings peak is between now and 2007 or so… So I ponder my future… and meanwhile it is a great place to live… especially on Sundays.
I feel compelled to mention we bought an older house downtown in San Luis Obispo, CA… We don’t live there now of course… it just sits empty. I pay gardeners to keep it up. We’ll move back there eventually I suppose. After a remodel.