Monterey Modern Moves Center Stage

The O'Brien House by Mark Mills is a landmark on the Monterey Peninsula. Photo by Kent Seavey

More and more these days, people are paying heed to the Monterey Bay area’s rich modernist legacy.

The old idea that architecture on the Monterey Peninsula meant adobes in Monterey, storybook cottages in Carmel, and Victorian gingerbread in Pacific Grove no longer holds. In addition to enjoying those old standbys, savvy tourists are seeking out modern buildings as well.

Consider: The California Preservation Foundations’s annual conference, taking place starting April 22, is based in Asilomar this year, a heavenly retreat in Pacific Grove. The first event to sell out – we couldn’t even get on – is a tour ‘Monterey Peninsula: Modern Architecture.

An increasingly active group is Monterey Bay Modernism, which advocates for threatened buildings and seeks to increase appreciation for modern design.

Kent Seavey, who’ll be leading the tour along with Rick Janick, describes what makes the modern buildings of the peninsula distinctive: “We’ve got individuals, people who are not in the so-called corporate world, doing their own thing.”

“In the Monterey peninsula, you’re in the mountains looking at the sea. So it’s kind of an extension of the Bay Area regional (style),” he says, which was all about rustic and natural. “But it’s different. The Monterey area has always had lot of individual practitioners,” each bringing something very different to the mix.

The studio of Jerry Lomax in Sand City. Photo courtesy of Jerrold Lomax

He mentions Mark Mills, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, who also worked on a dome house with Paolo Soleri and contributed about 40 houses to the Monterey area. He mentions Jerrold Lomax, an architect who helped design many of Craig Ellwood’s now iconic dwellings in Southern California.


A visit to Lomax’s studio and condo, part of a mixed use project he designed in Sand City, will be the culmination of the tour.

Seavey says Pauline Schindler, ex-wife of architect Rudolph  Schindler, did much to make Monterey modern, promoting the style in the late 1920s as editor of the Carmelite weekly paper. She brought in Schindler and Richard Neutra to lecture.

By the late 1920s, architect Bill Wurster was producing his proto-modern ranch houses in the area, and Neutra’s first Monterey area houses was built in the early 1930s. Other Bay Area architects who worked in the Monterey area include Gardner Dailey, Charles Moore and Henry Hill, who designed a trio of typically joyful homes, and lived in one himself.

Joe Eichler’s architects, Anshen & Allen, did several houses in the area, including one prominently sited home along the Carmel shore.

But the area is best known perhaps for architects who made their reputations locally, including Walter Burde, David Allen Shaw, Gordon Drake, and Marcel Sedletsky, who designed one house to resemble an immense fish, Seavey says.

“A lot of these young guys decided this is where they wanted to come and do some new things,” Seavey says.

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