On a family vacation road trip in 1974 we drove our van down the Pacific Coast Highway – truly one of the most breathtaking routes in America – as it follows the Pacific Coastline.
We started at the northern border of California where housing and other buildings were scant, and as we got closer to San Francisco I started noticing hyper-cool 70’s buildings, house after house after of-the-moment house – and my adrenaline began rushing. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!
Then we saw a sign for Sea Ranch, and I convinced my parents to turn in and stop.
I had just completed high school, and had been attentive enough to the shifts in art and design in the 1960′ and 70’s to know we were someplace off-the-charts COOL!
We had been camping for a couple of weeks, so lunch in the small of-the-moment restaurant overlooking the natural landscape, cliffs, and Pacific Ocean was truly an unimaginable extravagance! I remember the food as being very ‘Californian’, the vibe mellow, and if all this wasn’t memorable enough, my dessert so sensational that the heavens intervened and my parents allowed me to have a second dessert!
After lunch we spent time in the sales office which had a magical three-dimensional map of the entire property as envisioned by what turned out to be an extraordinary design team: visionary landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, architect Joseph Esherick, and the Berkeley-based architectural firm of Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, and Whitaker (MLTW) . For MLTW, it was Sea Ranch put them on the map.
The original ambitions of the project included reverence for the existing landscape along 10 miles of coastline, and the encompassing 5,200 acres: respect and preservation of the remarkable landscape was a primary goal. It had the earmarks of 1960’s idealism; at 17 even I could see that. It felt IMPORTANT! At this point, the project was still in the early stages of development of what was to become an expansive property.
Now 50 years old, Sea Ranch is known internationally for its distinctive architecture, the sensitivity of its land planning, the aesthetic guidelines, and the thoughtful stewardship of the natural environment. The original Sea Ranch concept directed that in the building of its homes, people would do so with minimal impact on the natural environment. What had become overgrazed farmlands would be allowed to heal itself and grow naturally, or with the support of indigenous planting where needed. The former ranch would become a wildlife and game refuge. Improvements would involve only a minimum of grading. Utilities would be located underground, and population density would be kept low; with residential design guidelines requiring homes to blend into and become part of the natural landscape.
Sea Ranch was about the remarkable siting of houses, in a unique community association: sited with careful attention to the natural landscape along a 10-mile stretch of the Sonoma County coast in Northern California.
Decades later I had the opportunity to revisit and actually stay in the small inn that was some of the initial construction – it was a thrill!
The room we had at the Sea Ranch Lodge had a huge corner window with an expansive windows seat, lofty ceilings, natural wood planking on the walls, and what we might refer to today as ‘vintage’ modern furniture.
Sea Ranch espoused a unique and very ambitious approach to residential development, not surprisingly it had both ups and downs. I have focused here on the early more ‘idealistic stage’, however even later phases have some of the initial ideals as the basis of how they grew – and to that end I would consider it a great success!
If you have the opportunity to visit this beautiful and memorable place I highly recommend it, and if you want a second dessert, go ahead!