Nature & Architecture - A Love Story
Nature & Architecture - A Love Story
Asilomar's rich history dates back to its origins as a YWCA Leadership Camp built in 1913. Known as Monterey Peninsula's "Refuge by the Sea," the state park is located on 107 acres of state beach and conference grounds, within the quaint and scenic town of Pacific Grove. Asilomar is celebrated for its restored dune ecosystem and architectural significance, with cozy, historic structures designed by renowned architect Julia Morgan between 1913 and 1928.
Thirteen of Morgan’s original structures remain today and constitute her largest collection of Arts & Crafts style architecture in one location. Thirty years later, John Carl Warnecke (best known for John F. Kennedy's gravesite memorial), created seven more complexes that make up the conference grounds. In 1987, the original Morgan buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Warnecke buildings will likely follow. While updates have been made throughout the decades, the tranquility and harmony found at Asilomar have been preserved.
This special heritage inspires an ongoing commitment to the care and protection of Asilomar’s facilities, flora and fauna – enabling our guests to enjoy the unspoiled surroundings of this tranquil retreat for many years to come.
At the end of the 19th century, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) played an active role in providing shelter for the young women who were coming to the nation's big cities in search of low-paying jobs in factories and offices. The YWCA housing included educational and vocational classroom facilities, where these young women could take classes in practical subjects such as money management, sewing, cooking, and typing. The YWCA staff, students, and supporters met periodically to discuss women's issues of that time – and to find solutions, such as breaking into career fields dominated by men. These meetings eventually led to the formation of the YWCA Regional Leadership Conferences, and the western region was called the Pacific Coast Field Committee.
The Asilomar concept was first born in 1897, when the YWCA held its first western regional conference at Mills College near Oakland, California. Later, between 1900 and 1911, the Pacific Coast Field Committee conferred each year at the old Hotel Capitola near the beach at Santa Cruz. The committee was then composed of some of the most influential and prestigious women in California: Phoebe Apperson Hearst (mother of pioneer publisher, William Randolph Hearst), Ellen Browning Scripps (a successful publisher), Mrs. Warren Olney and Mary Sroufe Merrill (who authored a history of Asilomar and its founding).
In 1912, the Hotel Capitola was destroyed by fire, and that summer Hearst opened her estate, Hacienda del Pozo Verona, near Livermore, for the YWCA's leadership conference. The conference was held in a miniature tent city furnished with iron beds, mattresses, blankets, electricity and running water for over 300 attendees. The red and white canvas tents and equipment that Hearst provided were later to become the original furnishings of Asilomar. It was at this conference that Hearst embraced the YWCA's idea to build a western conference grounds.
The Pacific Improvement Company, whose Monterey area assets became the basis for what is now known as the Pebble Beach Company, donated thirty acres "facing the Pacific Ocean" on the Monterey Peninsula to the YWCA. The deed stipulated that the YWCA would pay the property taxes and that $30,000 of improvements were to be made on the property over the next ten years. The National Board accepted the offer, and the western conference grounds became a reality. That same year, the YWCA hired Julia Morgan, a San Francisco architect, and work began immediately. With funds donated by YWCA members and supporters, the Administration Building (Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall), the Engineer's Cottage, the tent houses and the large granite entrance gates were built.
In July 1913, those were the only structures when 300 young women attended Asilomar's first YWCA student leadership conference. Meals were served in a central dining tent. While these facilities would be considered spartan today, they did offer electricity, running water, and bathing facilities. The facility at Capitola had been known as "Guardamar," and in 1913, the YWCA held a contest to name their new property on the Monterey Peninsula. They received hundreds of entries. The winning name came from a Stanford University student, Helen Salisbury, who made up the word Asilomar, derived from the Spanish words "asilo" meaning retreat or refuge, and "mar," meaning sea, hence "refuge-by-the-sea."
Traditions in the Making
On August 7, 1913, at the beginning of the second leadership conference, an official dedication was held for Asilomar.
The following appears in the Monterey American, August 8, 1913: Fully two thousand people gathered yesterday to witness the huge pageant play presented by the young women of the YWCA at their new grounds. The whole affair was a most vivid true and living symbol of exactly the lines of Christian work the young ladies are attempting to accomplish toward the betterment of the world so that the general public can understand and appreciate its wide scope and tremendous value.
In 1916, Ellen Browning Scripps visited Asilomar and purchased an additional 20 acres for the facility. As donations continued, more buildings and structures were completed, and by 1921, Asilomar was able to accommodate 500 people, and was open year-round to religious groups, college conferences and women's training courses. (Back then, conferences rates were $5.00 for registration, and $3.00 to $7.50 per night for room, depending on private bath facilities.)
