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Fairy Tale Cottages of Hugh Comstock – Hansel and Gretel

Whimsical Experiment

“Perhaps the whole thing had been something of a whimsical experiment, but the popular reaction was one of tremendous enthusiasm.  Many came to marvel and be charmed by the Doll House.  In a community that at the time was predominately made up of rough summer cabins, this imaginative and unusual effort on part of the Comstock’s set off a spark of civic pride.  Carmelites liked the way the Doll House fit into the native surroundings.  It sprouted out of its curved chalk rock foundations amongst the pines, as much as a part of the woods as the mushrooms and toadstools.”  (Carmel In Story and Picture, Carmel Architecture, by William Albee, 1958)

Historic Name: The Doll House
Common Name: Hansel
Architectural Style: Tudor (Storybook substyle)

 Torres Street 4 NE of 6th
Block 60 Lot 10 and 12
In August 1924, just four months after their wedding, the Comstock’s purchased a building permit to build Mayotta’s Doll House on Block 60 between 5th and 6th on the northside of Torres.  They spent $100 in materials and built “The Doll House,” later renamed Hansel, almost entirely themselves.  

With no real building or design experience between them, they managed to fashion a perfect storybook setting for Mayotta’s dolls.  They purposely designed their dwelling with no plumb-lines, and hand whittled trim boards with pocket knives to frame the doors and windows.  


A mixture of pine needles and plaster were applied by Hugh and Mayotta using a trowel, as an artist would a brush, to burlap they had nailed over the redwood walls. The result was an uneven heavily textured surface. 

They had a stonemason build the Carmel stone chimney so it would appear “stacked” and random.

In this 244 square foot cottage, Mayotta displayed her dolls as if they were living in their own fairytale style house in the woods.
Historic Name: The Doll House
Common Name: Gretel

Architectural Style: Tudor (Storybook substyle)
 Torres Street 4 NE of 6th
Block 60 Lot 10 and 12
The third house designed by Comstock was Gretel which is set back from Torres Street and barely visible through the heavy growth of the garden.  

Designed as a one story building in the same style as Hansel, Gretel was built as Mayotta’s office in 1925 with $400 worth of building materials. 
There are two gates in the fence in front of this lot.  Gretel is down the gravel path behind the gate on the right.
Hugh Comstock added a bedroom to Mayotta’s office in 1928, which extended out of the original structure in an ell to the north east.  
 
 New Owners
Besides Hugh and Mayotta, Hansel and Gretel have had a few different owners.  Repairs have been made when necessary and a few additions have been added. 
Mrs. Gardner owned the property in 1946.  The name and fairy tale charm of the two cottages  was influential in her decision to open a candy shop on Ocean Avenue named after her property, Hansel and Gretals Candies and Gifts.
Though Mrs. Gardner continued to own the cottages, she sold her candy shop in 1947 to Hyla Tillman who moved the shop to 6th Avenue and Lincoln.  Mrs. Tillman sold the shop to Peter and Mary Robotti in 1965.  The Robotti’s owned the Hansel and Gretel Candies and Gifts until it closed and was replaced with an art gallery in 1998.

