Founder’s Historic District Tour: A Walk Through Time


An adventure in time travel begins every third Sunday at noon at Crystal Cove. Laura Davick, Founder Emeritus of Crystal Cove Conservancy, started offering an informal tour of the past, present, and future of the 12-acre Historic District way back in 2001. The cottage residents had just moved out, and the walking tour was a way to keep the public informed on the restoration of the 46 historic cottages. Almost twenty years later, the Founder’s Tour now also includes walks through of some of the 29 historic cottages that have been painstakingly restored to public use since Laura’s first tour.

The Founder’s Tour gathers in The Cultural Center on the upper deck. Guests come from near and far to hear a third-generation Coveite share the true story of this iconic colony that is the last remaining example of vernacular beach architecture on the California coast.  Once isolated by miles of coastal sage scrub, the cottages are still an island in time, separated from the modern world by Coast Highway, and by unique circumstances of history.  Laura shares the colorful events that created the settlement of Crystal Cove in the early 20th century, and how her personal experience at the Cove has shaped her perspective on preserving it.

Out on the deck overlooking the shimmering ocean, the Marine Protected Area, and the 17 cottages waiting to be restored, Laura shares all that’s been accomplished and all that’s left to be done for the capstone final phase of the restoration. Laura explains how the restoration of the cottages preserves the historic character of the community while providing affordable ocean-front lodging, as well as revenue to help sustain the park.

The Founder’s Tour continues as a guided walk through the Historic District’s public spaces and sample cottage interiors. Each cottage has its own history. Visitors take notes on their favorites, exclaiming over charming period furnishings and appliances like pink stoves and red refrigerators, and marveling at the cottages’ affordability. The tour always stops at the dorm-style cottages — the best value on the California coast, or maybe anywhere.

Down at the beach level, the tour stops at the oldest permanent structure in the Historic District — the Visitors’ Center, which was once The Office.  Using the timeline on the back wall, Laura recounts highlights from Crystal Cove’s past. Mike Fenderson, a lifeguard from the mid-1950s until tent camping ended in 1962, joins the tour in the summer and fall to tell true stories from that celebrated era.

From the Visitors’ Center, the tour winds through cottages and common areas, and also provides an informal tutorial and Q&A on how to rent a cottage. The Founder’s Tour concludes at the “Beaches” cottage at the end of the Historic District with a recap of the ways that the silent film industry helped shape Crystal Cove’s unique history, and visitors are encouraged to also become part of Cove history through a variety of opportunities.

The historic cottages on the Historic District Tour are not roped-off museum exhibits, but real homes where real people lived, and where new generations can experience Crystal Cove like generations from the past once did.  One Coveite who helped create the application to place the cottages on the National Register of Historic Places explained why they worked so hard to help preserve Crystal Cove the way it was:

“… I hope that our efforts will ensure that future visitors to Crystal Cove will have the opportunity to step back in time and visualize a way of life no longer possible. I hope they may know the peace we have known, even if for an hour or two. I hope children will experience the delight of watching a school of dolphins play or whales blow as they swim by; that they may search the tide pools … as our children have been doing for several generations.” Martha Padve, co-author of National Register of Historic Places, 1978

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