When Lockwood de Forest (1896–1949) returned from his honeymoon in 1925, he found Wright Ludington waiting on his front porch. Ludington’s father had just purchased Val Verde, a beautiful Montecito estate, and the shy, melancholic artist wanted de Forest to get to work on a new landscape plan immediately. The two had met as boys at Thacher School in the Ojai Valley and found they shared a love of the California landscape. During a 1922 European tour, they discovered other common interests, particularly art. In the years following, de Forest became one of the West Coast’s preeminent landscape designers, a result of his deep response to the subtle hues and textures of the Santa Barbara landscape and his innate artistic skill—his father, Lockwood de Forest Sr., was the import partner of Louis Tiffany and a talented landscape painter. Ludington’s own art making seems to have lacked discipline, but his connoisseur’s eye proved infallible.
Val Verde was already an extraordinary property when C. W. Ludington bought it. The c. 1915 estate plan by Boston architect Bertram Goodhue—who also designed the neighboring estate, El Furiedis—featured Beaux-Arts formal gardens, reflecting pool, and a spare, near-modernist house influenced by Colonial Mexican village architecture. In the 1890s, the conjoined estates produced bananas, grapes, palms, and medicinal plants and headquartered an international plant and seed collecting business of grand scope.
De Forest’s new designs for Val Verde left Goodhue’s geometry and much of the wildnerness intact but strengthened scenic views to mountain and ocean. Inventive new settings for Ludington’s world-class collection of Greek and Roman sculpture (now in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art) included a gallery/atrium/pool complex near the old water tower and reservoir. Spotlit niches and formal reflecting pools visible from both ends of the house also provided dramatic settings for the antique figures. Throughout the landscape, de Forest introduced native live oaks and silvery olives—a contrast to the exotic tangle that had naturalized from the earlier plantations. In the late 1930s, de Forest added a stuccoed colonnade “ruin” stretching three hundred feet along the original terrace. The stripped-down form strikes a paradoxically modern note, an uneasy foreshadowing of the less fanciful age already on the horizon.
Design by Bertram Goodhue and Lockwood de Forest, 1915–35.
Val Verde (estate of Wright S. Ludington)
Santa Barbara, California
Private. Not open to the public.