“One Great House” Community at The Commons: Cottages 42, 43, & 44

Back in 1982, a Los Angeles Times article on the Crystal Cove Historic District reported “It was almost as if all the houses were just rooms belonging to one great house.” This description captures the spirit of community and of place that has emerged at Crystal Cove over the decades. While the original character and history of each individual cottage is unique, the 46 cottages are connected into a common community — “one great house” and history. This atmosphere of shared community and history continues today for the larger community to experience at The Outdoor Education Commons in the heart of the historic district.

The cluster of tiny connected cottages that make up The Commons originated as temporary public lodging rather than long-term leases. Built in the early 1930s, they were typical of the small motel-like cottages of early coastal communities, and were rented to the public on a weekly basis by the property manager. They also served as overnight quarters for film crews. Records indicate that one of the short-term rental cottages was knocked over in early days by an automobile careening down the hillside. Later, during the tent-camping era, public showers and restrooms were installed in the common yard between Los Trancos Creek and Cottages 42, 43, and 44.

Over the years, the weekly rentals were converted to long-term leases. Families moved into The Commons cottages and contributed to the Cove community, hosting gatherings, parties, and potluck dinners. Longtime Cove-ite Stella Hiatt lived in Cottage 42 for 23 years, welcoming neighbors to her festive outside bar and hot tub, helping inspire her iconic phrase that “Every night is Saturday night, and Saturday night is New Year’s Eve” at Crystal Cove. The parties and fun were just one side of the close-knit community that emerged at the Cove. Residents cherished their isolated, rustic retreat, and grew to rely upon each other for everything from borrowing meal ingredients to help with home repairs, emergencies, and childcare. Eventually, members of this community submitted an application to list the cottages on the National Register of Historic Places, which was granted in 1979.

Today, The Commons preserves the architectural and atmospheric details of Crystal Cove’s “One Great House” colony of cottages. With self-guided and interpretive programs from sea glass wrapping to holiday bazaars and art shows, the public is welcome to experience Crystal Cove’s unique spirit of community and place at the Outdoor Education Commons in the heart of the Historic District.

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