One of the most recognizable landmarks in Montecito today is the beautiful Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, located at the northeast corner of East Valley and Hot Springs roads. The humble beginnings of this church can be traced to the earliest rural settlers in Montecito, the soldiers of the Santa Barbara Presido and their descendants.

All California school children learn the tale of Father Junipero Serra and his dream of linking the California coast with a string of missions. Father Serra died before his dream could be realized. His successor, Father Fermin Lasuen, established the Santa Barbara Mission in 1786. In lieu of cash or pension payments, Presidio guards who watched over the mission were given small tracts of land; many of these parcels were located in the foothills of Montecito and Carpinteria.

These landholders formed a new community. In 1856, the residents built a small adobe church under the auspices of the Santa Barbara Mission. The simple adobe church was large enough for perhaps 60 people. In 1859, about 15 acres of adjacent land was deeded to the parish and utilized as a cemetery. The southwest portion of this parcel, fronting on East Valley Road, is the present site of Mount Carmel Church.

Popularly known as "the Little Church of the Fathers," the original Carmelo adobe was the site of frequent celebrations and feast days, attended by a padre from the Santa Barbara Mission. The community grew quickly and soon a larger church was needed. Although the residents were extremely poor, the community pooled its resources and over the span of a decade raised $800 to build a little wooden church in 1898.

The little wooden church served parishioners until 1936, when construction began on the present church. Landscape architects Lockwood de Forest and Stephen Benizik designed the surrounding grounds to enhance the structure created by architect Ross Montgomery.

The unique architectural style was patterned after the Pueblo Indian missions built in New Mexico and Arizona as early as the 17th century. Typifying the handiwork of the Indians are the uneven window openings and irregularly plastered walls. The courtyard, front stone portal, and weathered façade make striking combinations of form, light and color. The style, known as "Pueblo Revival," is a unique blend of missionary design and building techniques reminiscent of the Pueblo Indians.

The Church is open daily until 6:30 p.m. Visitors are welcome anytime.


 

 


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