About the Riviera

From Barren Hillside to International Destination

In the early 20th century the barren hills east of the Santa Barbara Mission were not considered for development due to the difficulties of access, the scarcity of water and the rocky terrain.  A few hearty souls built homes to take advantage of the spectacular ocean views, the most noteworthy of which was Dr. Emanuel Fenzi whose 40 acre site later became Francheschi Park.  In 1913 a retired investment banker, George Batchelder, purchased several hundred acres of the rocky hillside because it reminded him of the French Riviera.  Armed with this vision “The Riviera Company” was formed and the transformation began.

Batchelder’s first move was to plant hundreds of oak seedlings to enhance the landscape.  He then hired Italian stone masons to build retaining walls, stairs and gateposts from the native sandstone.  The final step was to place utility lines underground and draw home sites ensuring that each had unobstructed views.  Parcels were then sold with the agreement that only tile roofed white stucco homes could be built.  Bathchelder built his own Mediterranean Villa on Paterna Road while his partner, R.H. Gaud, claimed a prized site around the corner on Lasuen and built a signature home that was featured on postcards.  Today the Paterna/Lasuen and adjacent Dover Road enclave is considered the heart of the Riviera and one of the most coveted areas to live in Santa Barbara.

Another visionary in the development of the Riviera was Edna Rich Morse who chose a site on the western end of the Riviera in 1909 to construct a Normal School for educating teachers.  On a nearby site cottages were built for faculty and students which later became the romantic El Encanto Hotel.  The Normal School’s impressive campus evolved into the home of UC Santa Barbara for many years and is now occupied by local businesses and the popular Riviera Theatre.  The Riviera’s fine educational tradition continues today as it is currently the home of Marymount and Santa Barbara Middle School, two highly regarded private schools for local residents.

While there is a lot more to be told regarding the rich history of the Santa Barbara Riviera this brief overview provides some insight into how it evolved from a barren hillside into a world class destination.  As one local resident puts it, “we know how lucky we are not to have to go to Europe to enjoy the Riviera lifestyle.  We’ve got a better Riviera right here in Santa Barbara.”