The biggest bust in Santa Barbara is about to go down

Emanuele Orazio Fenzi, better known as Francesco Franceschi (1843–1924), was an Italian horticulturist responsible for vastly increasing the botanical variety of Santa Barbara (introducing more than 900 species). He was also for awhile the primary landowner on the Riviera, a loaf-shaped hill overlooking the city’s downtown. Most of that hill is now covered by suburb, but a large part that isn’t is what remains of the Franceschi estate: 18 acres called Franceschi Park, featuring a crumbling mansion and the bust above, carved into the top of a boulder on the property.

The city doesn’t have much to say about Franceschi, and what it does is in a website that goes one paragraph deep, kind of like one of those minimal “stubs” in Wikipedia. This makes sense, because the state of neglect in the park is extreme, and the city would rather not deal with it. I won’t go into details, because they’re well presented all these stories:

Wikipedia, at the top link above, goes deep too. So does this 2002 Pacific Horticulture story, which suggests with this photo —

— that the bust above isn’t a bad likeness.

But that boulder and Franceschi’s head are going to be shards on the road soon if the city, or somebody, doesn’t save it. Most of the park is a steep slope, and the Riviera itself is itself a pile of rocks (mostly Matilija Sandstone) that sloughed off the mountain behind during “storms of inimaginable intensity” in the Pleistocene. It’s all fairly stable now, except where humans have cut into it to site a home or a road. This is what happened when the flatness of Mission Ridge Road cut into the steep slope of the land. The barely consolidated soils and rocks below the vegetated surface are exposed to rain, wind and animal traffic above and below. So, when big storms come — such as the epic ones we had this past week, dumping up to 10 inches and more of rain — the result is what geologists and civil engineers alike call “debris flows.” These occur especially where the angle of repose is too steep.

And so here we are. After a century of quiet in the woods and chapparal that grew where Franceschi’s gardens once bloomed on the Riviera’s slope, the great man’s head is about to roll. So let’s take a look.

Here’s Franceschi’s bust, carved from its boulder, a few feet above the ground that has fallen down to Mission Ridge Road below:

And here you can see the failing slope, and the rubble that has fallen from within it onto the road:

You can also see how the road itself created an angle of slope exceeding its natural state of repose, at least once it loses restraining vegetation.

And here’s a closer look at the slo-mo landslide happening immediately below the sculpture:

I shot that several days ago, in a break between this winter’s record breaking rainstorms. The rains are now back, though more steady and gentle than the ones preceding.

I don’t know if saving this bust from going down is the city’s job or not; but I suspect it is. The city owns the park and maintains its streets. I suspect the city also put the road where it is.

This may help the city rationalize the work: saving this one rock is surely an easier job than saving the house.

What it comes down to is caring. Do people here care or not?

The ghost of Dr. Franceschi awaits your answer.

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