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The Carmel Journals | Fairy Tale Cottages & Historic Buildings Tour – part 1



I don’t know about you, but for me, Carmel’s biggest attraction are the many, many gorgeous fairy tale style cottages that can be seen just about everywhere. Some of them are truly tiny, but most of them, no matter the size, make you feel like you are about to step into Snow White’s home, or possibly into the Weasleys’ Burrow. There is definitely magic going on, and I am so grateful to Mr. Hugh Comstock for starting this trend with his whimsical renditions of the Tudor style.

While browsing for information, I found out about a self-guided walking tour of Carmel’s historic buildings that I could do myself by following a map. The official starting point was the Carmel Heritage Center, but since my home base was halfway through the tour, that is where I started. As it turned out, halfway is where the cottages I had been looking for were located. Some are not even listed on the tour, like the one in the images above and below, which is (or was) Comstock’s own house. It is named Obers, and Comstock built it in 1925 after his first, and most famous, two cottages, Hansel and Gretel, which he built for his wife’s business. These are located just up the street from Obers and you will be able to see one of them further down.




As it happens, I ended up doing this walking tour twice. The first time, on a late sunny afternoon, which turned out not to be a good idea, as it yielded way too much contrast between golden light and strong shadows for some of the houses to really show up in the images. So I waited for a foggy morning and went around again. I followed the map in both cases, but I also allowed myself to get detoured whenever I saw other pretty buildings my camera itched to photograph. The tour you will see is a blend of both, and includes the detours. I did not photograph all the buildings on the list. Even if historical, if they were not pretty, or were very difficult to photograph because of obstructions in front, I just skipped them. But the skipped ones are very few.

I have divided the images into two posts because there are so many, and I did not want to dilute the pleasure of the experience. So take your time and enjoy part one. Then you can move onto part 2, the link to which you will find at the bottom of this article.




The cottage above, though not quite as whimsical as Obers, is still quite charming, and is located right across from Comstock’s house.

The very Tudor cottage in the image below is located just behind Obers on the way up to Hansel & Gretel. By the way, all these are private properties, so I walked up as close as possible, but still photographed what I could from the street.




Above: a sneak peek into the garden where the two tiny Comstock’s cottages Hansel and Gretel are located. Gretel is tucked in the back and is not visible from the street. You can see Hansel in the images below, even if the trees and plants in the garden tend to obstruct the public’s view. Aren’t they just beautiful?

Hugh Comstock built them as ‘doll house’ show rooms for his wife Mayotta’s ‘Otsy-Totsys’ rag doll business when it outgrew their home. The two cottages were such a success that Comstock became a contractor overnight.

Hansel & Gretel are nr. 19 on the Historic Tour map.




Walking downhill and back towards the center of town from Hansel & Gretel you will find ‘Forge in the Forest’, historical building nr. 20 on the tour map. The Forge, now a restaurant, had been built for Francis Whitaker, an internationally known ironsmith, whose work can be admired on many of Carmel’s buildings. The Forge’s bar displays Whitaker’s original tools as well as many early photographs. The Forge is located on the corner of Junipero and 5th.




Continuing down Junipero from The Forge on the way to my next historic building, I saw this other, very pretty building. Even when they are not specifically whimsical and fairy-tale like, buildings in Carmel still retain a lot of charm. This particular one houses one of the offices of Alain Pinel Realtors.




Below is historic building nr. 17 – yes a quick little detour on the detour. Now housing Palomas House Furnishings, this building began as Carmel’s first dairy in 1932. The milk used to be brought in from Carmel Valley, bottled in the building, and then delivered. The original lamp is over the doorway, and the big sign by the door stating ‘Carmel Dairy’ is the original one. This building is on the corner of Ocean and Mission.




Getting back on track, we arrive at historic building nr. 21: the Fire Station, located on 6th Street between Mission and San Carlos. The Fire Station was built in 1937 using Carmel stone, and remains an active fire station today. Carmel stone, by the way, has seen a resurgence in popularity, and has been used in many renovations and new buildings around Carmel in recent years. You will notice it by and by.




The pretty, non-historic building above housing Sylvie’s Unique Boutique, among other businesses, is just across from the Fire Station.

The also non-historic, but still old-looking and very Tudor-style building in the images below is located at the corner of San Carlos and 6th.




Above: more Tudor-style buildings along 6th.

Below: a pretty, hispanic-style building on the corner between Lincoln and 6th. On the next block going back towards Ocean, there is historic building nr. 2, which is the Harrison Memorial Library. Somehow, I got turned around and distracted by something else, and did not photograph that one.




In an attempt to get myself back on tour track, I headed towards Ocean in search of historic building nr. 22, the Carmel Drug Store, which had been built in 1907, so certainly one of the oldest buildings in town. However, that was one of the buildings that was very difficult to photograph, even with a wide angle, because of trees, bushes and other paraphernalia in front of it. So I photographed this pretty one in the image above which was just a few steps away.

I still want to mention the Carmel Drug Store even sans-photo because in 1925 the city passed an ordinance restricting the size and style of signs. All signs not conforming were removed, except – for reasons unknown – the one of the Carmel Drug Store. This ordinance is in place to this day, and plays a strong role in the size and prettiness of the business sings around Carmel.


The other building I could not photograph for similar reasons was nr. 23, aka Carmel Forecast (whatever that is), which was built in 1939 as the Bank of Carmel and currently features a bas-relief by well-known artist Paul Whitman. If I should get a chance to photograph this in the fall, I will insert the image here.




