Carmel Mission | History of Carmel

Carmel Mission was originally to be situated in Monterey. But Father Junipero Serra, on realizing the obvious pluses of good soil, and a stable water source, decided on Carmel for the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission. Father Serra and the founders that followed him appreciated nature, the land, and the beauty they beheld. From the 1770s, the history of Carmel was preserved for families and can be seen in the magic that is Carmel-by-the-Sea today.

Establishing Homes | History of Carmel

In 1850, John Martin, a Scottish immigrant, purchased land on the Carmel River. He built a ranch and dairy. About 30 years later real estate agent Samuel Duckworth and his brother, on rumors the Southern Pacific Railroad would extend its reach to include the Mission, partnered with a French baker to parcel up almost 325 acres of his land in Carmel. Town lots were established. Some homes and a hotel were built. Duckworth’s dreams at the time for ‘Carmel City’ didn’t materialize when the rumored railroad expansion did not happen. Fast forward 10 years: picking up from the Duckworths, the San Francisco-based Women’s Real Estate Investment Company took over. Their new development scheme built new homes. Families began to arrive. “Carmel-by-the-Sea” was born.

Notable Development | History of Carmel

During the history of Carmel, there were many notable developments between 1900 and 1910. Among them were:

  • Frank Devendorf’s and Frank Powers’ push to populate Carmel with affordable lots and easy payment terms. Devendorf became a figurehead for Carmel promotion.
  • Louis Slevin purchased a lot on Ocean Avenue from Devendorf. Slevin built one of Carmel’s first businesses; we might call it a small department store today, offering many things including film processing. He became Carmel’s first postmaster. Much of Slevin’s influence and legacy can be seen today by way of photographs he took.
  • In 1904, Powers purchased the Murphy cabin, originally built in 1902. His wife, Jane Gallatin, turned it into her art studio. High above Carmel Beach, many of the Powers’ friends were entertained in the cabin. Many artists and writers who had been in touch with Powers began their interest in Carmel at this time. Poet George Sterling of San Francisco’s Bohemian Club was one of the first creative forces to move in, building his ‘Eighty Acres” home southeast of Ocean and Junipero Streets. It became a Mecca for writers, such as Jack London. A little later, Grace and Alice MacGown, writers of historical romance, children’s stories, and mysteries moved to Carmel.
  • Sunset, Carmel’s first public school was built in 1906.
  • By 1910 Ocean Avenue began to take shape as the main street.

The 1920s were just as, if not more prolific in terms of Carmel’s growth. Of particular note is 1924, when Hugh Comstock came to town and designed his storybook cottage to house his wife’s Otsy-Totsy dolls. This was a major turning point for Carmel, as fairytale cottages became the rage. Explosive and important growth took place shortly afterward, as the mix of old European and other distinctive design styles resulted in the Seven Arts Building and Theatre of the Golden Bough being built. Others followed suit. Near the end of the decade, a design shift toward Mediterranean took place. This look can perhaps best be found on Dolores Street, and in the example of the Kocher Building. In 1929, the Grace Deere Velie Clinic was created. A few years later it was converted to a general hospital; the forerunner of the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

Clint Eastwood | History of Carmel

It’s perhaps pertinent to interject an event from 1926 at this point: it was then the Valley Ranch Club was formed on John Martin’s property. Many of the original farm buildings were retained. In the 1980s, Clint Eastwood purchased the property and working with it, created a beautiful resort that reflected the ranch’s history.

Many other significant and important events happened between 1930 and present day. Here’s a sampling of some of the more notable ones that comprise the history of Carmel.

  • In 1933, in partnership with Gennosuke Kodani, a Japanese marine biologist, Alexander Allan opened an abalone cannery near Whaler’s Cabin. Later, the State of California purchased 300+ acres of land from the Allans, with assistance from the Save-the-Redwoods league.
  • The Bach Festival was created in 1935 by Carmel’s Dene Denny and Hazel Watrous.
  • In 1946, on the property of the All Saint’s Church, City Hall relocated.
  • Do you remember the movie A Summer Place? In 1948, architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed a home on Scenic Drive for Della Brooks Walker (later, Mrs. Van Loben Sells). The movie featured Sells’ house.
  • In 1960 the annual Sandcastle contest was founded.
  • Carmel Plaza construction began in 1972. In 1975, Robert Wright Campbell (R. Wright Campbell) moved to Carmel, writing many well-known and lauded novels, including his In La-La Land We Trust.
  • In 1986 our own Clint Eastwood was elected Mayor of Carmel, paying it forward. A year later, Pope John Paul II visited Carmel. In 1990, The First Murphy House was relocated to a lot on Lincoln, near the Library, later to become the home of the Carmel Heritage Society.
  • Sunset Theatre opened its doors in 2003.
  • Easily worth an entry on its own, the Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours, part of Concours d’Elegance, was launched. Every August, historic and classic cars are seen against the splendid contrast of downtown Carmel.

Your Carmel is known for its natural beauty, and rich artistic heritage. Artists, poets, writers, and many others who have devoted their lives to “the aesthetic arts” have lived here and supported our ways. We hope you enjoyed this piece on the History of Carmel.

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  1. C. Jonathan Shoemaker says:

    I’m looking for the name of the contractor that built my house on the northeast corner of first avenue and Guadalupe in 1939. Where would I find that information, please?

  2. Helen Campbell says:

    Hello I am looking for great grandmother who moved to Carmel in the twenties from Ayrshire Scotland had some connection with bonny doon dairy she was Helen Graham. Any help will be appreciated Hank you

  3. Doug Brown says:

    Greetings! I have a request that I hope someone can help with.
    We have visited Carmel many times in the past, and on a visit in 1976 we visited the art gallery of R. Davey (in Dos Vecinos Court?) and purchased one of his works. Recently I acquired another Davey piece, and I am interested in learning more about the artist, his works, and his history in Carmel. Unfortunately I have found very little about him currently on the internet or using traditional searches. I do have some basic biographical information (birthdate, death in 1994), but little else. I am hoping that someone may have some information in their Carmel archives or personal memories, or can direct me to more information. I would particularly be interested in images of his works and his time and gallery in Carmel. Thanks so much for any help you can provide! Doug Brown, Austin TX

  4. Loved reading your piece on the history of Carmel. I am interested in learning about the home on Scenic and Martin that seems to be abandoned. Was that street named after Jihn Martin the Scott you mention? When was the home built? I stop by each time I come happy to see that it has not been torn down but sad to see it unkept and not exhibiting the magnitude of its beauty and charm.

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