Cottage #11 – Gabriel Cottage on the North Beach

On October 9, 1926, a local segment of Coast Highway connecting Corona del Mar to Laguna Beach was dedicated by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. The new 9.8-mile stretch of highway brought increased public attention and access to the previously isolated Crystal Cove, and by 1928 at least ten permanent structures were established there.  Among those early cottages was #11, also known as Gabriel Cottage on the North Beach.

Built incrementally over time by structural engineer Cecil Payne for his Irish wife Biddy, Cottage #11 is identified in the archives of the National Register of Historic Places as “one of the most picturesque in the colony.” Charming roof lines and scalloped exterior shingles give the cottage a “gingerbread effect” and unify the additions Cecil made. Other features include tongue-and-groove knotty pine walls, a round brick fireplace, and detailed woodwork and cabinetry.

The Payne children had their own entrance to the cottage’s upstairs quarters with an external staircase. When Biddy left Crystal Cove in 1969, her friends Laurie and Ken Gabriel moved in and added a spiral staircase inside the cottage to access the upstairs rooms. The Gabriels also installed a redwood hot tub they inherited from Cottage #29 in the enclosed porch, and replaced the porch roof with a corrugated translucent one to add more light.

Biddy Payne was among the first year-round residents at the cove, and witnessed changes over more than four decades, especially during World War II. The Coast Guard patrolled the beach at night and used Crystal Cove for drills. A strict 8pm curfew was observed, and all cottages were required to have regulation black-out curtains. Even during such serious times, Biddy still showed the community spirit of Crystal Cove when one night, during a storm, she invited some of the Coast Guard into Cottage #11 for tea and shelter.

Today, Cottage #11, like the 16 other cottages of the North Beach, is waiting to be restored to host new guests with the same community spirit with which Biddy opened her home. Last March, the California Coastal Commission approved permitting plans for the final phase of restoring the historic cottages for public use, and fundraising is underway to realize this vision.

Gabriel Cottage is featured in the latest edition of the book “Crystal Cove: Islands in Time on the California Coast,” which is available for purchase at The Store at Crystal Cove and other special locations and events.


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