Birthday House, Doll's House, Fables, Honeymoon,, Hugh Comstock, Ocean House, Yellow Bird

Carmel by the Sea – Fairy Tale Cottages of Hugh Comstock – W. O. Swain Cottages

“Some time last year an easterner came out to the Monterey peninsula, built himself a house to settle down in, and decided to do a friendly thing in Carmel…He wanted to help create…He therefore chose an architect who would carry out this feeling sympathetically in the lines of his houses.  He rearranged his lots and the cottages on them (first consulting and obtaining the consent of the City Council) so that instead of standing on narrow wedges of plots, city fashion, they would be grouped together with a feeling of spaciousness about them, as in a park.  He therefore shortened and widened the lots…grouped his cottages in community fashion…like the English cottage groups in their garden cities.  The houses were cleverly planned and executed by Hugh ComstockThese quaint little cottages are nevertheless modern, with their electric stoves and hot water, their ironing-boards tucked cleverly away…These fetching little houses…stand on Ocean Avenue at the rise, lifting to a glimpse of the sea.  There are five of them in a group among the trees.  The landscaping about them has given them a unity.”  (The Swain Houses, The Carmelite, February 6, 1929)
 “In 1928, Eastern investor W.O. Swain convinced the Carmel City Council to allow him to develop a small, five-unit subdivision based on the English garden city plan, as Swain noted, “with a feeling of spaciousness about them, as in a park.” The five houses form the largest single concentration of Comstock fairy-tale cottages left in Carmel.” (Images of America Carmel A History in Architecture, Kent Seavey, page 82)

Historic Name: W. O. Swain Cottage #1
Common Name: Honeymoon (aka Yellow Bird)
Architectural Style: (English Cottage Vernacular)
6th Street 2SW Santa Rita
Blook 66 Lot 1 and 2

Honeymoon is the first of the five English cottage style homes built by Hugh Comstock for O.W. Swain. The original structure, 660 square feet built in 1928 for $2,400, is described in city documents as a “one story wood framed Tudor, English cottage – rectangular in plan…[with] detached garage.”
Though there are no recorded changes
to this property on file, the roof looks quite new.
As well as the “Carmel quaint” grape stake
fence with the wood and glass oval gate.
With basically no architectural training, Comstock was able to change his designs from Fairy Tale Storybook to English Cottage quite seamlessly.
Honeymoon’s exterior wall cladding is textured cement stucco with  decorative half-timbering.
The roof is steeply pitched hip-on-gable reminscent of a small Anne Hathaway Cottage in Stratford-upon-Avon (replacing shingles for thatch of course).  

Comstock’s use of a stucco interior chimney, instead of the exterior Carmel stone chimney was his nod to the English cottage style architecture that his client, Swain, had requested for this group of houses. 
For many years this property was popular with newlyweds, hence the common name of “Honeymoon.”  At one point the owners of this home painted it yellow contributing to another common name for this home, “Yellow Bird.” 
Today the current owners have brought back the original name and feel to Honeymoon; quaint, tranquil and charming.   
Historic Name: W. O. Swain Cottage #2
Resource Name: Doll’s House
Architectural Style: (Tudor Storybook Substyle)
NW Corner Santa Rita and Ocean Avenue
Blook 66 Part of Lot 2,3,4
The second cottage built in Mr. Swain’s complex was Doll’s House, one of Comstock’s larger homes, a 3 bedroom, two bath with attached garage for an estimated cost of $2,665. The only evidence we have of the garage is from Comstock’s original drawing of the east elevation is shown below.   
The garage area was enlarged and turned into a bedroom in 1945 exchanging the carriage style garage door for present footprint shown below.  
This one and one-half story wood framed Tudor Storybook cottage has exterior wall cladding of textured cement stucco. The picture below taken in 2002 shows the front entry, which faces Ocean Avenue, recessed behind the steeply pitched roof overhang.
Today the front entry is hidden by mature oak trees that surround the property.  Yet a glimpse of the intereior stucco chimney can be seen from this elevation.  

From the east elevation (Santa Rita Street) Comstock has left his signature in the whimsical wood treatment on the gable apex. 

Other than the garage conversion in 1945,

a bathroom remodel in 1971 and kitchen remodel in 1989, Doll’s House remains relatively unaltered over the past 85 years.

Historic Name: W. O. Swain Cottage #3
Common Name: Ocean House
Architectural Style: (English Cottage Vernacular)
Ocean Avenue 2 NW of Santa Rita
Blook 66 Lot 5

If you turn right on to Ocean Avenue from Santa Rita, being careful to walk off the roadway you will come to Ocean House, the third cottage built by Hugh Comstock for Mr. Swain in 1928.  Although the roof looks new, the only recorded change in 85 years to this home is an electrical upgrade in 1999.
The English Cotswald cottage style of architecture was Hugh Comstock’s influence for this one story wood framed cottage, with steeply pitched intersecting hipped roof.
Ocean House is probably the simplest and most private of the five Swain cottages.  There is no garage and the property sits well back from Ocean Avenue.
The chimney is built on the inside, using stucco.
The principal window facing west is barely visible through the trees but may possibly still have a Point Lobos view. The front entry facing east is also sheltered from view.

