Cottage #26 – Browning Cottage on the North Beach
Crystal Cove is known for its one-of-a-kind vernacular architecture as well as its celebrations and traditions, and one historic cottage combined these concepts in its annual Costume and Charades party. The party, held during the 1950s and 1960s by the Browning family of Cottage #26, incorporated a ¨no-store-bought¨ element of vernacular design with the rule that every costume be made only from items found at the cottage or cove. These scavenged costumes expressed the creative results of vernacular design. One year someone came dressed as a ¨Crystal Cove Shower,¨ complete with shower curtain, towel, and unrinsed shampoo to represent being caught in the shower after the water pressure dropped before the person was able to rinse their hair (a frequent event at Crystal Cove back then).
Cottage #26 is also unique in being the only cottage at Crystal Cove to have three levels. Built in 1933, and nicknamed Browning Cottage for the family who held the lease from the late 1940s through the late 1960s, it is part of the ¨mid-bluff¨ group of cottages of the North Beach. The cottage features white-painted casement and multi-pane windows as well as French and five-panel wood doors that provide direct access to the outdoors from multiple rooms. It has a ground-floor efficiency apartment with its own tiny kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and patio, with separate living quarters on the two upper levels. This design made the Brownings wonder if two families occupied the cottage sometime earlier. The kitchen cabinetry is original from the late 1930s, and the cottage also features exposed beams, a brick corner fireplace, and glorious ocean views from a recessed deck and enclosed sun porch.
Despite so many inviting architectural features, one of the most wonderful things about Browning Cottage, according to those who lived there, was the ever present sound of the ocean surf, especially at night when the crashing of waves was the only sound.
The memories of the grandchildren of Carleton and Mary Browning share a vision of what future guests of a restored North Beach cottage might experience: ¨Living with the ocean surf at all hours, the family togetherness … the unstructured time, the books, the traditions are experiences that remain with us through our lives.¨ and ¨My days at the cottage and the beach were some of my happiest times.¨ Like others who discovered Crystal Cove, the Browning grandchildren remember never wanting to leave the cove once they were there, and never missing access to a television or phone. ¨The cottage invited us to just enjoy and be. In the morning we would go down the stairs to the beach and walk, run, play in the sand, explore. We were free. We could invent and discover.¨
In 1968, Browning Cottage was passed on to another family who stayed at the Cove for the next three decades. The Shirley family was instrumental in the effort to have the cottages placed on the National Register of Historic Places so they could be restored for future generations to experience and enjoy, while also helping sustain Crystal Cove for all.