What Difference 10 Years Make

By Gwyn Lurie   |   June 25, 2020

It was March 2004 and I was pregnant with our first child when my husband and I bought our home here. We’d married nine months earlier at the San Ysidro Ranch and we would drive up for weekends, rue L.A.’s show biz culture and roam around Montecito, fantasizing about raising our kids in one of the storybook homes on one of the bucolic roads that fan out from the Ranch; roads that felt more akin to the French Riviera than the traffic congested boulevards back home. And always on those fleeting getaways we’d find our way to Cava, or Tre Lune, or Lucky’s. We’d shop at Wendy Foster or Kate boutique on Coast Village Road. (Remember Kate McMahon’s beautiful boutique?)

Soon life with a newborn took over and the fantasy of regular weekend getaways gave way to work deadlines, rigid toddler sleep schedules, visits with grandparents, and stressful attempts at a second pregnancy. In no time our imagined weekends away became just that, and we rented out our Montecito home – to Billy Baldwin, Chynna Phillips, and their three beautiful children.

By the end of 2007, the Writer’s Guild declared a strike, followed in close succession by the economy crashing in 2008, and suddenly our not so simple life was thrown into disarray. By then we were shopping for a kindergarten for our first born and a preschool for our second. As we interviewed for coveted spots at L.A.’s premier schools, we longed for a simpler, different kind of life for our family. At one point we were out maneuvered (Lori Laughlin style) at our first-choice school by a talent agent who paid-to-play for our child’s promised place. It was right about then that my husband looked at me and said: “Why don’t we move to Montecito?”

Having grown up in L.A. and being so close with my L.A.-based family I was hesitant. But I agreed to check out Montecito Union School, as its stellar reputation was a selling point when we bought our home. The idea of moving here began to grow on me. After all, we’re writers. Where better to write than Montecito? For meetings in L.A. we could drive down after rush hour and still be back by supper. So we toured MUS. A subsequent hour-long meeting with then-principal Kris Bergstrom, who sat with me and my sister (then-President of the L.A. County Board of Education) to answer all our questions, sealed the deal.

When we told Billy and Chynna we needed our house back, they were heart-broken but generous beyond belief. “I don’t know why anyone would not raise their kids in Montecito,” Billy said. “It’s paradise,” Chynna chimed in. When it came time to refund their security deposit, despite the minor wear-and-tear a family of five will do to any home, I said to my husband: “We’re giving back every penny. There are eight restaurants in Montecito and we’re going to see them.” Sure enough, on our first night in town, there they were at the next table at Sakana.

Billy and Chynna’s welcome was just an opening salvo to the warm hug we received from this community. It didn’t take long to realize this “sleepy little town” was a very engaged place that attracts people who understand that the party is where they are. It is here we have come to know some of the most interesting people we’ve ever met. This is a place where people believe in and support their causes. Where doing well means doing good. Montecito punches way above its weight in so many ways – cultural expression, community and philanthropic engagement, intellectual and spiritual life. The education our kids received at MUS was superior to anything we expected from any private school in L.A. And the authentic kindness we found from the people here could only exist in a place where people felt truly blessed to be.

Ten years later, I’m proud to call Montecito my home; but I don’t know that I’d still call it sleepy. Despite some painful hardships our community has endured, eight restaurants have ballooned to 24. The Miramar attracts a younger crowd and has added more colors to the community’s palette. Montecito’s other hotels are world-class, including the San Ysidro Ranch which has long ranked as the world’s number one small hotel. The Funk Zone has breathed new life into downtown Santa Barbara. UCSB and SBCC serve as centers for robust intellectual life. Arts and Lectures and other cultural institutions bring to town the world’s most renowned writers, thinkers, and speakers. The Lobero, Granada, Arlington, Music Academy and SB Bowl are must stops on the tours of the world’s greatest musical stars. We have one of the nation’s leading International Film Festivals and more non-profits per capita than any county in the country. As for the natural beauty of our mountains and beaches, just a breathtaking walk away, well… those speak for themselves. And they have spoken louder and clearer during the pandemic while most of the rest of the world has been cooped up in their homes and apartments. How blessed we are.

As pandemic stay-at-home orders have surreally bumped up against widespread civil unrest and the COVID-unfriendly protests that mark this politically tumultuous moment, people are clamoring to find a place that can offer some semblance of peace and space and proximity to nature while still having access to a vital life. All this when corporations are warming to the idea and benefits of a remote work force and it seems that Montecito’s moment has arrived.

Every June the Montecito Journal devotes an issue to evaluating the status of Montecito’s real estate market at the mid-year mark as we go into the primary selling season. Ironically, after many years of flying under the radar and staying strong in the face of economic downturns and natural disasters, it was an international pandemic that has finally given Montecito its much-deserved moment in the sun as one of the world’s premier places to live. And any of us who live here, can understand why. As Chynna said, “it’s paradise.”

Montecito is not so much a sleepy town as it is a place that wears a sleepy mask…  Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.


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