Founder’s Historic District Tour

The trip back in time begins at noon, but when it concludes two hours later, guests have learned about more than Crystal Cove’s past in the monthly Founder’s Historic District Tour — they’ve also learned about Crystal Cove’s present and future.

Crystal Cove Conservancy founder Laura Davick first started offering an informal tour of the 12-acre Historic District back in 2001. The cottage residents had just moved out, and the tour was a way to keep people informed on the vision and progress for the restoration of the 46 cottages. Today, the Founder’s Tour continues to be a step back into Crystal Cove’s past while learning about its future, but now the tour includes a walk through the historic cottages that have since been restored to reflect their bygone era.

The Founder’s Tour begins in The Cultural Center, on the upper deck. The group varies from around a dozen to more than fifty. 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 briefly summarizes how her personal experience at the Cove shaped her perspective on preserving it.

The deck outside the Cultural Center overlooks the shimmering ocean, as well as the 17 remaining cottages to be restored in Phase III. Laura explains that the restoration of the cottages preserves the character of the community, and also provides affordable ocean-front lodging for ordinary families, providing revenue to help sustain innovative education programs. Overlooking both 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.

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 story to tell, and great care was taken with textiles, paint, and furnishings in their restoration. Visitors take notes on their favorites, exclaiming over charming period furnishings and appliances, 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.  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, often joins the tour to tell true stories from that celebrated era.

From the Visitors’ Center, the tour winds through cottages and common areas and concludes at the “Beaches” cottage at the end of the Historic District with a recap of the ways that the silent film industry also helped shape Crystal Cove, and an invitation to stay involved and informed.

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 write the application designating the cottages on the National Register of Historic Places explained why they worked 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. There is joy in preserving our heritage, but it is no easy task.” Martha Padve, co-author of National Register of Historic Places, 1978

Please join us for the next Founder’s Tour this Sunday, September 17th at noon.


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