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A Santa Barbara Treasure: An Appreciation of Kellam de Forest

By Cheri Rae

Dressed in a freshly pressed blue pinstripe shirt and khakis, with polished oxfords, Kellam de Forest sits at the head of the table and conducts business. It’s the monthly meeting of the Preservation Watch committee of the Pearl Chase Society.

He’s prepared the agenda and sent it out, and he’s very much in charge here, working hard to keep Santa Barbara from turning into “Podunk-town,” as one member noted.

Kellam de Forest (center) enjoying the 2012 Historic Homes Tour sponsored by the Pearl Chase Society. Photo Courtesy Hattie Beresford.

His blue eyes are clear, his hands are steady and much of his strength and vigor have returned after a serious fall at his home early this spring. After a stay in a convalescent facility, he’s now comfortably ensconced in the pleasant surroundings of Wood Glen Hall, where this meeting is taking place. Members have had no qualms about meeting wherever Kellam is—he’s the heart and soul of the committee.

It’s in the family roots of this native Santa Barbaran who was born at Cottage Hospital. His grandfather, Lockwood de Forest, was a noted plein air painter who studied at the Hudson School. His work is often exhibited in shows and a series of books at Sullivan Goss.

And his famous parents, Elizabeth Kellam de Forest and Lockwood de Forest, were accomplished landscape architects. From 1925 to 1942 they wrote and published the remarkable journal, “The Santa Barbara Gardener.” Their names appear outside the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, since they landscaped that landmark site. His father was vitally important to the early days of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and when Kellam addresses issues about the garden that are on the agenda, he casually mentions, “My father designed the East Side of the garden and he would be pleased that lots of progress is being made.”

The tone of the meeting is high end, with a well-informed discussion about community issues; whenever anyone strays for too long from the topic at hand, Kellam gently, firmly gets them back on point. He jots notes in pencil on a legal pad—they will become the basis of his monthly report that documents preservation issues in the newsletter of the Pearl Chase Society and the community beyond.

Kellam attended Crane and Thacher schools before serving in the Army in World War II. He majored in History at Yale—and upon his return to Santa Barbara he briefly worked as a clerk at the San Ysidro Ranch. His professional career took him to Hollywood where he applied his keen research skills to the field of copyrights and permissions, examining television and movie scripts for potential legal issues for individuals and studios, including DesiLu, Paramount and MGM.

When he retired back in his own hometown, Kellam became a founding member of the Pearl Chase Society. He has dedicated much of his time and expertise to serving as the community’s conscience and chief stickler for accuracy in discussions about planning and development, preservation and stewardship of natural and built resources throughout the County. The General Plan here, an upcoming appeal there, the purchase of Hot Springs Canyon; the Measure Y issues of developing Veronica Springs—there’s nothing that goes on around here that escapes his attention.

His beloved wife Peggy, to whom he was married nearly 60 years, passed away just a couple months ago. And still Kellam carries on the business of caring for the community that needs his sharp, his big heart, and his keen mind to keep a close watch on preservation, without missing a beat.

13 Responses to “A Santa Barbara Treasure: An Appreciation of Kellam de Forest”

  1. Anonymous

    Here here@! THank you KDF! Yale = impressive.

    Lockwood’s paintings are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Can’t afford them but I like to look at Sullivan Goss.

  2. CdeP rocks

    Make that Thacher school (not Thatcher) and you have a 100% right-on tribute to this Santa Barbara treasure, to whom we all owe and endless debt of gratitude. It will take at least 100 of us to even begin to fill his impeccably polished shoes. A grand man in the old-school tradition, which is exactly the right tone for the rest of us to emulate, no matter how humble our own origins.

  3. Thank you for this appropriate and well done “appreciation.” Kellam is a true Santa Barbara asset–knowledgeable, instructive and willing and able to speak up to protect our community. He has been a catalyst for change more projects than I have room to list. I am glad he has been duly recognized. Thank-you Cheri. Thank-you Kellam!

  4. Woody Jackson

    Among the many remarkable contributions Kellam has provided to the community is his efforts to provide access to the community for Montecito Hot Springs.

