Albert Herter (1871–1950) was an artist and painter. He was born in New York, New York, and studied in Paris and then in New York’s Art Students League. He had come from an artistic family; before Albert was born, his father, Christian Herter, and his father’s half-brother Gustave formed Herter Brothers, a prominent New York interior design and furnishings firm.
Albert Herter’s paintings include Young Girl, Garden of the Hesperides, and Still Life with Flowering Dogwood and Japanese Figurines; he was commissioned to execute many portrait paintings and he created a number of civic and private murals. He married fellow artist Adele McGinnis. Their son Christian Herterbecame a politician, serving as governor of Massachusetts and later as Secretary of State under Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1909, Herter was paid US$10,000 by Board of Regents of the Colorado Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to paint for the Denver Auditorium what was said to be the world’s largest theater backdrop. The flat curtain was 35 feet (11 m) high and 60 feet (18 m) wide; the illustration was an allegory of Independence including historical figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
That same year, Herter incorporated Herter Looms in New York, a tapestry design and manufacturing firm that was, in a sense, successor to Herter Brothers which had closed its doors in 1906.
Adele and Albert Herter spent a good deal of their time in California at “El Mirasol”, the grand family estate bought in 1904 in Santa Barbara where his mother Mary Miles Herter had entertained friends such as Robert Louis Stevenson‘s widow Fanny Vandegrift (who later retired to and died at “El Mirasol” in 1914.)The 4.6-acre (19,000 m2) parcel comprising an entire city block contained a prominent mansion surrounded by gardens. Adele and Albert undertook two major decoration efforts at the estate: the first at the mansion’s initial outfitting in 1909 which incorporated earlier Herter Brothers furnishings, new Tiffany lamps designed by Albert Herter, original wall hangings and works of art by both Albert and Adele as well as by other California artists. Following the death of Albert’s mother in 1913, the estate received a new round of renovation in 1914 with its conversion into “El Mirasol Hotel”; Herter expanded the mansion and added 15 luxurious bungalows around the gardens. The hotel was famed not only for its balanced design and private tranquility but for its wealthy guests including theVanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Guggenheims, and the heirs of Charles Crocker, J. P. Morgan and Philip Danforth Armour. In 1920, Herter sold the property to Frederick C. Clift, the hotelier and attorney from the Sierras. After the 1920s, times were hard on the hotel. Under different owners it settled into primarily a retirement home for the wealthy elderly. Herter himself died at “El Mirasol” in 1950.
Two attic fires damaged the west wing of the mansion in 1966. Rather than repairing it, two consecutive owners tried in vain to build high-rise shopping on the lot; the buildings and gardens were bulldozed and cleared but neighbors and a citizen’s committee fought successfully against city approval of high-rise plans. The block sat empty for a few years while the Santa Barbara Museum of Art considered building a main gallery there. In December 1975 the parcel was quietly bought by Santa Barbara resident Alice Keck Park who immediately donated it to the city of Santa Barbara to become an urban park in perpetuity: Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens.
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