Cottage #23 “Casita del Mar” on the North Beach

“We figured we were in the world’s perfect spot,” wrote one longtime resident of Cottage #23 — also known as “Casita del Mar.” Offering “splendid views from the deck,” the cottage dates from 1932 and is part of the mid-bluff grouping of the North Beach.

Not much is known of the original builders, but drill pipe used for retaining wall supports indicates they may have been in the local oil business. By the early-1950s, the cottage was occupied by the Lawson family, and today a member of the family recalls a mid-century childhood of charmed summers at Crystal Cove.

By 1967, the lease to #23 was owned by Christine Vail Shirley, who first started coming to the cove in the 1930s as a child. The Shirley family held the lease to the cottage until 2001.

According to Christine, Casita del Mar changed very little over the years her family lived there. The cottage had no insulation at all, with temperatures sometimes ranging from 30 degrees overnight to 80 degrees the next day. The family gathered around the brick fireplace inside the cottage on chilly nights. On warm evenings, someone might sleep outdoors on a bed on the deck.

The kitchen is original, and the family treated it as an artifact while they lived there, being careful not to leave anything hot on the original linoleum countertop. The windows are also original, with fixed-pane and casement styles providing light and ocean views. Exterior stairs lead past Cottage #11 down to the ocean. Other features include a porch deck, an outdoor shower, a small detached studio, natural finish wooden wall paneling inside, and horizontal latticework outside. Despite a few cosmetic changes, a historic evaluation of Casita del Mar reports the cottage “remains as it was built.”

Christine Shirley of Casita del Mar was among a group of passionate Coveites instrumental in having Crystal Cove listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the late 1970s. The colony of historic cottages had helped keep the coast — using Christine’s words — “as it was” as “a resource and treasure for the people of California” to enjoy for generations to come. Christine wrote that they always welcomed guests to Cottage #23 “as the cottage should be used and enjoyed.”

Today, Casita del Mar is part of the 17 cottages of the North Beach waiting to be restored as oceanfront lodging to be “used and enjoyed” by the public. If you’re interested in becoming part of the special community devoted to preserving the historical and cultural assets of Crystal Cove, please consider making a donation.


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