Although outside groups were encouraged and welcomed to use the conference grounds, the summers belonged primarily to the YWCA for their leadership conferences and Girl Reserves summer camp. College women and men from Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and California worked as summer staff. The college women were called "Stuck-ups," and the men were called "Pirates."
Stuck-Up and Proud
The YWCA hired college women to work the conferences and summer camps, mostly as maids and waitresses. The first summer of 1913, some of these young women felt that the work they were required to do – menial jobs such as sweeping, laundry, and dishwashing – were chores that a modern, educated woman should not be required to do. Overhearing their complaints and protests, someone is said to have remarked, "You're just a bunch of stuck-ups." Apparently, the young women actually rose to the challenge and embraced the nickname, because the Stuck-ups became an institution that lasted for 22 years.
A 1924 employment announcement at the University of California at Berkeley stated:
"Stuck-ups will work 6 hours a day, seven days a week; this will be the work schedule of the time. There will be occasional time off for each employee. Remuneration is board and room and $26 a month. Much baggage is not desirable. A steamer trunk or two suitcases will prove better."
Among the many Stuck-ups at Asilomar was a young woman named Helen N. Brier, who lived – at least for a time – at Stuck-Up Inn. She returned to Asilomar over a period of several years, and worked in the Administration Building, describing herself as an "office dog." Ms. Brier took numerous photographs of Asilomar's grounds, other Stuck-ups, the Pirates, YWCA personnel and various conference attendees, and compiled them into an album which has since become a part of the Pat Hathaway Collection. Many of Ms. Brier's photos have been used to illustrate this website.
The Stuck-ups were enthusiastic about sports. They played baseball, basketball, croquet, and tennis, and they also participated in competitive swimming. Between Dodge Chapel Auditorium and the boardwalk path in the dunes there used to be a basketball court, and as you walked towards the beach there was a volleyball court, and beyond that and even closer to the beach was the baseball lot. The Stuck-ups played baseball against the Pirates in weekly games that began in May and ended in August, and that attracted citizens from Pacific Grove who came to watch them play.
Pie Rats to Pirates
From 1917 to 1935, young college men and local high school boys were hired each summer by the YWCA to help out with the summer camps and leadership conferences. Their jobs included grounds maintenance, vehicle mechanics, kitchen help, bus boys, dishwashers and bellboys. They were originally dubbed the "pie rats" because they were often caught raiding desserts – particularly pies – from the kitchen between meals. "Pie rats" soon became "Pirates," and these young men organized themselves into "the membership of Pirates," with an entire hierarchy of leadership.
The president was Captain Kidd, and his officers were John Silver, Black Dog, and Dead Seal. General members of the crew were known as "Sea Dogs," and each summer they took part in a secret initiation ceremony – a secret to this day. In the beginning, the Pirates lived in tent houses near the garage at the south end of the property. But, in 1923, Mary Sroufe Merrill and Miss A.C. Johnson donated money to the YWCA to build "proper housing for these young men." That year, Julia Morgan designed and built their lodgings, Tide Inn, which the Pirates dubbed the "Pirates' Den." They installed a mast, flag, and binnacle lights and brought in a sea chest and ship's clock for the fireplace mantel.
In 1927, one Pirate brought his parrot to Asilomar as a mascot! At least once a week, the young men dressed up in pirate garb, and climbed through the windows of Crocker Dining Hall hollering and looking as fierce as possible. Their rewards for this performance were the screams and laughter from the summer camp girls. The Pirates were not all fun and games; they had a more serious and thoughtful side as well. The following is an article that appeared in the 1931 issue of The Pie Rat Newsletter. It forms the basis for the Asilomar Vision Statement.
First impressions are often lasting. When one first comes to fog-swept, pine-clad Asilomar to join the band of workers, he is impressed with the "differentness" of the place. He finds himself transplanted from a grim world of everyday things to a world of quaint tradition and quietness.
To be sure there is work to be done, but even this work, which in the outside world would be drab and distasteful, has an appeal, which cannot be resisted.
The crackle of the fire in the fireplace, the creak of the old beds, the moan of the wind and the drip of water from the fog-clad pines, the mournful note of the foghorn, the clatter of dishes, the whiteness of the sand dunes, the blueness of the ocean, and the rare beauty of the sunsets – and much more – all have their place and go to make up this "differentness."
These are the impressions that greet you and hold you and make you and Asilomar one.
Every year as the month of June rolls around, the call of Asilomar is heard by at least a third of the workers of the previous summer and these, with a group of new workers selected by the organization, find their way to the land of fog and pines. As this group comes together from various sections of the country, it comes representing various personalities and interests in life.
Jobs and folks and life in general are new to each other, and for these reasons a certain amount of adjustment is necessary. Selfish desires must be given up for the sake of the group. But as the summer moves on week after week, this adjustment is soon made and the individuals are moving as one united body, ready to work or to play as occasion demands. First impressions have captivated this body and have made it "Asilomar."
