City Council deems Trinity Episcopal Church a Santa Barbara landmark
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The Santa Barbara City Council unanimously voted to establish Trinity Episcopal Church as a city landmark on January 29, 2019. Designated a Structure of Merit in 1991, the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) adopted a resolution to elevate the church’s status in November of 2018 with the written consent of the church vestry, a resolution that was indeed readily accepted by both the City Council and the church.
Designed in Gothic Revival style by renowned architect Philip Hubert Frohman and his lesser known partner Harold Martin, and made primarily from ashlar-cut sandstone, the initial construction of Trinity Episcopal Church was concluded in 1919 after 7 years, according to Urban Historian Nicole Hernandez. However, the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake devastated the tower and both the east and west gables, calling for a reconstruction of the sanctuary with more earthquake-resistant materials that was completed in 1927. In a City Council agenda report Hernandez explained that at this time locally known architects Soule, Murphy, and Hastings designed the half-timbered Tudor style parish that was added in 1926, completing the church and ending its overall construction.
The proposal of City Landmark status notably includes the 1912-1919 Sanctuary, the 1926 Parish Hall, the 1951 Church School, and the 2003 Labyrinth, but the entire parcel of land on which the church resides falls under that status as well. Due to the honor and recognition now placed on the church largely because of its unique architectural characteristics, this means that these structures may be altered only with written approval from the HLC, and demolished only if they are damaged beyond repair so that they may not be reasonably restored.
Having been a Structure of Merit for over 25 years, the church had become a potential candidate for City Landmark designation. The church’s status was thus reassessed by the HLC and the City Council, and the conclusion was made that it deserved to be elevated. Essentially, the new designation can be attributed to the lasting impact Trinity Episcopal Church has had on the heritage of the city. With regard to architecture and historical significance, the church is Santa Barbara’s only stone, Gothic Revival building designed by a prestigious architect. In addition, the building has maintained a high level of historical integrity after all these years, particularly in how immaculately it conveys its 1927 appearance and feel. More formally, though, according to the Santa Barbara City Council agenda report for the 19th of January of this year, the HLC found that Trinity Episcopal Church met six of the eleven “codified criteria for historical and architectural significance” detailed under the Santa Barbara Municipal Code (SBMC), section 22.22.040.
While the structures of the church itself played a key role in securing City Landmark status, the impact that the church body has had on the surrounding community certainly influenced the City Council. According to Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo, “the building is beautiful, but the people inside more so.” The church truly cares about “those who need support in the community.” Dr. Grey Brothers of Westmont College and Minister of Choral and Congregational Music at Trinity Episcopal Church, says that “historically, what the body of believers [at the church] has chosen to do has been to reach out to the community in positive ways,” ways that have transformed and uplifted the community. With the work that the church has done, from hosting city gang-prevention meetings to serving as a warming center for the homeless, Trinity Episcopal Church has reinforced its status as a city landmark.