In 1949 Hansel and Gretel were owned by Mrs. G. K. Wood and Mr. H. B. Kennicott.  They hired Mr. Comstock to make a very small addition to the bathroom of Hansel and add a second bedroom to Gretel.
Joan Harding owned the property from 1962-1992 then Mr. and Mrs. Voris fell in love with the property and purchased Hansel and Gretel from Joan.   
When the Vorises bought the property the landscape was considered “woodland natural.”  Bobbie Voris wrote, “We rented Gretel to a recently-divorced  New Zealander whose “therapy” was gardening.”  It is this woman who is responsible for the attractive abundance of flowers and shrubbery that grows on the property today.  
The Vorises  added a much needed cement foundation to Hansel and in 1999 replaced the original roof because daylight was visible through the aging shingles.
The rest of the renovations Mr. and Mrs. Voris did themselves, emulating Hugh and Mayotta.  To save space the bathtub in Hansel was replaced with a shower and a tiny space in the closet was used to increase the bedroom to a “grand” 8 by 9 foot space just large enough for a trundle bed. 
To make room for guests the unfinished crawl space and attic was opened up to create a loft with a ladder for access.  Now Hansel house sleeps four people. 
The Vorises have also added numerous bird houses to the property adding to the charm of the quaint garden setting. 
 From the front patio off of Hansel which features
a potbelly stove and wood furniture
Point Lobos can be seen in the distance. 
Map 
I have embeded a pdf map of the Historical Hill District which includes “addresses” and photographs of all 11 Comstock cottages not just the ones discussed in this blog.  You may print this off and use as your own personal walking tour here  PDF Map .  It is much more detailed than the illustration below. 
Back to Fairy Tale Cottages of Hugh Comstock
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Photo Credits
Pictures of Hansel and Gretel by L. A. Momboisse taken during the Carmel House and Garden Tour 2012
Plot Plan Additions by H. W. Comstock May 5, 1949 – Carmel City Hall Records
Hansel and Gretel Candies and Gift Shop Sign – Carmel History Library
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Carmel by the Sea – Fairy Tale Cottages of Hugh Comstock – Names Locations and Map

Hugh Comstock

Hugh Comstock, the youngest of seven siblings, was born on a ranch in Evanston Illinois in 1893.  He spent his early years growing up in Evanston working on his family’s ranch, occasionally assisting in the building of ranch structures.  He received his formal education at home under the direction of tutors and had a talent for drawing but never received any proper training in architecture or building.  In 1907 his family moved to Santa Rosa, California where he continued to receive his education by tutors.

At the age of 31, Hugh came to Carmel to visit his sister Catherine and her husband George Seideneck who were both fairly well known artists in this quaint village in 1924.  Hugh had only planned on staying a short while, but once he met Mayotta Browne, the designer of a popular rag and felt doll called the Otsy-Totsy, he extended his stay.

Mother of 1,200 Children Weds

After a “lightning courtship, Carmel’s mother of 1,200 children Mayotta Browne and Hugh W. Comstock” were married in Salinas April 14, 1924. The Pine Cone reported the “rumor states that the pretty Miss Browne had hung half a hundred dolls on the clothes line in her back yard and was industriously painting in their naughty roving eyes when a stranger stopped by with a “Hello!” of astonishment.  That started it all.  Buy the time the fifty had received noses and mouths via the paint brush route, the acquaintance was quite firmly established.  Before the townspeople even so much as knew that there was such a thing as an acquaintance between them, they slipped over to Salinas and got married.  Mayotta Browne Comstock established her title when she created 1,200 dolls of character and personality for the Christmas trade last year. “

Barbie had her own townhouse with a
splash ‘n’ slide pool but she never owned
a Tudor fairytale cottage with pitched gable roof,
simulated thatch shingles, half-timbered walls
over stucco cladding and mullioned windows
.”
(The Carmel Pine Cone March 12, 2004)

The Knoll on Torres Street

Shortly after Huge and Mayotta married their rented home became full of her “children,” the Otsy-Totsy that people came from Los Angeles and San Francisco to purchase.  With every nook and cranny filled with dolls, Mayotta asked Hugh if he might build her a cottage in their backyard just to display her dolls.

George had built his sister Catherine’s home in Carmel, so why not.  In the spirit of adventure Hugh set out designing and building Carmel’s first doll house, a whimsical fairy tale style cottage.  Built with little more than a band saw and a pen knife, Hugh and Mayotta Comstock’s dream took root on the oak and pine covered knoll of Torres Street between 5th & 6th Avenue.

In the 1920’s much of the building in and around the village were irregularly built wood or canvas tent cabins.  There were no building inspectors or codes to contend with so residents built their homes with what was available.  As tourists visited Carmel they were drawn to the newest attraction in this charming town, the enchanted doll house in the woods, with high pitched gable roof, hand whittled trim, stone fireplace, and mullioned windows.  And everyone wanted one.  Hugh’s experiment in building blossomed into a career, as orders for more “fairy tale” cottages were requested. 

Comstock Historical Hill District


Hugh Comstock built a number of homes in Carmel Village, 21 are still in existence, with 11 clustered  in a hilly area shaded by crooked oaks and gangly pines.  Park  near Bruno’s Market 6th and Junipero. Note parking limitations, no one wants a parking ticket.   

