AKA: El Fureides, Montecito, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses

Designers: Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, Architects (firm); Hunt and Grey, Architects (firm); Ralph Adams Cram (architect); Frank W. Ferguson (architect); Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (architect); Elmer Grey (architect); Myron Hubbard Hunt (architect)

Dates: constructed 1905-1906

total floor area: 10,000 sq. ft.

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631 Parra Grande Lane
Montecito, CA 93108

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New York architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue received several commissions for buildings in Southern CA late in his career, the earliest of which was this residence for the bachelor, man-of-leisure James Waldron Gillespie. Gillespie and Goodhue traveled the world in the early 1900s, storing away images and objects to reuse in this extensive Montecito estate. Constructed between 1905 and 1906, the house's exterior had the classical character of a Roman villa, centered around a central atrium. The dining room contained a barrel vault, its ceiling decorated with Roman-inspired grotesque patterns and a narrative painting "Alexander the Great Conquering Persepolis" rendered by painter Henry Wadsworth Moore. The elaborate gardens reflected their shared enthusiasm for Islamic gardens seen in various spots, most notably Persia, present-day Iran.

Building History

James Waldron Gillespie (b. 02/11/1865 in New York, NY-d. 1954 in NY, NY), who inherited a NY State real estate fortune as a young man, spent his life traveling and acquiring residential properties. He owned properties in New York City, Granville, NY, Havana, Cuba, and Montecito, CA. For his 40-acre Montecito estate, Gillespie commissioned his friend, New York architect Bertram Grosvernor Goodhue (1869-1924) to design him an elaborate house and garden, a place where his travel purchases could be showcased to best effect. Before designing the residence, Gillespie took Goodhue on a 7-month fact-finding tour of places that he felt were akin climatically to the arid, warm Montecito climate, including southern Europe, Mughal India and Persia. The Persian sojourn proved highly influential for both men; Gillespie chose to name his house "El Fureidis," a Persian phrase meaning "little paradise," and several garden features that referred to Islamic gardens, including the familiar Islamic "paradise motif," four pools set around a central fountain on the rear terrace, and the linear pools located just below a grand stairway from the main house. The latter element can be seen in the Mughal-era Shalimar Gardens (1641) in Lahore, Pakistan. This axial use of water pools or troughs, derived from Islamic gardens, also appeared in the Herbert Coppell Garden in Pasadena, designed by Goodhue in 1917.

Gillsepie and Goodhue chose many exotic plants for the estate's landscape, including several varieties of palms and banana and orange trees. Palms adapted well to coastal CA, and their foliage stood concentrated well above ground, providing a clean silhouette that did not block axial vistas. They were perfect for trimming allees and providing a distinctive and romantic appearance. Date palms were used to trim the driveway leading to the 10,000-square-foot house.

This was Goodhue's first commission in California; historian Richard Oliver, in his biographical essay in the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects, indicated the dates 1903-1910 for the Gillespie House. Goodhue designed few private residences, as his firm Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson had many institutional commissions, gaining fame for its churches, especially. Landscape historian Robin Karson noted that the Pasadena architectural firm, Hunt and Grey, also had a hand in the design of the Gillespie Residence: "The architects Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey were also involved at El Fureidis. Hunt is recorded as the supervising architect. Hunt and Grey would later play prominent roles in promoting Goodhue to replace Olmsted Brothers as planner of the San Diego Exposition [1915]." (See Robin S. Karson, A Genius for Place: American Landscapes of the Country Place Era, (Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press : in Association with Library of American Landscape History, 2007), p. 386.)

Building Notes

James W. Gillespie maintained residences in New York, NY, Mariel, Cuba, Middle Granville, NY, and Montecito, CA. He called the house in New York "Merevale."

The villa's rear elevation featured a three-bay composition, with two end pavilions joined by a central colonnade. The end bays had a spare design, with pediments engaged into a tall eaves. Columns of the central colonnade were topped by Ionic capitals.

While the house originally occupied about 40 acres, land had been sold off over time, resulting by 2010, in an estate of approximately 10 acres.

Gillespie was the brother-in-law of Henry Dater (b. 05/06/1867 in Fordham, NY), who commissioned another house (the famous Val Verde [1915]) by Goodhue on an adjoining property.

In 2011, the Gillespie House had 5 bedrooms, 8 baths and 10,000 square feet. It had an asking price of $29 million. According to a realtor's web site, the estate could be sub-divided: "El Fureidis offers excellent development potential as it now sits on three legal parcels of 10.39 acres, 3.34 acres and 0.77 acres each. Substantial sources of water exist in the form of two Montecito municipal water meters, the largest share ownership in the Montecito Creek Water Company, (39 shares or approximately 7%), an approximate 20% interest in the Cinquefoil Water Company and a private water well, which when last tested produced in excess of 20-gallons-per-minute." (See "El Fureidis Estate,"Accessed 10/31/2011.)

More recently, Christie's International Realty offered the house and its 10-acre property for an asking price of $35,000,000.


PCAD id: 3034