Our Pirates and Stuck-ups of this present summer of 1931 are no exception to the rule and in these last fast-going days of the season, are indeed wondering how the time has slipped by so quickly and are regretting that so few days remain before it is time to emerge from the fog-enclosed life once again.
As each worker goes, he goes not as he came – alone – but he goes taking with him the spirit of Asilomar, a something hard to define; yet a something that everyone should possess. He goes, we hope, a little better enabled to live with folks than before he came. He goes away a little different than he came, the "differentness" of the place having become a part of him.
An Era Comes to a Close
Asilomar's summer camps were marked with songs and poems, and lists of young women wanting to return the next summer. However, Asilomar was unable to keep up with its expenses and had never been financially self-supporting. Despite the YWCA's desperate attempts to raise funds, it was after all, the Great Depression, and by 1933, the YWCA decided to end all funding to its conference facilities and hotels throughout the United States, and recommendations were made to close Asilomar.
On January 24, 1934, the National Board of the YWCA voted to close Asilomar. The property was offered for sale, but no one was interested in buying it. The YWCA® leaders in California formed the Asilomar Committee and maintained the empty grounds.
In 1936, brothers David and Paulsen Visel leased the property as a motel for four years. They had an option to buy, but declined, as they were unable to raise the $100,000 necessary for the purchase. In 1940, the Visels vacated the property, and the National Youth Authority then used the grounds as a training camp, after which a nearby hotel used it for "overflow" guests, most of whom were families of servicemen stationed in the area.
In 1943, the YWCA opened the empty rooms as living quarters for World War II military families of Fort Ord and the Defense Language Institute. Two years later, the military families were moved out of Asilomar, and the YWCA again advertised the property for sale, but was unsuccessful at finding a buyer. In 1947 the YWCA Asilomar Committee began operating the grounds as a full-service conference facility, and in 1949, Roma Philbrook was appointed general manager. Business started to pick up, and Asilomar became a moneymaking venture.
With Change Comes Progress
In 1951, the YWCA again announced that Asilomar was for sale. The people of Monterey Peninsula feared for the loss of Asilomar and flooded the local papers with letters of protest. The Pacific Grove's mayor, John Nelson, created the Save Asilomar committee and appointed Kate Gompertz to chair the committee. The committee was formed to investigate ways in which Asilomar could be preserved.
In 1952, while the National Board of the YWCA was entertaining bids for the sale of Asilomar, Newton Drury, Director of California State Parks, expressed an interest in purchasing Asilomar for its dune ecology. Just a few years earlier, in 1949, the California State Parks had purchased some coastal property for a state beach across from the Asilomar grounds. Meanwhile, Owings Glass had bid on the property to be used for sand extraction at the same time that the City of Pacific Grove was busily lobbying the California Legislature to purchase Asilomar through the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
Drury got his sand dunes, but the YWCA agreed to sell to the State Parks only if the conference grounds were included in the sale. Senator Fred Farr and Assemblyman Alan Pattee drafted a legislative bill to make Asilomar a state park with the proviso that no public funds would be used to support the park. The bill was unanimously passed only to be vetoed by Governor Goodwin Knight who had been convinced by State Finance Director, John Pierce, that Asilomar would cost the state money to operate, and that Pacific Grove's taxes should pay for it since they were the ones who wanted it saved in the first place. Eventually, a compromise was reached in which the State of California would purchase Asilomar, and the city of Pacific Grove would lease Asilomar from the state and operate the facility. Governor Knight agreed to the purchase and signed the bill.
On July 1, 1956, in a ceremony at Merrill Hall, Asilomar and the property along the coastline – a combined 91 acres – was officially dedicated as a unit of the California State Park System. Representing the YWCA at the event were Mrs. Bartlett B. Heard, who had been instrumental in retaining Asilomar for the use of everyone, and Mrs. Ralph Fisher, representing the National Board. The YWCA had donated $350,000 – one-half of the appraised value of the property – as a gift to the State. Joseph Knowland, Chairman of the State Park Commission, stated: "I have never accepted any gift with greater pleasure."
Many citizens of Pacific Grove had worked long and hard to retain Asilomar as a conference grounds. As a result, the California Department of Parks and Recreation entered into an agreement with a non-profit corporation to administer, operate, and maintain the conference center. The Board of Directors was composed of members of the Pacific Grove City Council. In 1965, when those council members could not give Asilomar the time necessary to properly manage the facility, the Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Mayor of Pacific Grove appointed interested local citizens to sit on the Board.
