After the Jesusita Fire: Rebuilding Peace of Mind

Melissa and Christian Stepien made it out safely. Their home, unfortunately, was completely destroyed. The Jesusita Fire — a wind-driven blaze that scorched 80 homes and nearly 9,000 acres in the foothills above Santa Barbara in 2009 — burned so intensely through the Stepien house that even its foundation had to be abandoned. They were left with three acres of charred earth and a few big oaks. When it came time to regroup and get their heads around the complete rebuild of the place they called home, they found Bruce Giffin through a friend’s recommendation.

“We heard a lot of good things about Bruce,” remembers Melissa. “And it turned out to be a good decision — he was excellent.”

Just six months earlier, the Tea Fire destroyed more than 200 homes a few miles away, and those families offered lot of support and advice for the victims of Jesusita. Bruce, as well, was sympathetic and patient with the Stepiens, remembers Christian. “He was very gracious and at the same time always on top of the project, holding weekly meetings with us and keeping his crew on point.”

Bound by building code but offered a bit of leeway in expanding their new home’s square footage, the Stepiens went with the house’s original architect, Hugh Twibell, who drew new plans on top of the existing footprint while making the living room (pictured above) and kitchen (below) slightly bigger, adding more office space, and most significantly, raising the ceilings — with written approval from surrounding neighbors — about two feet to provide more spacious comfort.

For details, Bruce drove Melissa and Chris to other Giffin & Crane projects to show them an array of home features to see what they liked. They brought in Genny Cummings with Indigo Interiors. Then finally, for flagstone pathways and world-class landscaping, horticulturist Carol Bornstein dreamed up a drought-tolerant design dominated by natives. Soon, the birds — notably quail, hawks, owls, and vultures — came back in healthy numbers, plus lots of photo-worthy wildlife, including deer, bobcat, and fox. Views take the eye from Cathedral Peak down into Rattlesnake Canyon and on out to the ocean and mountains of Gaviota.

All said, their new home — a California Spanish ranch with hacienda traditions — covers roughly 4,000 square feet with three bedrooms, three and a half baths, and two offices. All of it conforms to state fire code, which calls for tempered glass, sprinklers, stucco, and heavily treated eves, among many details designed to save lives and structures. For added peace of mind, the backyard features a two-inch waterline with a valve that’ll hold a firehose.

 (By Keith Hamm, with photographs by Jim Bartsch.)

One Family, Two Businesses: Expert Stonework Dating Back Nearly 100 Years

Family lore dates the Santa Barbara arrival of stonemason and musician Antonio Da Ros to 1920, give or take. The youngest of 12, he left his native Italy on or around 1912 to join his uncle in New York, building brownstones along the Hudson River by day and playing saxophone by night. Working his way across the country with his trade and talent, including a stint in the copper mines of Jerome, Arizona, Da Ros came to Santa Barbara because he’d heard the Marisol Hotel — located where Alice Keck Peck Memorial Garden is today — was looking to put together a house band. Antonio got the gig. At the same time, he launched what is now Da Ros Masonry.

Naturally, his line of work required the accumulation of masonry materials, and according to his grandson, Peter Da Ros, who now runs Da Ros Masonry, Antonio “had a yard here [on the Lower Eastside] with piles of rock and brick and stuff like that.” He sold surplus material on an honor system, wherein customers would weigh what they needed and drop payment in a bucket next to the scale. That original yard — given to Antonio in exchange for forgiving an unpaid masonry bill — is where the business stands today, at the corner of Nopal and Mason streets. “Our roots are really in the stone industry,” says Peter.

When Antonio passed away in 1941 — from lung disease after being sprayed with mustard gas during the Battle of Verdun, in World War I — his son, Ozzie, took over the business, spent three years in World War II, and in 1958 launched Da Ros Stone; a decade later he changed the name to Santa Barbara Stone. Ozzie’s daughter (Peter’s older sister) runs the operation. “I’ve always been a numbers person,” she says.

The stonework of three generations of the Da Ros family and their crews can be spotted pretty much everywhere you look in Santa Barbara, from Clark Estate and Lotusland to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and UCSB’s Robertson Gymnasium. Da Ros has also worked very closely with Giffin & Crane on a number of Montecito estates, including one of our earliest high-end custom homes, in the Ennisbrook community, nearly 30 years ago. Giffin & Crane excel at exemplary homes built to last; Da Ros’s stonework is often the perfect fit.

“Bruce and Geoff understand the different aspects of the industry, and they value other people’s opinions,” says Peter. “They are very organized, top-quality professionals.”
That’s high praise coming from a man who started in the building business while still in high school, about 50 years ago, alongside his father. Ozzie’s 96 now, and according to Peter, he’s doing alright. “He’ll probably outlive us all.”

 (By Keith Hamm, with photographs by Jim Bartsch.)


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