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
Birthday House, Doll's House, Fables, Gretel, Hansel,, Hugh Comstock, Hugh W. Comstock Residence, Mayotta Browne Comstock, Obers, Ocean House, Otsy-Totsy, Our House, The Studio, The Woods, Yellow Bird

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. 

 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)

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