The Many Ways to See the Ocean: Memories and Legacy of Cottage #22: The Park and Marine Research Facility
“Who’s going to see the ocean first?” That was the question Coveites’ Bill and Vivian Taft asked their grandchildren on the drive to Crystal Cove back in the 1960s. The first glimpse of the ocean from her grandfather’s old yellow Cadillac convertible is just one of Jennifer Steele’s childhood memories of her grandparents’ beach cottage — #22, now the Park and Marine Research Facility.
Vivian Taft loved the ocean her whole life and dreamed of having a place near it, but that seemed impossible until the lease for Cottage #22 became available in the mid-1960s. She and her husband Bill split the lease with another family — the Taylors. The families alternated months, and Vivian gave the Taft-Taylor Cottage the whimsical name of “The T-House” for the T-named families who felt lucky to be there.
The cottage’s original 1931 vernacular design had a porch over the garage. By the time the Taft and Taylor families moved in, the porch had been enclosed with picture windows to create an ocean-view dining room for gathering, but most days the Taft family was outside, experiencing the Cove as a place full of life. Back then, horseback riding and fishing were allowed too.
One day, one of the Taft cousins, Jimmy, found an injured pelican on the beach and began feeding the downed bird. After it had recovered, the pelican — nicknamed Freddy the Freeloader — seemed reluctant to return to hunting for himself and preferred hanging around the cottage for his meals. Eventually, he was weaned off the free food and returned to hunting for his own food. Jennifer and her sister also remember how beautiful and abundant the shells once were throughout the Cove. The cottage itself was beloved to the family, but it was also a means to experiencing the Cove’s unique natural setting, and to being together as a family. When it was time to call the family inside, Vivian rang the dinner bell. The family gathered together in the evenings at a round table in the glassed-in porch for spaghetti dinners, games, and books. Like today, there was no television or phone service in the cottage, so the family relied on each other for company and entertainment, including reading “Gone with the Wind” aloud. Later, the family would often go back outside again to build a bonfire and roast marshmallows in the moonlight.
Growing up at Cottage #22 made Jennifer a supporter of Crystal Cove’s education and conservation initiatives. She’s a volunteer at the tide pools she explored as a child, and she and her family will return to the T-House this month as the winning silent auction bid for the holiday tea party there, and to participate in the annual tree lighting ceremony.
Today, the Taft-Taylor Cottage has been restored as the Park and Marine Research Facility, giving new generations of young people their own way to “see the ocean first” as a beautiful beach and at the same time become active stewards of the ocean and environment.