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 About the fabled early days, see this sketch about Mary Austin, "Sauntering by piney trails."

 

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Carmel-by-the-Sea has legends of art colony Bohemian exuberance. But, its real history is about a heroic body politic that has kept this idyllic coastal village a special, small place.


Carmel Beach Sunset January 22, 2011 by Howard Jones

A foggy night, chimney smoke, lights blinking through pine needles, a Bach sonata in the air, Carmel feels like a European village. Open air markets with fresh flowers and local grown artichokes, Brussels sprouts, basil, garlic in bins out on the sidewalk further the notion. Candlelit storefront cafes with lingering couples, cozy pubs for the adventurers.

Like background music, the sea beats out a steady soothing tune. A rumble, crack and roar of the surf steadily rolls in and whooshes back out. Every sound, though expected, is a surprise. Coming through the forest, the music creates an excitement.

The distinction of this rare setting begins at the beach. The sands are like pure white crystals. They became that way through millions of years of earthquakes and volcanoes forming granite.

Rock promontories a mile apart protect the beach from sediment runoff. So, the sand rubbed from the granite by the surf is not contaminated.

Beyond the beach, two other promontories, Point Lobos to the south, and Point Pescadero to the north, are among the world's most talked about meetings of land and sea.

A picturesque river and lagoon form a centerpiece for the Bay. This spot was considered by Father Junipero Serra as the best California had to offer, and he stayed.


 

The Village was created by a visionary with convictions

Carmel became an artists' village not by accident, but by the design of a San Jose real estate developer.

Frank Devendorf's Dream

In the 1770's Father Serra built the Monterey Mission a safe distance away from the military, as he wanted his neophytes' purity reserved for the Church. It later became an inspiration to the artists who gravitated to Carmel.

Painters, poets and writers came to Carmel to live and work a bohemian artistic experience in Nature.

They created a theater in the woods, built tree houses to write in, and had rollicking beach parties that are still talked about. Their names were Mary Austin, Sinclair Lewis, Xavier Martinez, David Starr Jordan, Jack London, and they made a name for the woodsy village on the beach.

 

What if the people who made it charming couldn't live there anymore? Carmel became such a magnet for wealthy people, that in time, the artists who created the mystique of the Bohemian village in the woods by the sea, could not afford to live there. Ironies painfully evolved in this idyllic repose.

Once, when Carmel had become such an artsy attraction for the well-to-do, the town boosters began demolishing the village's allure. Its finest, funkiest, most authentic symbol of this allure, the woodland playhouse, was proposed to be destroyed to make room for the expensive condos.

Fortunately, a sense of artistic heritage, and civic outrage prevailed, and the theater was saved. But, another Carmelesque twist resulted differently.

Going to that theater, today, is one of Carmel's most treasured family events.

The first lot Devendorf sold was to an African American woman. He thought she represented a cultural diversification that would be important in his envisioned community. Now, however, it is hard to find any black people in the village.


The River lagoon is a bird paradise

Carmel has a brave heritage. It has maintained and nurtured a commitment to the arts in the face of enormous pressure to cave in and be just a well-to-do glitzy beach town. The world renowned institutions, the Bach Festival, the Sunset Center for the Arts, and the Forest Theater, have persevered and flourished. That the very air of art streams through the atmosphere is a tribute to a fine dream and a people's devotion to create and maintain a special place.

Political battles spice up Carmel's history

Main shopping area is covered with trees, and has no blazing neon signs

Gallery of Carmel Galleries and artistic places

 Practical, innovative conservation as lifestyle

Poked fun at for its environmental policies, such as not spreading concrete all over so rain water can't seep down to the aquifers, and to preserve a forest canopy it has a Department of Forestry. Carmel has turned ridicule into praise. Nowadays such policies have earned Carmel the mantle of respect among urban planners. Conservation measures that have long been in practice here are now looked at by other communities as necessities for a livable future.

The house built by Frank Lloyd Wright on Abalone Point.

There are no street addresses in the village

In the beginning it was thought numbers would demean the artistic community feeling so arduously achieved.

40 years later the California Legislature tried to impose house numbers on them, and there was a revolt. "Individuality is the life-blood of Carmel," a planning commissioner said."We have avoided numbering our houses under penalty of having to fetch and carry our own mail." Indeed, all village residents get their mail at the post office, and that contributes to a sense of community.

State funds would be withheld from Carmel if it insisted on this peculiarity. The Legislature continued its campaign to force Carmel to join the ranks of the humdrum everybody else. But, it refused, and threatened secession from the State. There was a donnybrook. The State's public works sent an inspector, who reported the village was a dismal situation, what with no sidewalks, and trees growing all over the place.

In the end, that fervent, artistic individuality prevailed.

Even though threatened by overdevelopment, Carmel accommodates many visitors. There are nearly 2,000 hotel rooms, and more than 30 Bed and Breakfast Inns. Their trademark is an unspoken elegance, and homeyness. It's a comfortable, close-knit town with everything in walking distance ... and full of outstanding galleries and very special restaurants.

Per capita, Carmel likely has more great places to eat than anywhere else in the world. French cuisine with a fireplace, courtyard fountains, and, well, the list is practically endless and exquisite. And, don't forget the pubs ... there are at least half a dozen of them in Carmel. Have you tried a lobster tamale?

 

Carmel's artist colony history is legion in the annals of bohemia. Since World War II, the atmosphere has become sedate in comparison, and rarefied in tone. But the tradition as a great place to create art carries on. And, even though there are mostly very commercial artists here now, many enclaves of treasures can be found.

A good starting place is the Carmel Art Association on Dolores between 5th and 6th. Everything east and south of there drips with art for several blocks.

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