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Seven Decades of Music-Making


Miraflores, the stunning 10-acre garden estate that has been home to the Music Academy since 1951, originally served as the site of the Santa Barbara Country Club.

The property’s main building, a clubhouse designed by Francis W. Wilson in 1909, was partially destroyed by fire in 1912 and rebuilt the following year. By that time, however, the existing nine-hole golf course had been deemed inadequate, and the 23-acre site considered too small for expansion. Shortly thereafter, the Santa Barbara Country Club decided to move to its present site, changing its name in the process to the Montecito Country Club.

The former country club property was purchased in 1915 by Mr. and Mrs. John Percival Jefferson, who named it Miraflores (Spanish for “Look at the flowers”) and hired Pasadena architect Reginald D. Johnson to convert the clubhouse into a dwelling. Johnson, renowned for his mastery of the Spanish revival style gaining regional prominence at the time, achieved a remarkable architectural conversion in just 12 months – transforming the boxy, institutional building into a simple yet elegant example of Spanish domestic architecture with a regal carved stone entrance. The building enclosed three sides of a large rear terrace flanked by romantic loggia, a design that contributed to its suitability for entertaining.


Paul G. Thiene, who frequently worked with Johnson, was called in to integrate the landscape design with that of the house. One of the leading landscape architects of the Mediterranean revival era, Thiene had been trained as a horticulturalist in Germany and his practice was entirely residential. Thiene’s plan brought guests to an entrance gate near the west property line, creating a dramatic straight-line approach to Johnson’s elaborate front door. The rear terrace and sunken pool garden centered beyond it are in line with the primary axis of the driveway. The garden’s remaining formal elements were skillfully arranged to fit the irregular shape of the lot. Thiene’s plan shows a formal garden and reflecting pool parallel to the driveway, asymmetrically balanced across the driveway by a rose garden, cutting garden, lath house, and greenhouse. (The three latter elements are now the sites of Hahn Hall and Singher and Wood studios.) Below and to the southeast, an outdoor theater with reflecting pool was planned at an oblique angle to the house, perhaps to capture the last light of the setting sun upon its stage. It was never built.

Miraflores was regarded as one of the showcase gardens of Montecito. Photographs and descriptions of the property appear in several early books about Montecito gardens, and it was regularly included in Pearl Chase’s annual benefit garden tours beginning in 1926. In 1976 the Garden Club of America sponsored a project to create modern slides from its collection of 1,800 historic glass lantern slides, taken between 1920 and 1933. Miraflores was one of 24 gardens in the Santa Barbara area to be represented in this priceless collection. The project formed the core of the Garden Club of America’s 65,000-image “Slide Library of Notable American Parks and Gardens,” donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Horticulture in 1987. The slides remain part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection, used by scholars to research gardens of the era.


Miraflores’ house and grounds suited the Jeffersons very well. They entertained frequently, sometimes with musical performances in the large living room. After Mr. Jefferson died in 1934, Mrs. Jefferson stayed on, assisted by the couple’s longtime secretary and devoted friend, Theresa (Helen) Marso. When Mrs. Jefferson died in 1950, the property and all household furnishings were inherited by the couple’s niece, Alice Wetmore Brann; Helen Marso was willed a large sum of money. Legal documents are not entirely clear, but it seems Mrs. Brann did not want any part of the estate, save two large Waterford crystal chandeliers that hung in the living room. On the same date that the property deed was granted to her, April 2, 1951, she sold it to Ms. Marso for just over $100,000. Helen Marso granted 18 acres of the estate to the Music Academy of the West on April 20, retaining the remaining acreage for her own use.

Founded just four years earlier, the Music Academy was to that point hosting its summer sessions at Cate School in Carpinteria.

In making the gift, Ms. Marso specified that the property must be used “for a conservatory of music only,” and stated her desire to have Miraflores serve as a lasting memorial to the Jeffersons. Although some members of the Academy Board of Directors worried about taking on the financial burden entailed in maintaining the estate, in the end the Academy’s acceptance of the property was conditional only on the county’s zoning requirements. Future neighbors were contacted and reassured that the Academy would not be an intrusion. Later in April, the County Planning Commission recommended granting a permit to the Music Academy; there were no dissenting speakers at the public hearing.

An immediate financial boost by the Santa Barbara Foundation, in the form of a $5,000 grant, helped pay for the conversion of the Miraflores facilities. In announcing the gift, Foundation President L. Stuart Wing said: “The importance of the Music Academy of the West to the future of musical culture and education, and to the prestige of Santa Barbara as an art center, is well recognized.”


Though it could not be readied for full use by the beginning of the summer session, the property was made ready for an open house reception and musical performance on August 5, 1951. More than 1,500 people came to see Miraflores and enjoy the orchestral performance and debut of the Academy’s new Romany Chorus conducted by vocal department director John Charles Thomas. This lively and colorful chorus, a mix of students and local people, performed in gypsy costume. The energetic Thomas had a dual role that year as a member of the faculty and as newly named executive director of the Music Academy.

By the 1952 summer session the Miraflores campus was ready. The enormous living room and dining room had required very little alteration to become concert halls with excellent acoustics. Not only were the public rooms well-suited for concerts, but the many bedrooms in the house were readily adaptable for faculty teaching studios, and the servants’ rooms in the main building and over the garage provided adequate practice studios.

The only disadvantage of the new site was the lack of dormitory and faculty housing that Cate School had provided to that point. That year, and for a number of years thereafter, students were housed in sorority and fraternity houses at UCSB. They were provided with breakfast and dinner in the houses, and were transported by bus to the Music Academy, where lunch was served cafeteria style in the large Music Academy kitchen.