Make sure to view each home from outside the fence, as each is privately owned.  The area for the 11 Comstock’s is a square area of land bordered by Ocean Avenue to the South, Torres Street to the west, 5th Avenue to the north and Santa Rita to the east.

List Location and Picture
Homes in the square mile Village of Carmel-by-the-Sea do not have addresses.  Insead each house is located by using an “coordinate system.” If you are a corner house or business you are either the NW (north west), NE (north east), SE (south east), or SW (south west) corner of two intersecting streets.
West is always the side closest to the ocean, east the side closest to Highway 1, north is closer to Pebble Beach and south Carmel Valley. So for instance Bruno’s Market would be NE corner 6th and Junipero. With this in mind here are the “addresses” of the 11 Comstock homes in the Historical
Hill District.  


Map Historical Hill District
Be Your Own Tour Guide


I have embeded a pdf map of the Historical Hill District which includes “addresses” and photographs of all 11 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 illustrations in this blog.



To learn more about the history and see more pictures of each of the cottages, click on their historical name below. 

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 NE Corner
 6th Ave and Torres Street – Obers 

know known as
Hugh Comstock Residence

Torres Street 4 NE of 6th Ave
(On east side of Torres Street, 4th house
from NE corner of 6th and Torres)
Hansel (shown) and Gretel
NW Corner
 6th and Santa Fe – The Studio
Santa Fe 4 NW 6th – Our House
(On west side of Santa Fe,
4th house from the NW corner 6th and Santa Fe) 
2 6th SW Santa Rita 
(On the south side of 6th, 2nd house from the
SW corner 6th and Santa Rita)
SW Corner 6th and Santa Rita
Santa Rita 2 SW 6th
(West side of Santa Rita 2nd house
from SW Corner 6th and Santa Rita)
NW Corner Santa Rita & Ocean Avenue
Ocean Avenue 2 NW of Santa Rita
NE Corner Ocean Avenue and Torres
(Across from Comfort Inn)
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Credits
Carmel Pine Cone, January 1975, “Love Gives Inspiration for Fairy Tale Houses,” Chris Keller on book by Joanne Mathewson.

Images of America Carmel A History In Architecture, Kent Seavey, page 80, Photography courtesy  Pat Hathaway, Historic California Views.

Images of America Carmel A History In Architecture, Kent Seavey, page 80, Phtograph courtesy of the Monterey Public Library, California History Room Archives.

Otsey Totsy “Little Iodine” made by Mayotta in 1948 on display at the Carmel History Library – Photo L. A. Momboisse

Comstock Home Photos – L. A. Momboisse 2012

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Carmel House and Garden Tour 2012 (Hugh Comstock)

Carmel House & Garden Tour 2012
We could not have asked for a more glorious day as my friend and I set out for an afternoon of walking, admiring, laughing, enjoying and re-bonding.  In four hours we would tour seven homes on the 2012 Carmel House & Garden Tour benefiting the Carmel Heritage Society.  

Hugh Comstock
Carmel’s Builder of Dreams

Two of the homes on our tour were built by Hugh Comstock, Hansel located on Torres Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, and Curtain Call, Junipero and Third.

“Hugh Comstock developed the Fairy Tale style of architercture with which Carmel has become closely identified.  Born in Evanston, Illinois in 1893, Comstock moved to Santa Rosa with his family in 1907. In 1924, he came to Carmel to visit his sister and met and married Mayotta Brown.  The two decided to remain in Carmel as Mayotta had a successful doll making business.  Comstock’s career as a designer-builder began when his wife asked him to build a cottage for her dolls.  The “Doll’s House” became the first of many Fairy Tale style cottages he would design and build.” (Historic Context Statement Carmel-by-the-Sea, page 96)

Hansel
Block 60 Lot 10

Hansel is a one-and one-half story wood-framed Tudor “Storybook” style residence constructed in 1924, irregular in plan, on a concrete foundation, with exterior walls constructed with cement plaster mixed with pine needles placed over burlap that was nailed to the redwood walls. 
The outside this home is one of the most photographed in the Village, the inside however is another matter altogether. Built in a “Folk Tutor” style, by Hugh Comstock for his wife Mayotta, the Carmel Building Department records this structure costing $100 to build, “without labor” in August 1924.
In this 244 square foot cottage, Mayotta displayed her dolls, so that buyers could view them “in their own environment,” a fairytale style house in the woods.
 

