On an unseasonably sunny day in mid June, I set on the Carmel Heritage Society’s House and Garden Tour sponsored by Sotheby’s International Realty and Village Corner Restaurant to explore eight of Carmel’s historical and quaint cottages. The owners of these homes meticulously care for them and have graciously opened their front gate and front doors to the community. It is a marvelous opportunity to learn more about the architects that built the first homes in Carmel-by-the-Sea as well as discover how we can continue to preserve these buildings, which are “ours to protect,” through the Carmel Heritage Society.
We will be touring the work of three creative Carmel architects, two of which I have written extensively on before. You may read more about their life and work in my past posts on Michael J. Murphy and Hugh W. Comstock.
The First Murphy House
Lincoln and 6th Avenue
Built by Michael J. Murphy when he was 17 years old, the 111 year old First Murphy House is an 829 square foot cottage that today houses the office for the Carmel Heritage Society, a non-profit organization serving the community of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Their mission is to protect, preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the community in a way that encourages public recognition and participation so that people will have a greater knowledge and appreciation of the community of Carmel and its sphere of influence.
In 1990 when the First Murphy House was facing the possibility of demolition, the Carmel community came together and formed the First Murphy House Committee under the auspices of the Carmel Heritage Society.
With the committee’s efforts, $16,000 in donations were quickly raised to save Mr. Murphy’s first architectural achievement, and this home was literally lifted up by a crane, transported through town (almost as if leading a parade) and deposited into its present location next to what became First Murphy Park.
The newest addition to the grounds of the First Murphy House is a commemorative bench dedicated in honor of Enid Sales
, a historic preservationist, who was also instrumental in the community effort to save First Murphy House.
With a filtered view of Carmel Bay, First Murphy Park and Gardens sits adjacent to First Murphy House.
The meandering paths and benches make it a lovely place to sit and have lunch. In the southwest corner, down the stairs from the upper deck there are public restrooms.
My favorite part of the park is “The Valentine” a bronze sculpture by George Wayne Lundeen of an
elderly couple sitting quietly, their heads leaning together in a comfortable gesture of compatibility, the woman holds a heart shaped valentine, and they both appear lost in a daydream of years filled with shared memories.
But, no time to sit and daydream,
we have places to be and homes to see.
Hugh W. Comstock Residence NE Corner Torres & Sixth
Formerly known as “Obers” this whimsical storybook style residence has reclaimed its Comstock designation with a new name, the Hugh W. Comstock Residence. Built in 1925 for $1,000 this residence was just that, the private home of Hugh and his wife Mayotta, who lived there until Hugh’s death in 1950.
A new roof was completed just a few days before the house tour by Alcal Specialty Contracting, Inc. The roofers worked cautiously on the steeply pitched roof for almost two weeks, hand cutting and staggering the wood shingles, laying them in such a precise manner, as if putting pieces of a intricate puzzle together. The resulting pattern suggests thatching, and replicates the original roof.
The current owners who have owned the property since 1985 have kept it in pristine condition meticulously preserving all the original Comstock features except…
the adobe patio that was built by Hugh Comstock in 1940, using his newly fabricated Post-Adobe method. It was one of his earlier experiments with the material and the patio did not stand up to the test of time.
Abbey Baker Design Build renovated the patio with Carmel Stone, paying special attention to keeping the exact footprint of the original Post-Adobe patio, fireplace, and wall;
at the same time leaving a small portion of the wall, for historical purposes, in its original form on the northwest side of the property.
When Hugh Comstock built his home in 1925, it consisted of an entryway, living area, upper loft, and attic, a cozy 400 square feet of living space, with an exterior wall of cement stucco, patterned after his first storybook house, Hansel.
Inside this tiny cottage, Hugh built an open hand-hewn redwood beam ceiling low over the first floor living area.
In fact only two rows of the three-tier mullioned windows visible from the outside are visible from the first floor living area.
The upper row is covered by
the attic wall and ceiling.