Historic Name: W. O. Swain Cottage #4
Resource Name: Fables
Architectural Style: (Norman French Cottage Vernacular)
Santa Rita 2 SW 6th Avenue 
Blook 66 Part of Lot 2,3,4
With no formal design or building experience, it is quite amazing how Hugh Comstock rather effortlessly moved from one architectural influence to another creating one charming cottage after another in such a short amount of time.  
Fables’s is the 4th cottage built for Mr. Swain.  This time Comstock let French Norman architecture be his influence incorporating a polygonal hipped roof reminiscent of a French country farmhouse.
Built in 1928 for $2,989, this cottage may be the most unusual in style for Comstock, built in an ell shape with an attached garage and an exterior Carmel stone chimney at the inside corner of the ell. 
The garage was turned into a den sometime during the 1980’s; which connects to the west facing kitchen, remodeled in 2012.
The only other room downstairs is the living area which, two stories high, opens to a second floor balcony that leads to the upstairs bedroom and bath.
In true Comstock fashion the front

door is not visible from the front elevation

it is under the awning facing

south toward Doll’s House.

The elevation of Fables suggests an ocean view from the kitchen and bedroom. From the above photo you can also see how close together these cottages were built.  From left to right is northfacing wall of Doll’s House, roof of Ocean House, a peek at the ocean, south facing wall of Fables.
Continuing to the right it appears as if Birthday House is saying, “I’ve got my eyes on you Fables.”   

Historic Name: W. O. Swain Cottage #5
Resource Name: Birthday House 
Architectural Style: (Tudor Storybook Substyle)
SW Corner 6th and Santa Rita
Blook 66 Part of Lot 2,3,4

The last house Hugh Comstock built for
Mr. Swain in 1928 was Birthday House. 
This is a two-story wood framed Tudor Storybook style with exterior wall cladding of textured cement stucco, extensive use of false half-timbering, especially noticeable around the bay window on the eastern elevation. 
 hipped-roof over dormer,
and Carmel stone chimney partially
visible on the north elevation.
For Birthday House, Comstock borrowed a feature from New England architecture. From 6th Avenue, the cottage apears asymmetrical with the two story tall steeply pitched roof sloping down to one story.  This style is called saltbox, which takes its name from its resemblance to a wooden lidded box in which salt was once kept.
A garage was added to the property in 1929 and though it was built with different design elements than Birthday House, Kent Seavey suggests that the construction and design of the garage by Comstock was to “both conceal the adjacent property [Honeymoon] as a visual fence, and to connect it to its neighbor through the use of like construction materials.”   
The two pictures above from Carmel City Hall files show the garage as it was originally built before demolition and reconstruction in 2002.
The historical renovation of the detached garage for Birthday House looks like an exact replica, making Birthday House a fine example of what it would have looked like in 1928/29 when originally build by Hugh Comstock.


I have embeded a pdf map of the Historical Hill District which includes “addresses” and photographs of all 5 Comstock cottages discussed in this blog. It is two pages. Be your own tour guide and print this off here PDF Map . It is much more detailed than map illustration above.
Back to Fairy Tale Houses of Hugh Comstock


Add from The Carmelite, February 13, 1929
Black and white photo Honeymoon/Yellowbird courtesy of City Hall, document Building, Structure, and Object Record dated 2002.
Color photo Honeymoon/Yellowbird courtesy of Carmel City Hall Records, circa 2003.
Black and white photo Doll’s House courtesy of Carmel City Hall Records, document Building, Structure, and Object Record dated 2002.
Black and white photo Ocean House courtesy of Carmel City Hall Records, document Building, Stucture, and Object Record dated 2002.
Two color pictures of Birthday House garage circa 2001 courtesy of Carmel City Hall Records.
The rest of the photos credit L. A. Momboisse 2012 – 2013

3 thoughts on “Carmel by the Sea – Fairy Tale Cottages of Hugh Comstock – W. O. Swain Cottages

  1. Have truly enjoyed this information regarding the Comstock cottages. Am attempting to determine which houses were used for two paintings executed in the late 20s-early 30s in my collection. Extremely well executed and unsigned. Purchased them at a garage sale on Mesa Drive in the late 1990s while visiting Carmel. Also – your information regarding Tor House is wonderful. I was a member of the Tor House Board of Directors in the 1980s and in fact was attending a meeting in the Tor House kitchen the evening Donnan became ill in the family residence. It was so unusual to hear sirens on Carmel Point, like the cry of hawks. Again – thank you so much for your rekindled memories. Best regards, John Grimes


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