Friday, March 22, 2013

Carmel by the Sea - Fairy Tale Cottages of Hugh Comstock - W. O. Swain Cottages

For an interactive map from GPSmyCity 
for  Carmel please visit this site


“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

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Carmel by the Sea - Fairy Tale Cottages of Hugh Comstock - The Studio, Our House, Storybook Cottage

Map Comstock Historical Hill District Carmel California Fairy Tale Homes
Historic Name: Comstock Studio
Architectural Style: Tudor (Storybook substyle)
NE Corner 6th and Santa Fe
Block 60, Lot 17 and 19

As Hugh Comstock's design business grew he and his staff outgrew their office in his personal residence "Obers." So Hugh built a studio on the lot next door beginning in 1927 with the first structure placed on the western side of the lot.

Comstock built "The Studio" in three distinct sections between 1927-1937, continuing with the Tudor "Fairy Tale" style of many of his earlier cottages, but adding two new design elements to his exterior, leaded glass and Carmel stone, lending a country element to his whimsical style.

The entrance to the studio was directly across from the French wood doors on the east side of his personal residence. Surely a well worn path was traveled back and forth. 

The front entrance is not visible from the street.  This is a picture of the entrance taken from the January/February 2008 issue of Cottage Living. A  wrought iron sign proclaims its historical origin, "Comstock 1927."

The studio, or first section of "The Studio," visible from 6th Street features a dormer acting as a door shield over a pair of diamond-paned leaded-glass wooden French doors.  Comstock carried the diamond-paned leaded-glass element to the east where the roof steps down in a small arched wood casement window. 

His signature Carmel stone fireplace anchors this section.  Emulating the pitch in the roof, the chimney is topped with a steeply pitched, gabled spark arrester, here examined closely by one of our squirrel residents. 

Continuing with the charming county look of leaded glass, Comstock added a "hyphen" to the studio in 1936.  This glazed hall gallery features a pair of tall diamond-pane leaded glass windows supported by a low Carmel stone wall flanking a pair of wood and glass double doors.

A year later an office was added off the hall gallery to complete the third section of "The Studio." 

After Hugh's unexpected death in 1950, Mayotta made "The Studio" her residence, remodeling the interior of the studio/office in 1953 to include a bedroom, kitchen and living area, and adding a garage with entrance on Santa Fe.

From the outside "The Studio" remains much as it looked in 1988 when it was still owned by the a member of the Comstock family, Harrold Comstock.

 Today the current owners maintain
this historic home beautifully

as well as the lovely

and lush country garden
surrounding the property.

Historic Name: Our House
Architectural Style:  Tudor (Storybook substyle)

Santa Fe 4 NW 6th
Block 60 Lot 11

Our House was designed by Hugh Comstock in 1928 for Elizabeth Armstrong and built for $1,900. From Santa Fe depending on the time of year you will be able to see different parts of this cottage over the grape-stake fence and high shrubs.

But one window always seems to be visible, winter, spring, summer or fall, the narrow arched three-light casement window with braced wood shutter of the same shape with heart-shaped cut out. Spot this and you will know you have the correct house.

Comstock's architectural signature can be seen in the steeply pitched roof and Carmel stone fireplace. The exterior wall cladding is textured stucco over felt, instead of burlap. Similar to Hansel, the front entrance to Our House is positioned on the side of the property.

In 1940, Hugh Comstock added a small guest house to the SW corner of this property. Later in 1958 the main house and the guest house were combined by adding an extension to the original kitchen.
This picture taken by Colin Kuster in 1988 shows that the cute wood shutters with the heart shaped cut out were a modern addition to the property.
A "twin" to Our House was built by Comstock in 1929 on Casanova and Palou named Sunwise Turn.
"Storybook Cottage"
Santa Fe 2 SE 5th

Until recently I called this house the "Browne House."  Clearly not because of its color, but because the property was originally owned by T. M. Browne, the father of Mayotta Browne Comstock. 
The current owners Harry and Jane Herbst
 have aptly named  their quaint property
 Storybook Cottage.  

Back in 1926, T. M. Browne purchased a permit to build a small cottage on the property.  Instead he built a small shed structure on the eastern side of the lot.
In 1941, the widow of  T. M. Browne transferred the property to her daughter Mayotta and son-in-law Hugh Comstock.
Shortly after the transfer, Hugh Comstock built a 384 square foot cottage at the front western edge of the
property with his signature high pitched roof, Carmel stone chimney,

front door with door hood 
 facing away from the street, 

 hand carved wood casings around
 the doors and windows
 rough textured cement stucco
exterior wall cladding.
Joan Bard owned the property in 1987 and added a two story addition to the rear of the property. 
According to a report written in 2012 by historian and author Kent Seavey, it was found that "though Ms. Bard employed materials and finishes somewhat similar to those found on the original building, 
her use of vinyl windows with snap-in diamond muntins and the overstated decorative wood railing contributed to the property's loss of historical integrity. 
Mr. Seavey's report recommended that the subject property did not meet the "necessary criterion for listing in the California Historical Register.  Nor does it meet the criterion established by the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea for inclusion in the Carmel Historic Resource Inventory, and therefore cannot be considered an historic resource." 

Currently this home is being renovated, smoothing out the connection between the 1987 addition and the original 1941 cottage.  

A garage is being added to the southwest corner of the property.  It will have 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 instead exterior stucco cladding as in the original structure. 

The homes mentioned in this blog are C) The Studio, D) Our House, and E) Browne House (Storybook Cottage).  

I have embeded a pdf map of the Historical Hill District which includes "addresses" and photographs of all 11 Comstock cottages not just the ones discussed in this blog. You may print this off and use as your own personal walking tour here PDF Map

Back to Fairy Tale Cottages of Hugh Comstock


Black and White photograph by Colin Kuster, son of Edward Kuster, taken 1988 of "The Studio" courtesy of the Henry Meade Williams Local History Department, Harrison Memorial Library.

Black and White photograph by Colin Kuster, son of Edward Kuster, taken 1988 of "Our House" courtesy of the Henry Meade Williams Local History Department, Harrison Memorial Library.

Black and white photo dated 2010 of the wood rails on the second story addition to the "A Storybook Cottage" from City Hall Records. 

Undated picture showing vinyl windows with snap-in diamond pattern muntins on the second story addition to the "A Storybook Cottage" from City Hall Records. 

All other photos by L. A. Momboisse 2013