Carmel’s Fairytale Houses

Every Sunday, my guy and I go somewhere for a hike. It’s a Sunday fun-day tradition that we work really hard at not missing. Every so often, though, the weather isn’t great or we get a late start or we just want a change of scenery. So we’ll do an urban hike. Our favorite go-to-spot is Carmel-by-the-Sea. Okay, not really the definitive urban environment, but it is more populated than our home town of Castroville.

We usually begin at Carmel Beach, head up Ocean Blvd. and then wind our way around town. Early on Sunday mornings the village is pretty quiet, not to many restaurants are open and most storefronts are shuttered until mid-morning.

It’s beautiful. Peaceful. Charming. Enchanting.

One Sunday I declared that I wanted to see all of the celebrated Carmel Comstock Cottages. I have a tendency to use the phrase, “I want to see all of …” with my guy to which he often responds, “Ok, pick four or five of …. fill in the blank … and we’ll see where we end up.”

But I had a map. And there were only 11 houses on it; 11 cottages unmarked by any distinctive feature other than the very unique architecture that defined the quaintness of the village in which they were built and the whimsical nature of the designer, Hugh Comstock.

My guy didn’t know who Hugh Comstock was so along the way I got to put on my local history hat and regale him with my knowledge of this local lore. He stoically listened to my enthusiastic spiel.

Hugh Comstock came to the village, known for its artist colony ambiance, in the early part of the 1920s. While there, he met is future bride Mayotta Browne, a local doll maker known for her Otsy-Totsey brand dolls made specifically for collectors. Customers loved her dolls.

She made a lot of them.

So many that Hugh was tasked with building her a life-sized doll house as a showcase for her creations. As inspiration, he took a page from one of the leading English illustrators of the time, Arthur Rackham. His well-known illustrations were whimsical, fanciful and imaginative. Check out The Dolly Dailies; one of his first artistic undertakings.

By this point in our hike, we were standing in front of this first house, the showcase for Mayotta’s dolls, which Comstock named Hansel. With its crooked chimney and pitched, unconventional roof line it looked like something right out of a fairy tale.

Upon its completion, an architectural sensation was born.

In the next five years, Comstock went on to design and build numerous homes in this playful and imaginative style throughout town. Many have been restored and are valued at much more than the $100 plus materials Comstock invested. He named them … Hansel got his Gretl counterpart; Obers was where Hugh and Mayotta lived; and five of them … Honeymoon, Birthday House, Fables, Doll’s House and The Woods … were built for real estate developer W.O. Swain who created a mini fairytale subdivision, perhaps the first and only of its kind.

My guy, a skillful woodworker, did appreciate the workmanship of each house and the notable design features — decorative half-timbers, hip-on-gable thatched roofs, arched doors, hand carved trim, hand cut shingles, window boxes.

We did see all 11 that day. We ended the day at The Tuck Box English Tea Room on Dolores between Ocean and 7th Avenue, originally, most likely, an office Comstock built for himself.

I’m happy to report no blisters were created, either on our feet, our psyche or our relationship. Nothing better than a scone, a dollop of orange marmalade and a steaming cup of the Tuck Box’s signature Ceylon black tea to inspire civility.

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