Hugh Comstock had no formal training in building, design or architecture, yet he built such a detailed little fairy book style cottage in Hansel, with a pointy steeply pitched roof covered in irregularly shaped cedar shingles “jig and scroll-sawn into a random staggered pattern”, round Dutch front door of rough planks joined together with two wrought iron braces, a lopsided chalkstone fireplace reminiscent of an elfin hat when viewed from the inside living area, and uneven hand-hewn casings and moldings and doors and windows, that everyone wanted a Doll House of their own.  He would go on to build around thirty or so individual designs in Carmel Village, with 21 still in existence.

      Behind the crooked grape stake fence,

      beyond the gate, pass the Carmel Stone patio
                                              

complete with potbelly stove,
                       duck under the sprawling limb of an old oak tree
                                   with assortment of bird houses,
         
pass by beds of tall flowers,
an unusual patch of lawn,
and enter Hansel.

                                                   

                            

Renovated in 1993 by Congleton Architects, this cottage now measures a whopping 290 square feet. Every inch has a purpose. 

The bookcase at the entrance is a facade, made to look like old dusty books, but open sesame to find the mechanics for the entertainment center.

From the front door look left to the master bedroom (large enough for a twin bed), then center to the loft ladder, and right to the kitchen.

Off the master is the bathroom.
  
A better view of the bathroom is from the backyard through the window. From here there is also a view of the Carmel Stone fireplace in the living room.
From the backyard we have a glimpse of the tiny kitchen spice rack and cute itsy bitsy shed with pine tree cut out.
 
Curtain Call & Second Act
Block 27/ Junipero & 3rd 
Curtain Call is also a one-and-one half story, wood-framed, “Storybook” style residence, irregular in plan on a concrete foundation, but this time Mr. Comstock would mix it up a bit making the exterior walls of textured stucco.
The cottage was built in 1929 for Ms. Bertha L. Bowen. The name “Curtain Call” was given the cottage in the mid 1940s by another owner, Constance Ferris.  Ms. Ferris a San Francisco journalist named her home after the title of one of her books of short poems which were adapted for the stage, “Curtain Calls.”

The current owner of this home meets the tour guests at the front gate.  She has graciously opened her charming historical cottage to the public, along with Second Act, the garage, that has just recently been renovated and restored. 

                         
The floor plan for Curtain Call is two parallel gabled wings, separated by a “hyphen” or hall that serves as the entry, topped by dormers and Comstock’s signature steep pitched roof. 

Off the right wing facing east is a wooden deck with decorative “splat” railing.

Off the entrance in the left wing is an uncharacteristically large (for a Comstock) kitchen/dining area.  The best part – the view out the window to the Carmel Stone built in fireplace and through the oak, pine, and cypress to Pebble Beach and beyond!

When outside looking back into the kitchen/dining – WOW

The right wing houses the bedroom/study, bathroom and comfortable living area with high open beam ceiling and a Hugh Comstock fireplace.

One-half flight of stairs leads to a loft above the living area.

Walk outside the right wing to a second cozy patio with an equally incredible view through the forest to Carmel Bay and Pebble.

A double plus lot, allows for a charming garden
with exuberant and colorful Hydrangeas and Dahlias 

While Curtain Call sits back on the lot, Second Act, formerly the old garage, sits close to the front gate.  Here the original Carmel Stone interior has been flipped to the outside. 
 The inside is the ideal in-law apartment
or guest house with studio bedroom plus loft,
reminiscent of Hansel,
sitting area,
bathroom,
and fully appointed kitchen
                        with a hidden refrigerator
 (it is in the picture).
Next up, two homes of Michael J. Murphy.
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Photography
Black and White photos from Monterey Public Library History Room and Harrison Memorial Library Local History Room. 
All other photography by L. A. Momboisse 

 

 
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