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 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’ beloved beach cottage — #22, now the Park and Marine Research Facility.
Jennifer’s grandmother Vivian Taft loved the ocean her whole life and dreamed of having a place near it, but that dream 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.
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 big 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.
One day an injured pelican was rescued by one of the Taft cousins, Jimmy. With the grounded bird unable to catch his own food, Jimmy decided to fish from the ocean on behalf of the pelican. While the pelican recovered, it also showed why feeding wildlife can cause problems. The recovered pelican — nick-named Freddy the Freeloader — was reluctant to return to hunting for himself after being fed, and preferred hanging around the cottage for his meals. Once weaned off the free food, Freddy flew off to fend for himself.
Jennifer and her sister also remember how beautiful and abundant the shells once were throughout the Cove. The cottage was beloved to the family, and was a way for them to experience the Cove’s unique natural setting, proximity to the ocean, and being together as a family.
When it was time to call the family inside, Vivian rang a special bell. The family gathered together in the evenings at a round table in the glassed-in former 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 tidepools she explored as a child. 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 a dynamic home for life.