Mar Y Cel
Catalan Spanish Translation: 'Sea & Sky'

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Once upon a time, the spectacular water gardens and the adjoining wilderness above East Mountain Drive belonged to Mr. & Mrs. Henry Bothin, the extravagant visionaries who built the Piranhurst Estate on Cold Springs Road. The 350 acre 'Tea Gardens', as it is popularly known, was added to the estate by the Bothins near the completion of construction of the main residence (Circa 1916).
Henry Bothin who migrated from the Midwest, began his empire by first opening a spice and coffee factory in San Francisco in 1875. He ultimately acquired vast commercial real estate holdings, and was one of the largest landowners in the City by 1906.

After a failed first marriage, Bothin married for a second time to Ellen Chabot, the daughter of Anthony Chabot. Mr. Chabot was credited with bringing water to Oakland California and was the sole owner of the East Bay System (a privately held water company until 1875). It seems likely that Mr. Chabot provided inspiration for the many reservoirs, aqueducts and meandering gravity flow water works developed by Ellen and Henry Bothin on the 'Tea Gardens' portion of the original Piranhurst Estate.

There are two varying stories about the development of the water systems. One suggests that the water systems and retaining walls were quarried and constructed by Italian masons and that Mr. Bothin practiced a certain 'laissez faire' regarding the details. In another version of the story, Mr. Bothin's daughter describes visits with her father in which he would ride horse back through the future water garden sites and give personal directions to Mexican laborers working on the project.

Given that the Bothins only visited during the winter months and that a project of this magnitude took many laborers, and some time to complete, the truth probably includes elements from both stories. No one knows exactly who or how many labored to create the gardens but press clippings have suggested that over 35 gardeners were retained to care for the area after it was completed. And as early at 1917 the local newspaper lauded the wondrous Bothin 'Tea Gardens' as an event as much as a place.

The formal teahouse, the pinnacle location for the Bothin's events, was originally comprised of an open-air piazza within four walls. Most visitors are not aware that three walls were damaged during the 1925 earthquake and that the arched wall we now see is the sole survivor. After the earthquake, landscape designer Lockwood de Forest was contracted to create an arrangement of redbrick garden planters to accent the existing statuary and general ambiance of the site. At the same time the entire water garden system was reworked, at a cost then of one million dollars.

Many romantic stories exist concerning the sights at Mar y Cel. One sight often-neglected in visitors' recounts, and until recently often unseen, is the Amphitheater. A riveting reminder of the eccentricity of a bygone era, this 200-seat complex provides the nexus of activity for the gardens. The splendor of the water system can only be truly appreciated from the Amphitheater and for the last 50 years it has been overgrown with weeds.

Now, with the removal of the overgrowth, visitors can once again see the stage, the five cascades, the pools and the waterfall that created a vibrant environment that remains, even in ruins, a testament to one couple's imaginative powers of transformation. The center cascade of scalloped bowls, approximately three feet in diameter, rested on columns and the water spilled into one from the other in a impressive march to a central reservoir whose castle like retaining wall adds a distant moat like backdrop to the scene.
Above the water works spectacular display was a viewing area of concrete benches (the amphitheater proper) which looked over a stage as well as a pool. The stage reportedly supported renditions of Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream and the pool saw use as a showcase for synchronized swimming.




Mr. Bothin's death in 1923 gave pause to the activities. Some time later the property again became the center of Mrs. Bothin's parties, parties that continued for years to come until her death in 1965. The Bothin family heirs sold the portion of Piranhurst south of East Mountain Drive to Edward F. Brown. Mr. Brown also procured an option on the 'Tea Gardens', which was not exercised. It was at this point that the 'Tea Gardens' became separated from the home below it. Later, the Bothin family heirs successfully sold the 'Tea Gardens' property to Mr. Shirley Burden. Mr. Burden's heirs then sold it to the current owners.

Along the way two separate transactions took place that provided locations for Montecito Water District reservoirs within the confines of the original 'Tea Gardens'. In 1924 the site for the Cold Springs Reservoir (originally named the Bothin Reservoir) on the eastern portion of the property was transferred to the District. In 1947 the site for the Henry P. Drake Reservoir on the western side of the property was transferred to the District.