    Land Trust for Santa Barbara County has rebuffed allowing Kellam and the Preservation Committee within the Pearl Chase Society from providing access to drive up to the old hotel site to review the area for review and application of Historical Landmark designation.

    This is an amazing slight considering that the Pearl Chase Society contributed over $5,000 to preserve and make available these historic springs.

    Please help Kellam see this through – the public access and enjoyment of these springs for all ages!

    • Is this true? I hope that someone from the SBV will check with the Land Trust of SB County…..

      • Woody Jackson

        Michael Feeney has been asked by email three times to allow the preservation committee to drive up and walk the very land they contributed money to help preserve Montecito Hot Springs. I have those emails on file, I too sit on the preservation committee. All that Land Trust for Santa Barbara County has facilitated is to forward a bunch of word documents on how we will have to apply for National Historic Landmark designation (which we will) and receive that designation before the USFS will recognize the historic merit of the property and talk to us.

        Aside from the historical, right now as of March 15 Land Trust for Santa Barbara County could release at least 50,000 gallons a day from the capped springs to contribute towards steelhead restoration on Montecito Creek. I will raise one more point, according to the 1897 water rights the springs were not to be capped but 50% was to be diverted by Montecito Creek Water Company below the hotel ruins at a location known as “the forks”. Land Trust for Santa Barbara County has refused to request that Montecito Creek Water Company adhere and comply by the 1897 water rights.

        This is inexcusable considering the road is navigable today (March 15) and has been used by Montecito Creek Water company, Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, and the USFS.

        I will note that Land Trust for Santa Barbara County have refused any open Town Hall discussions regarding the fate of Montecito Hot Springs.

        Land Trust refuses to acknowledge that the borders of Montecito Hot Springs abuts Gould Park which is owned by Santa Barbara. Land Trust has refused to approach the State, County or Santa Barbara in taking the land. They only want to convey the land to the USFS which has a verifiable poor record in recognizing historic landmarks and following this nations national environmental laws.

        I look forward to transparency from Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. And for the sake of facilitating proceeding towards getting Montecito Hot Springs designated as Historical Landmark.

        Montecito Hot Springs is incredibly important to Santa Barbara’s history. These springs actually drove early American growth, and those springs should be available today especially to the elders so they could receive relief from arthritis with what was once known as Santa Barbara White Sulphur Springs.

        I too wish that SBV get to the bottom of this. The springs will end up being one of Kellam’s most significant contribution. I call upon SBV and the entire community to assist Kellam in his desire that these springs be celebrated (including allowing soaking in these medicinal springs).

        • Donative Intent

          When charitable gifts are given, they don’t allow strings to be attached later. The donor must fully release all ownership rights to the gift at the time of delivery. PCS should have included access rights at the time the gift was made if they wanted later special treatment as as condition of this gift.

          Also, you may not know what strings did come with other gifts made to save this property that prevent any public access at this time.

          PCS, as generous as they are and one of the truly good guys of SB, is now just a member of the public standing in line with the rest of them regarding any rights to visit this property.

          However, Feeney’s lack of common courtesy needs more explanation. Had it not been for the public that rallied to his many prior causes, he most likely would not have reputation of custodian of the public good.

          Do better on this one, Michael. At least answer your mail. We answered your calls for help back when you were the foot soldier for Tom Rogers. Reach out to those who were there for you in the past and for goodness sakes, let Kellem deForest make a visit by car to this historic resource.

          • Woody Jackson

            Michael Feeney told me by phone that he was under contract to deliver the land to the USFS. Another item Land Trust for Santa Barbara County needs to explain to the community at large. Today Land Trust for Santa Barbara County holds 50% of a significant set of water rights that they could release for the sake of steelhead and watershed restoration. You raise an interesting point about gifts carrying no strings because Richard Mazee and Montecito Creek Water Company appear to be pulling all of Michael Fenney’s strings.

            This is a very serious and grave matter that Land Trust now controls water and by their actions are killing steelhead downstream. Just weeks ago NOAA had to rescue steelhead in Montecito Creek and other federal agencies are investigating.

