Carmel, California is as rich in history and culture as it is in beauty. This quite little village is located in the cypress, oak, and pine forest of central California overlooking beautiful white-sanded beaches. People from all over the world are drawn to this magical area because of its European charm, artistic sophistication and Hollywood glamour. Its no wonder Conde Nast Traveler voted Carmel on of the Top Ten Destinations in the United States.
Although Carmel has over a 450-year history, the town was not founded until 1902. Native Americans originally inhabited the Carmel area until the first European settlers, lead by a Spanish mariner Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, discovered it in 1542 by sailing up the coast of California. Roughly 60 years later, in 1602, Carmelite friar Sebasian Vizcino claimed Carmel for Spain, which is how Carmel received its name. Originally, Carmel was called Mount Carmelo (because it was Spanish) and was named after the area Galilee where the Carmelite headquarters was founded. Eventually the Mount Carmelo was shortened to Carmel.
It wasn’t until 1770 that Spain started colonizing the area and Father Junipero Serra developed the famous Carmel Mission. This mission served as the headquarters of all of California’s mission system and California’s first library. Father Serra’s ultimate vision for Carmel was to create little Spanish villages around the Mission with the hope of having the Native Americans care for their agricultural fields so Carmel would not be so dependent on external support from Spain supply ships however, that vision never came to fruition. By 1823, the Mission was completely abandoned and the area was claimed by Mexico as Monterey was deemed the capital of Alta California.
It wasn’t until 1880 that a couple of young men, James Franklin Devendorf and Frank Powers, set out to create a summer colony in Carmel. The vision was to create a haven for artists and intellects that would fuel creativity. Devendorf was a real estate developer and Powers was attorney from San Francisco, it should also be mentioned that Power’s wife, Jane Gallatin Powers, was an artist, so combining the trio of forces, was a match made in heaven.
Devendorf and Powers acquired the 1.1 square mile area known as Carmel-by-the-Sea, which was named by The San Francisco Women’s Real Estate Company as a marketing tactic to attract buyers to the area. Devendorf owned half of the area and Powers owned the other half. Immediately the two started marketing to artists to relocate to the newly developed village.
It wasn’t until after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 that Carmel-by-the-Sea started to exponentially grow. Artists including writers, poets, painters, musicians, thespian, crafts people, sculptors, photographers, cartoonist, from San Francisco were fleeing the bay area and ended up settling for affordable living in the quiet forest village by the sea. Devendorf and Powers offered 4,000 (100×40) square foot parcels of land for $5 down and the new buyers were expected to pay whatever they could afford on a monthly basis. Right from the start, the community was built to care about people and create an environment to attract artists. The vision for the community was first and foremost a residential community to serve but not to intrude on the lifestyle of the residents and of course to keep the magical forest look.
With so many artists present in the community, including Jack London, Mary Austin, Robinson Jeffers, Sinclair Lewis, Salvador Dalí, and George Sterling, Carmel soon found its self-having some of the most famous artistic venues in the country, consisting of the Sunset Community and Cultural Center, Golden Bough Playhouse, Cherry Arts Center, and the Forest Theater.
Carmel also started attracting educators. David Starr Jordan, a former president of Indian University and the founding president of Stanford University, built a home in Carmel and soon enough educators all around the United States and Canada followed which fulfilled the original vision of Devendorf and Powers to create a town for artists and intellects.
In 1915, Devendorf and Powers received an offer of $75,000 for the beach to build a boardwalk. Because Devendorf and Powers were dedicated to their original vision of maintain an artistic community filled with serenity and beauty, they declined the $75,000 and instead sold the beach for $15,000 to the local artists to ensure the preservation of the area. They also included land in the sale that was later used for the building place for City Hall, Police Station, and one of Carmel’s City Parks. With these newfound amenities, the town incorporated in 1916.
By the 1920s and 1930s, Carmel started attracting architects that gave it the fairytale character that we see today. M.J. Murphy, Hugh Comstock, and Julia Morgan were accredited for designing homes with a cottage like feel. Eventually, the area drew other famous architects including Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles S. Greene, Michael Bolton, and Al Saroyan.
Throughout the long history of Carmel, the ongoing theme of the area has been inspiration by the natural beauty of the surrounding forest and breathtaking ocean views. The culture and community that was established during the town’s early years can still be found today when walking down the cobblestone streets which makes Carmel the ideal destination for its 15,000 residents and millions of annual tourists.