One part folk art two parts expediency – the beach cottage colony at Crystal Cove (3.2 miles of paradise just north of Laguna Beach) stands (barely) as a collective monument to the humble beach shack. The setting was “discovered” by silent picture era film makers who trundled down from Hollywood to shoot pirate and Tarzan movies. The little grass huts they left behind were soon appropriated by locals who added a few tents to enlarge this venue for Prohibition Era luaus and wing dings. By the the mid- twenties slightly more ambitious shelters were being added. The construction was halted in 1939 by the owners of the land – the powerful Irvine Company – who had largely looked the other way while this organic beachfront colony rose from the golden sand.
The 45 cottages are today a State Historic District in the center of Crystal Cove State Park. Several have been restored to their modest glory and are available for overnight rental. One has been re-purposed as an excellent and very popular cafe/bar (The Beachcomber). About half the cottages remain in a state of limbo between something domestic and pile of driftwood. This collection of old ghosts are among the most interesting for shear exuberance and chutzpah. One hopes that fund raising efforts to save these accelerates at a pace faster than their disintegration (See The Crystal Cove Alliance for more info). Bernard Maybeck described his Berkeley hillside cottages as essentially a garden setting “with a roof in case it rains”.
Perhaps these surf shacks could be described similarly—simply a porch from which to enjoy the view. I highly recommend a visit!