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Carmel fairy tale architectureCarmel by-the-Sea is a small coastal town in Monterey County, California.

Today, Carmel is an upscale bedroom community and elegant vacation spot known for its fairytale architecture, gourmet restaurants, trendy boutiques, and numerous art galleries.

Carmel wasn’t always so glamorous or conventional, however. The seaside town’s culture is rooted in the whimsy of an eclectic artists community, including its signature fairytale architecture. [Image: The Tuck Box, Hugh Comstock’s only commercial building]

Bohemian Beginnings

Carmel was founded in 1902, and by 1905 the Carmel Arts and Crafts Club had been formed. Jack London, writingWhat started as a small enclave, grew significantly larger when the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 sent artists flocking to the small town–musicians, writers, painters and others. Little did they know that they would leave a lasting influence on Carmel’s culture.

Jack London described the Carmel artists colony in his novel The Valley of the Moon. [Image of Jack London writing: Wikipedia]

Creative talent from all disciplines comprised Carmel’s founding artists colony. Theater, music, and the visual arts continue to play an important role in the community today. However, for the purpose of this post I’m focusing solely on the writers.

Literary Legacy

Poet George Sterling paved the way for the town’s literary base when he moved to Carmel in 1905. After the 1906 earthquake, many of Sterling’s literary friends followed. The following are some of the other notable writers who joined the Carmel artists enclave, or frequented the community:

Henry Miller established another artists enclave in Big Sur, just a few miles south of Carmel along the rugged California coastline. For a comprehensive list of authors who have lived and worked in the Carmel area, go here.

Living the Fairytale

Hugh Comstock single-handedly instilled the architectural fairytale flavor in Carmel, establishing its signature characteristic. Comstock came to Carmel in 1924 to visit his brother, but ended up staying when he fell in love with a resident doll maker named Mayotta Browne.

Mayotta’s business boomed after she and Hugh Comstock married. Merchants across the country were vying for her unique collector dolls, and her stock soon took over their house. The practical business woman asked her husband to build something in which to show off her dolls when buyers came to town. Comstock was not a trained architect, but he had a wonderful imagination and a keen creative eye. He built his wife  a quirky cottage full of whimsical details, intentionally skewing things into charming imperfection. They named the cottage Hansel (shown below), and it was a perfect showcase for Mayotta’s dolls.

Hansel, Hugh Comstock cottage

Carmel being a town full of artists and writers, it’s no wonder that Comstock’s whimsical cottage was extremely popular. In response to the huge demand, Comstock built numerous cottages with the same whimsical flair over a period of five years. Since then, others have mimicked Comstock’s original style, carrying on the tradition of living the fairytale. You can read more about Comstock’s Carmel cottages here.

Hugh Comstock cottages, Carmel, CA