            Michael Feeney has refused any meaningful community discussion regarding the springs. I too ask and wish Land Trust for Santa Barbara County to be fully transparent in this back room deal.

            I hiked up to the springs today and the road is fully navigable and it is possible that the preservation committee could be transported up there. Michael Fenney is delaying our work to get Montecito Hot Springs designated as Historical Landmark.

            Any attempt to transfer the water rights fully to Montecito Creek Water Company will be a very grave matter. Endangered species is nothing to take lightly.

          • In talking to Montecito Water District I was told that Michael Feeney indeed made secret pacts or agreements to convey to the USFS. By phone Michael Feeney told me that he was under contract to deliver Montecito Hot Springs to the USFS. What does this mean about your comment that, “When charitable gifts are given, they don’t allow strings to be attached later. The donor must fully release all ownership rights to the gift at the time of delivery.”

            Are you saying that it is acceptable to make secret deals attaching strings prior to the gift or donation?

        • Thank you for this information. The lack of transparency is shocking. Greater public awareness is needed. If you haven’t already done so, contact the News-Press, write op-eds, contact Noozhawk, and writing something for the Montecito Journal. It’s likely the only way the Land Trust/Feeney will respond is by publicity.

          • The lack of transparency to the entire community in which Land Trust for Santa Barbara County requested donations from the community is a tragedy for the loss this community will suffer from the killing of such a vital and positive part of Santa Barbara’s history. In three years time Kellam and I have done a tremendous amount of research regarding the springs.

            Our latest find is an audio tape dated 1991 from UCSB regarding Montecito Hot Springs and the water rights between the old hotel and Montecito Creek Water Company. In this tape Mr Powers (the last caretaker when Hunter and Lowry McCaslin were the owners to the springs) goes into great detail regarding the “recital” stemming from the 70’s when Montecito Creek Water Company without permission ran the pipes further up from the diversion dam and capped the springs taking 100% of the water. This recital acknowledges the transgression and confirms with Montecito Creek Water Company that one day they would enforce the 1897 water rights providing MCWC with 50% of the springs water by diversion dam below the old hotel ruins. Mr Powers speaks further that as early as 1991 Lowry McCaslin had spoken with Land Trust about buying the property. It is very disconcerting that the tape establishes that by 1991 the land had no resale value as no housing or development could occur based upon zoning and other restrictions.

            So what has happened is that Kellam and I have unraveled the land fraud by Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. Michael Feeney chose the secretive tact of securing all the water for MCWC and selling this to the community upon a non existent fear of development.

            So it is now obvious and clear after three years of careful historical research that Michael Feeney is willing to destroy not only a vital part of Santa Barbara’s history but he is willing to destroy the endangered steelhead species once found as far up Hot Springs Creek as Spencer’s Cascade. Sadly this year NOAA had to rescue steelhead, while as of March 15 Michael Feeney controls 50% of the water rights that he could release to preserve steelhead.

            The entire community deserves to hear from Land Trust for Santa Barbara County via a series of Town Halls which Michael Feeney as rebuffed as well.

            The matter is too important to leave to secretive back room deals. I can only hope that Santa Barbara View will play a vital role in bringing this to the greater community.

            Please help Kellam protect the historical interests of our community!

  5. Mary Ann Froley

    How wonderful to see that Kellam is recognized for his continuing dedication to the betterment of Santa Barbara. He walks the talk, folks. He has an incredible memory and even more incredible resilience after all he has faced, the past few months….. losing dear Peggy one day shy of their 60th wedding anniversary…. and suffering a serious fall at home that resulted in time in the ER, followed by time at Cottage Hospital and the SB Convalescent hospital. This photo of him in front of Wood Glen Hall is amazing, and a welcome sight for all his family, I’m sure.

    In this age of Google, we forget how challenging Kellam’s career was, checking the facts and overseeing the correctness of scripts, etc. for Desilu and other studios in Hollywood.

    As the mother of Diana Froley de Forest, your daughter in law, it is my good fortune to have you in our lives. God bless you, Kellam.