Cottage #9 – Little Red House on the Hillside

“Our Little Red House on the Hillside” is the name one family gave to Cottage #9. Perched on the lower slope of the North Beach bluff and painted dark red-brown with white trim, Cottage #9 was originally built around 1930 with salvage yard windows and wood that drifted ashore from a shipwreck. Like many of Crystal Cove’s vernacular beach cottages, the architecture was inspired by available materials and the ingenuity of its builders. As original Coveite George Fuller recalled of the era in which his father built the red cottage, there were “no building codes. They just went down to the beach or the wrecking yard and brought stuff in and put it up.”

George and his parents came to southern California from New York in 1926. His father loved the ocean, and they camped at Crystal Cove in the late 1920s before building their single-wall cottage. George recalls being able to see light through the cracks in the boards, and that living in the cottage “was like being outdoors.” Before electricity came to the cove in the mid-1930s, the family used Coleman lanterns, and cooked on a camp stove. Back then, the Crystal Cove beach colony was fairly isolated, but George said “everyone was very close.”

The family spent most weekends at the beach, and were together at Crystal Cove during the 1933 earthquake, and also the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. George served in World War II, and then returned to Crystal Cove after the war for part of its heyday years. “We had bonfires on the beach all the time.”

After George’s father died in the early 1950s, his mother sold the Cottage #9 lease to the Palmer family. Helen and Don Palmer’s niece later recalled her summer days at Crystal Cove as the “happiest part of her childhood memories,” from learning to swim in the ocean and exploring the tidepools to popsicles from The Store. Decades later, she still recalled “the years we spent as a happy family there in our Little Red House.”

Around 1960, the Palmers sold the lease to a schoolteacher named Maggie Barnard, who had been camping at the cove for many years.

In the improvised, vernacular Cove fashion, the simple shack of 1930 evolved into a charming four-room cottage with two bedrooms, a kitchen, a half bath and an outdoor shower that’s still there. A front porch-deck was built, then enclosed, and then re-opened. In some ways, Cottage #9 is a typical arrangement for a smaller beach cottage, but in many other ways, it is also a unique collective memory of the different families who lived there over the years.

Today, more than 85 years after his grandfather built Cottage #9, Bill Fuller volunteers at Crystal Cove, working to preserve and restore the landscape of the historic district. Cottage #9 is one of the 17 historic cottages awaiting restoration so that other families can build memories at The Little Red Cottage on the Hillside.


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