Historic building nr. 24 is the one in the image above, which now houses another office of Alain Pinel Realtors. It was built in 1905 and was the site of Carmel’s first city hall and police department in 1917. It is located on the corner between Ocean and Dolores.


Walking up Dolores back towards 6th and past the lovely Pilgrim’s Way Bookshop and Secret Garden – which I explored in an earlier chapter of The Carmel Journals – is the pretty building that houses Lafayette French Kitchen, a breakfast and lunch spot I have yet to explore.





A little further up the street is historic building nr. 25, the Carmel Art Association Gallery. As you can see I photographed this building on that sunny afternoon, and I had to work quite a bit in photoshop to bring balance to light and shadow so you could see the building. Now you know why I re-walked the tour on a foggy morning.

I did not go inside the gallery. I actually have not been in any of the many and wonderful art galleries in Carmel, yet. I was out and about taking photos of historic buildings, and I could not afford the extended de-tour time I would need and want in an art gallery. I look forward to exploring all art galleries when I return in the fall. I will share about them with you, of course.




A quick walk around the block via 5th Street and I found myself on Lincoln, where I discovered a restaurant I had not yet heard of and is now on my go-to list: Christopher’s. Not a historic building but a pretty one nonetheless.

The historic one was just a little further down and across, and would have been the official historic tour starting point. Nr. 1 on the tour is First Murphy House, now the seat of the Carmel Heritage Society. It was built in 1902 by Michael J. Murphy when he was only seventeen-years old, and it was the first of more than three-hundred houses and many commercial buildings he would build in Carmel-by-the-Sea. You can see it in the images below.




Right next to the Murphy House, on the corner of Lincoln and 6th, is one of the most beautiful bronze sculptures I have ever seen: The Valentine, by artist George Wayne Lundeen.  I had seen photos of it, and wondered where it was located. Carmel is not that big, so I knew I would find it eventually, but it was still an exciting surprise when I saw it. There is a copy of this same sculpture in Decatur, Ga, in front of the old court house.

Here is a little history on the piece as provided by Mr. Lundeen.
“The Valentine in Carmel was the first and only sculpture Carmel had for many years. The first in the edition went to a fellow who called one day and said he wanted to buy a sculpture for his shoe store. He described a piece I had done a few years before (Departure), and I had to tell him I had sold out of that piece. As we talked, I told him I had always wanted to do another sculpture of the same people in the first sculpture, but fifty years later. He went along with the plan. I then asked him about his shoe store, and I said I thought it was an expensive piece to put in front of the store. He said it would look good there. I then asked him the name of his store and he said it was ‘Nike’. I was speaking with Phil Knight, or, as he said I should call him, ‘Buck’. That was the first one. Most of the editions of twenty-one are in private collections. One was resold a few months ago (end of 2012) in Beaver Creek, Co, and was sent to Mexico. The one in Carmel recently lost its Valentine, and I had to go out and fit her with a new one.”





Back on Ocean Avenue, I was looking for the famous Pine Inn. Ass I approached my attention was caught by this pretty courtyard in the image above. It turned out it is part of Pine Inn, and is the entry for a Il Fornaio restaurant, which is attached to the inn.

A few more steps along Ocean and I was in front of the official Pine Inn entrance. Pine Inn, historic building nr. 3, began as the El Carmelo Hotel in 1890 at the top of town. It was moved to its present location in 1903, and then expanded. Later on I will be doing an article just on Carmel’s prettiest inns, as they are really worthwhile.




I reached the junction with Monte Verde, which is the last street with shops and businesses. I crossed Ocean and passed this non-historic but stunning set of old buildings. Aren’t they pretty? They house boutiques which I have yet to explore, as that is another activity I have not really indulged in and have postponed to the fall. It is difficult to shop and carry a big camera, then maybe walk out with a shopping bag dangling from one arm, and still expect to take stable photos with the other.




City Hall is located on Monte Verde, and is definitely a historic building, nr. 5 on the list. It was originally a church, All Saints Church. The story is that in 1912, Carmel developer Frank Devendorf donated the lot to the Episcopalians, who had been holding services at the Forest Theater. The Forest Theatre (historic building nr. 18) is an outdoor theatre, and one I was unable to photograph, so I will get to it in the fall.




Almost across from City Hall is Monte Verde Inn, not historic but pretty enough, especially the sign.

Not far from that is this pretty cottage you see below, a private residence. Oh how I wish they would hide those ugly trash bins somewhere! And not just the owners of this cottage, but people in general, as I find trash bins are visible more often than I care to see them, and spoil the view and many a photograph.




Finally we come to the famous and charming L’Auberge Carmel, which is part of Relais & Châteaux and houses a restaurant I intend to enjoy: Aubergine. Eventually I will do a full feature on both L’Auberge Carmel and Aubergine, but not today. Today I can tell you that L’Auberge, historic building nr. 6, was the first apartment house in Carmel and used to be called Sun Dial Lodge. It was built by former mayor Allen Knight in 1929.




Here we conclude part one of this historic tour and detour of the beautiful cottages and buildings of Carmel. I hope you have enjoyed it, and I am wondering two things: one, which is your favorite cottage or building showcased here; and two, would you live in one of those fairy-tale cottages that Comstock built?

If you are ready to continue, I have now posted part 2 and you can find it here.



Other chapters in The Carmel Journals you might enjoy:


And just beyond Carmel:



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