A generous offer by Mrs. John D. Graham solved the immediate problem of faculty housing. Mrs. Graham invited the Music Academy to use her 30-room mansion on Eucalyptus Hill as a guest home and residence for faculty members. The house also provided facilities where students and faculty could mingle socially.


Abravanel Hall, the antecedent to Hahn Hall, opened in 1972. The earlier building was named for the late conductor Maurice Abravanel, who served as music director at the Academy from 1954 to 1980. Claeyssens Hall, the beautiful teaching and practice facility situated to the west of Anne’s Garden, opened in 1993. And in 2006 the Music Academy completed reconstruction of the Wood II building, since renamed Lehrer Studios in the Wood Building in honor of Academy benefactors Shirley and Seymour Lehrer. Originally a carriage house on the Jefferson estate, this campus facility features 16 acoustically designed practice studios and remodeled restrooms and shower rooms.

Hahn Hall – named in honor of Academy benefactors Carla and Stephen Hahn – was completed just prior to the start of the 2008 Summer School and Festival. During the off-season, the hall is used for Metropolitan Opera “Live in HD” simulcasts; area arts organizations also use the facility.

Completed in 2012, the Luria Education Center is named in honor of longtime Music Academy benefactors Leatrice and Eli Luria. In addition to a masterclass venue bearing the name of Academy supporter Robert W. Weinman, the facility features an expanded music library, individual and ensemble practice rooms and teaching facilities, a pair of lounges, and a catering kitchen and serving area. The center also includes a central campus courtyard named in honor of local philanthropist Leslie Ridley-Tree, and an enclosed dining patio bearing the name of Academy advocate Sarah Jane Lind. In 2016, the Main House was renovated and renamed the Marilyn Horne Main House. And to commence the 2017 Summer Festival, the Hind Hall teaching studio building opened, adding eight state-of-the-art studios to the campus.


2016 marked a historic transition of the Academy fellows’ residential campus from Cate School in Carpinteria to Westmont College in Montecito. After decades of a wonderful partnership with Cate School, located 12 miles south of the Music Academy, the fellows’ accommodations are now located at Westmont College, a gorgeous private college campus just 3.5 miles from the Music Academy.


Historical Timeline


In June 1947, the Music Academy offered financial assistance for students to attend its inaugural season. Scholarships were funded by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, Jascha Heifetz, and Hollywood studio mogul Daryl F. Zanuck, among others.

Early faculty included music luminaries Lotte Lehmann, a co-founder along with Otto Klemperer, Roman Totenberg, Ernest Bloch, Darius Milhaud, Roy Harris, Rosalyn Tureck, Arnold Schoenberg (the Academy’s first composer in residence), and John Charles Thomas.


The Academy received a gift of the coastal property Miraflores, a Spanish revival style home built in 1915, and the surrounding property, for use as “a conservatory of music only and for no other purpose.”

Lotte Lehmann oversaw the Academy’s first opera productions and the Academy began to produce its first internationally successful alumni including Lucine Amara, Burt Bacharach, Grace Bumbry, Marilyn Horne, and Benita Valente.

Maurice Abravanel became Music Director, a post he held until 1980. Gregor Piatigorsky served on the faculty from 1950-53, and continued teaching at the Academy through 1975.



The Women’s Auxiliary formed, crucial ambassadors and fundraisers still active today.

1960's & 1970's

Martial Singher became head of the Voice Department in 1962, remaining until 1981.

William Primrose joined the faculty.

Faculty member Jerome Lowenthal performed at the opening concert of the dedication of the newly dedicated Abravanel Hall in July, 1972.


1980's & 1990's

In the 1980s, violist Donald McInnes and pianist Paul Schenly joined the faculty.

Dr. Robert W. Holmes served as President from 1988-1992, followed by David L. Kuehn from 1993-2004.



In the 1990s, the Music Academy became a full-scholarship institution.

Marilyn Horne became Voice Program Director in 1997.

The 13 studio building Claeyssens Hall was added to campus.

The Compeer Program was launched.


Abravanel Hall was fully renovated both architecturally and acoustically, becoming Hahn Hall.

NancyBell Coe served as President from 2004-2010.



Luria Education Center opened, offering additional world-class facilities on campus. Main House renovated and dedicated to Marilyn Horne.

Mosher Guest Artist Recital Series began, featuring international artists in the intimate space

Scott Reed took on the role of President & CEO in 2010.

New York Philharmonic Partnership initiated, bringing Academy fellows to perform in New York with the Philharmonic, and performances by the New York Philharmonic in Santa Barbara. The Philharmonic’s former Concertmaster, Glenn Dicterow, joined the faculty.



Jeremy Denk and the Takács Quartet join the faculty in 2017.

Hind Hall teaching studio building opens, adding eight state-of-the-art studios to the campus.

The Music Academy becomes an All-Steinway Institution, and a Commissions & Premieres program is launched.

The Music Academy presented the largest classical music event in Santa Barbara’s history for 7,500 attendees at La Playa Stadium featuring the New York Philharmonic.

Groundbreaking Classical Evolution/Revolution Conference was presented in 2017 and 2018.

In 2018, a partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra is launched.

Alumni Enterprise Awards program established, with first recipients announced in 2018.

Sing!, a community choral program for children, is launched in 2018.

In 2019, Jerome Lowenthal celebrated his 50th year as a Music Academy faculty artist.


The Music Academy Remote Learning Institute (MARLI) was launched in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Innovation Institute was established, providing entrepreneurial training curriculum.



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