The living area is anchored by a Comstock Carmel Stone fireplace and lit by the wood framed French doors that lead to the Comstock Studio, which became Mr. Comstock’s office following the success of his “Storybook Fairy Tale” style architecture which can clearly be seen imitated throughout Carmel-by-the-Sea.
In 1936 Mr. Comstock experimented with a system of adding emulsified asphalt to soil to make a moisture proof adobe brick that looked identical to the Spanish adobe used to build the Carmel Mission. By 1940 he was ready to use this new building material on an addition to his home. The photograph below shows the Post-Adobe addition to the left of the Oak tree.
Hugh Comstock’s Post-Adobe combined the “best features of both a sturdy timber frame and modern waterproofed adobe walls. Heavy eight-inch posts of redwood or cedar are placed at all window openings, door openings, and corners of the house…Waterproofed adobe masonry, of the same thickness as the posts, is placed in the wall spaces between the posts as a filler material (as shown in the illustration below from Post-Adobe by Hugh Comstock).” (2)
In 1948 Hugh published a “How To” booklet with simplified directions on his Post-Adobe construction. In this booklet he used illustrations by W. Harvey Williamson of his residence that when shown side by side with current photographs confirm the lengths the owners have gone to preserve this home and its historic nature.
The two pictures above are of the dining room. The top from Comstock’s “How To” booklet, the bottom the room today, with the original Post-Adobe walls constructed between hand-hewn redwood timbers sitting on top of the original polished brick floors.
In the corner of the dining room is the original 73 year old fireplace with copper hood. For a man with no architectural training, this home, as well of the others he built in Carmel, is remarkable.
The floors in the kitchen are a continuation of the polished brick from the dining room. Though the kitchen has been modernized, it blends beautifully in seamless compatibility with the rest of the home.
My favorite spot, the view out of the
window over the kitchen farm sink.
Continue up the staircase in the entryway to the second floor and pass an original light fixture which had at one time adorned the outside of the home.
From the top of the stairs, we enter a four sided balcony (part of the original 1925 house) with view to the entryway and living area below.
The detail in Comstock’s hand-hewn pierced flatwork railing is quite extraordinary.
Here on second floor is the original attic, sleeping quarters, and tiny bathroom from 1925.
The closed door to the left, above, is the bathroom door. If you think you have seen this unusual door shape before, you have – It is the same style door Mr. Comstock used when he built the Tuck Box. On the right is the knotty pine arched door to the
attic area with three signature Comstock features: a steeply pitched roof line, narrow arched three-light casement window, and
diamond pattern leaded glass casement “eyebrow” window. A glance out this window shows a view of the Carmel Stone arch built around the front door of Comstock’s Studio.
The 1940’s second floor addition houses what was originally Mayotta’s knotty pine paneled sewing room, now a guestroom.
Through the wooden french doors is a small enclosed deck with low railing of pierced flatwork similar in style to the inside staircase and balcony. From this narrow balcony the Carmel stone patio by Abbey Baker Design Build
is especially enjoyable today with fragrant smells wafting from the fireplace.
A master bedroom
and balcony with Comstock’s now signature pierced flatwork railing was also added in 1940. From this balcony the intricate and time consuming details of the new roof by Alcal Specialty Contracting, Inc. can be seen close up.
Instead of using Post-Adobe for the walls upstairs, Mr. Comstock used a vertical board-and-batten siding. This can be more readily seen from the outside west elevation.
In 2012, a Carmel Stone garage and bonus room was added by Abbey Baker Design Build. It was purposely built in a differentiated style from the residence. The City of Carmel-by-the-Sea is very protective of its history, so much so that when a another building is added, not renovated, but added, to a lot with an existing historical dwelling, the new structure must be built so that when one looks at the lot from the street they will immediately know that the new building is not part of the original structure. And just to make things more challenging for the modern architect, the new structure must not only be differentiated it must also be complimentary.
Which is exactly what has been done with Hugh W. Comstock Residence.
Just around the corner in the Comstock Historical Hill District is our next destination.
