Is There Utopia by the Sea?

CA-Modern retrospective eyes the legacy of controversial Sea Ranch in its 50th year
Sea Ranch
(photo: courtesy Richard Whitaker)

Utopia, like perfection, is one of those ideals worthy of pursuit that rarely gets realized. It's a subject pondered by authors from Plato to Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells.

The original architects and residents of Sea Ranch may have thought they achieved just that, however, when the rising coastal enclave in northern Sonoma County was first getting built in the mid-1960s.

Today, honoring Sea Ranch as it closes in on its 50th anniversary, the new fall '14 issue of CA-Modern magazine explores the utopian euphoria that surrounded its inception in a retrospective entitled 'Soul-searching by the Sea.'

For the story, Features Editor Dave Weinstein interviewed architects who helped develop the look of Sea Ranch, sometimes called the Third Bay Tradition as it followed on the heels of two prior architectural waves also led by Berkeley architects.

He also plumbed the writings of others, notably Sea Ranch architects Donlyn Lyndon and William Turnbull and famed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, who master-planned the community in the early '60s.

Certainly, the New York Times to an extent bought into the idyllic aspects of the community—now numbering 1,800 homes—dubbing it 'Utopia by the Sea.'

Controversy over diminished access to beaches and trails at Sea Ranch, in fact, contributed momentum to a 1972 voter initiative that created the California Coastal Commission, which now regulates development of coastal property.

"The Sea Ranch has become the symbol of the problems created by huge land developments in rural sections of the coast," said Norbert Dall, coastal coordinator for the Sierra Club, in 1977.

So could it be, just maybe, that the whole California Coast is really the Utopia, and Sea Ranch performed its role by inspiring coastline protection?

You can find out more about Sea Ranch's award-winning architecture and waves of controversy, and then draw your own conclusions, by reading 'Soul-searching by the Sea,' the cover story of the fall/October 2014 issue of CA-Modern.

But why wait? As one of our special online readers, click here right now for a sneak preview of 'Soul-searching by the Sea.'