AKA: Belvedere Hotel, Santa Barbara, CA; Ambassador Hotel, Santa Barbara, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings -public accommodations - hotels

Designers: Austin, John C.W. Architect (firm); Hunt, Myron, Architect (firm); John Corneby Wilson Austin (architect); Myron Hubbard Hunt (architect)

Dates: constructed 1902-1903, demolished 1921

6 stories

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West Cabrillo Boulevard
West Beach, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

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The Dana Burks' Santa Barbara City Directory 1904 (p. 210) indicated that the Potter Hotel was located on the Esplanade del Mar.


Michigan-born businessman Milo M. Potter (1854-1925), who, following various careers as a cotton broker and fruit farmer, turned his hand to managing hotels in FL and NJ. He solidified his stature as a hotel manager at the Hotel Wentworth and Van Nuys Hotel in Los Angeles during the Gilded Age, and came to Santa Barbara just after 1900 to scout a location for a new resort. Potter knew that the Southern Pacific Railroad was, in 03/1901, completing a link from San Luis Obispo and points north to Santa Barbara, a long-awaited section of track that would make access to Santa Barbara effortless for Eastern tourists. Santa Barbara's beauty and sheltered location would make it ideal for tourism. (See Neal Graffy, "Santa Barbara's Grand Hotel - The Potter," accessed 04/21/2016.)

Construction on his eponymous hotel began in 1902 and lasted one year before completion on 01/19/1903. January was the beginning of Santa Barbara's tourist season (lasting through May), when well-to-do Easterners would take the rail out west to gain respite from frigid temperatures and deteriorating health. Potter planned enough amenities and recreational activities to make his hotel busy the year around, and large and varied enough to keep guests engaged. To house all of his amenities, the scale of the Potter Hotel was huge; its size can be appreciated in the US Geological Survey 1901 topographical map of the city, that showed the planned hotel.

Building History

Milo Potter selected a prime location on Santa Barbara's waterfront to build his vast hotel. The site he chose had been known to 19th century settlers as "Burton's Mound," a hillock that featured a creek, springs and mineral pools that attracted Chumash Indians centuries before. The Chumash called it Syukhtun,"where two trails run," a 30-acre rectangle of land bounded by Bath Street on the southwest, Montecito Street on the northwest, Chapala Street on the northeast and the Pacific Ocean on the southeast. The Franciscan settlers erected an adobe at the crown of the hillock, using it as a building within which to store tanned hides. It passed to Lewis T. Burton, a fur trapper who came to the region in 1831 and married two members of the Carillo land-owning family, the first being Maria Antonia Carrillo on October 20, 1839. Burton boughtthe adobe and its surrounding acreagein 1860, and made numerous additions to it over the years before he sold it to an investorment group,the Seaside Hotel Association, in 1875, which, although it saw the spot's potential to attact tourists, never managed to raise a seaside resort hotel. (See Neal Graffy, "Santa Barbara's Grand Hotel - The Potter," accessed 04/21/2016.)

Development waited until Potter came to town in 1900 searching for the right parcel on which to execute his grand vision for a year-around resort hotel. He chose to build the Potter Hotel at the crest of the hill. He held an architectural competition that was won by John C.W. Austin with a Mission Revival Style design, over six stories tall, featuring a huge five-bay composition, with an angled, E-shaped plan. Austin designed a central section, featuring two towers and a central cupola, to which bilateral connecting sections terminated in pavilions on the east and west ends. The connecting sections featured scalloped Mission style pediments in the middle of their parapets. Red tile hipped roofs covered all sections, with a prominent belvedere located on the roof of the west connecting section.

In order to feed guests in the hotel's 390 rooms, Potter operated three dining rooms, one of which, the main dining room, was immense and capable of serving 700. To keep his kitchen pantries filled with dairy products, meats and vegetables, Potter began Potter Farm, a large-scale agricultural enterprise that had the hotel as its sole customer.

To entertain guests the all year, Potter created a self-sustaining city within a city, surrounding the hotel with elaborate and ever-changing gardens (including separate ones for flowers and cacti), perfect for relaxing promenades, as well as tennis courts, conservatories and a "menagerie." The property had its own post office, power plant, water supply and Southern Pacific rail spur with a depot.

To enhance the recreation of Potter Hotel guests, Potter also started the Potter Country Club, located about five miles away on a 150-acre portion of the Hope Ranch. Buses took guests to and from the club. It offered a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts and a racetrack. In 1909, Potter added a new attraction for guests to try, polo. (See Arthur Inkersley, "The Coming Championship Polo Tournament," Western Field, vol. 14, no. 4, p. 300.) The Country Clubhouse was located on a knoll above the Laguna Blanca, a seventy-acre fresh water lake.

Potter operated the hotel from 01/19/1903 until 02/1919, when he sold it and it became known as the "Belvedere." By 12/1920, it was purchased by the owners of the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel chain, who operated it under their name until it burned in a huge blaze on 04/13/1921, a few months after they closed on the property.

Building Notes

The guide book Santa Barbara; A Guide to the Channel City and its Environs, WPA Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in Southern California, (New York: Hastings House, 1941), p. 45, stated of the Potter Hotel: "The Potter Hotel, built in 1901 and officially opened January 19, 1902, on a 30-acrea area, cost Milo Potter $150,000." The hotel opened in 1903 not 1902.


In April 1920, $150,000 worth of building alterations were planned by Pasadena architect, Myron Hunt (1868-1952). Hunt performed renovations on the hotel including: adding bungalows and a garage, lowering the lobby floor, and rewiring the building.


A fire destroyed the Ambassador Hotel on 04/13/1921.

PCAD id: 3802