A Storybook Cottage
Santa Fe between 5th and 6th
One block northeast of the Hugh W. Comstock Residence, Hugh’s father-in-law, Thomas M. Browne purchased a lot. In 1926, Mr. Browne acquired a permit to build a small structure on the eastern side of the property.
Fifteen years later, after the death of Mr. Browne, his widow, Mayotta’s mother, sold the property to the Comstock’s for $10.
Hugh Comstock built a 384 square foot cottage at the western edge of the lot in 1941, using many of his signature architectural features; the high pitched roof, door hood, side facing front door, Carmel Stone chimney, hand carved wood window casings and rough textured cement stucco exterior wall cladding.
In 1987 owner Joan Bard added a two story 693 square foot addition to the back of the existing cottage, increasing the size of the kitchen and adding two bedrooms.
Joan Bard used materials, such as stucco siding, which was similar to that found on the original 1941 building, but in a report by Kent Seavey dated May 15, 2012 to City Planner Sean Conroy, it was determined that the use of vinyl windows with snap-in diamond pattern mutins and the pierced decorative wood railings used in the 1987 addition detracted from the historical integrity of the property. Consequently on May 22, 2012 the property was determined to be ineligible for listing on the City’s Inventory of Historic Resources.
Before the present owners took possession of the property a shed and 167 square foot studio were added to the easternmost portion of the lot.
On the House and Garden Tour we enjoyed a beautifully renovated Storybook Cottage. The new owners, Harry and Jane Herbst, are admirers of Comstock’s work, and in their restoration incorporated some of his signature details from Marchen Haus in the main house and Hansel in the studio.
The vinyl windows were replaced
with wood crank windows and
the old studio received 80 additional square feet making it a comfortable guest house with bedroom, half bath, and cozy sitting area.
A detached one car garage was added adjacent to the original cottage. It has similar characteristics as the residence, hand-carved wood window casings and roof edge, high pitched roof line, and exposed rafters, yet it will be differentiated by being built with board and batten exterior siding instead of stucco cladding as in the original 1941 cottage.
The result, great care was taken in the restoration of this home by Bell and McBride Builders and the current owners to continue to embrace the Comstock style and character. It is stunning! A year ago I named this home “Browne House” and included it in my map of the Comstock Historical Hill District that can be printed off and used as a self-guided tour. Welcome A Storybook Cottage to the Comstock Historical Hill District of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Next up: Forest Cottage built by Frederick Bigland, Holly Oak Cottage Garden, home built by Michael J. Murphy and All the Way the mysterious hidden American Foursquare I have walked by for 40 years, now I know what beauty lies behind that fence.
House and Garden Tour Part 2 – Forest Cottage, All the Way, Holly Oak Cottage
House and Garden Tour Part 3 – Hob Nob, Carmel Cottage Inn
Black and white photo Michael J. Murphy’s mother Emma (left), Murphy, and his wife Edna standing in front of the first home Mr. Murphy built in 1902. Kent Seavey, Images of America Carmel A History In Architecture (Arcadio Publishing, 2007), 36. Photograph from Harrison Memorial Library Collection.
Two color pictures from 1990 the relocation of the First Murphy House to present location, courtesy of Harrison Memorial Local History Library donated by Harrison Comstock.
Black and white photo Hugh and Mayotta Comstock in front of the east entrance to Hugh Comstock Residence, courtesy of the Harrison Memorial Local History Library.
(1) Photo courtesy of Abbey Baker Design Build
Black and white photo Hugh Comstock Residence shortly after construction in 1925. Seavey, p. 81. Photograph from Pat Hathaway Historic California Views.
Black and white photo of Comstock personal residence circa 1940. Seavey, p. 117.Photography by Morley Baer, courtesy of Monterey Peninsula College.
(2) Hugh Comstock, Post-Adobe – How to booklet published 1948.
Color picture of vinyl windows of 1987 addition to A Storybook Cottage copied from Carmel-By-The-Sea City Hall Building Department files.
All other color photographs by L. A. Momboisse http://www.carmelbytheseaca.blogspot.com