The year 1959 set the stage for two decades of new, contemporary structures at Asilomar, as part of an integrated Twenty Year Master Plan created by John Carl Warnecke of John Warnecke & Associates of San Francisco. Included in the Master Plan were the buildings designed by Warnecke and the North Woods complex designed and built by Smith Barker & Hanssen of San Francisco. During that same time, the Fireside complex was designed and built by San Francisco architect Clark Davis of Stone, Marraccini & Patterson, and the East Woods complex was designed and built by Smith Barker & Hanssen.
In reference to working with John Carl Warnecke, Asilomar's general manager, Roma Philbrook, stated: "I never set a budget for the architect when planning. I told him to design the very best for the need we outlined. It should be simple but handsome, using native materials. If it satisfied our needs and blended perfectly with the setting and Julia Morgan's craftsman's style, then we would earn the money for it. We tried to build forever as Julia Morgan had. Her buildings demonstrate that good architecture pays."
In 1969, Pacific Grove terminated its lease with the State of California and Asilomar. The State Parks hired a non-profit corporation, the Pacific Grove-Asilomar Operating Corporation, to manage Asilomar. Roma Philbrook continued as general manager. In 1971, Philbrook and the State Parks established a goal to protect the Asilomar environment by acquiring adjacent lands, which could extend the characteristics of the Asilomar grounds to the Asilomar/Crocker block, and prevent other businesses and residential properties from competing for space and business. All of the property from Asilomar Avenue to Crocker Avenue, and from Sinex Avenue to Sunset Drive was acquired by the state, increasing the park to 105 acres.
In 1972-73, the state park training center, originally called the Center for Continuous Learning, was built. Years later, it was dedicated to William Penn Mott, Jr. The Fireside lodging and meeting rooms were designed and completed and the Forest Lodge was remodeled in 1982. Almost 30 years after buying Asilomar for its dune ecology, the dune restoration project was started in 1984 to address the problems that had begun when the conference grounds first opened in 1913. Since that time, visitors had been unknowingly trampling the dune plants, which held the sands in place.
This weakened the dunes and allowed the sand to blow away. Early efforts to preserve the dunes involved the planting of non-native plants such as iceplant, which only made the situation worse, and the dunes continued to blow away, allowing the pines that were closest to the shore to succumb to the salt spray and wind. After 25 years of successful restoration work, the dunes are now abundant with nature plants and wildlife. The dunes are classified as Asilomar Dune Natural Preserve.
In 1987, the Julia Morgan-designed buildings were designated a National Historic Landmark. The 1980s was a decade dedicated to managing Asilomar's resources, which included a State Park "Resource Management Plan." This Plan not only restored the dunes by eliminating non-native plants and planting native plants, but also created the dunes boardwalk and coast trail in an effort to keep visitors from treading on the sensitive and delicate, newly restored dune environment. (Unfortunately, to this day, many people still insist on walking off-trail, much to the detriment of the dune environment.) In addition, the Plan was designed to maintain the forest ecosystem within the Asilomar Park itself.
Asilomar was founded thanks to the YWCA and the cooperative efforts of many hard-working and dedicated women. But, the following ladies were the most influential during the founding period and throughout Asilomar's formative years.
Their grand ideas and high ideals were matched only by their ability to turn those dreams into reality -- to make Asilomar a reality.
Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842-1919)
Phoebe Apperson was born on a farm in Missouri. But when she married George Hearst, her life changed dramatically. George amassed a fortune in silver mines, and Phoebe took her first steps into philanthropy by building field hospitals and free kindergartens for the miners' children. Throughout her life, she financially supported education programs and student scholarships, hospitals, scientific expeditions and research, libraries, museums, and charities.
In 1912, Phoebe was instrumental in assisting with the founding of Asilomar when she opened her home as an encampment for the YWCA's® annual conference, and embraced the YWCA's Pacific Coast Field Committee's idea for a permanent conference facility and summer camp on the west coast.
The Pacific Improvement Company (the Monterey area assets of which became the basis for the current Pebble Beach Company) donated 30 acres of land. The YWCA hired architect Julia Morgan to design the buildings. Hearst then gifted all the furnishings from the encampment held at her home, and financially supported the first structures to be built on the grounds.
The Administration Building was opened in 1913 and dedicated as the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Social Hall.
Grace Hoadley Dodge (1856-1914)
Grace Dodge was the oldest of six children born to a wealthy New York family. Although she was denied the opportunity to go to college or to join her father’s vast business empire because it was “not proper” for a woman of that time, she nevertheless found ways to actively participate in women’s issues of the day. For forty years, Grace dedicated herself to improving the lives of women.
She established the Industrial Education Association in 1884; self-governing clubs such as the Working Girls Society, which fostered education, health, and recreation programs; and the New York college for Training of teachers, chartered in 1889. Grace was elected first president of the National YWCA® in 1905. Her first order of business was to unite a divided national and international YWCA®.
With Grace Dodge as mediator, a working agreement was reached in which both groups began to function as a joint committee under one membership, becoming one entity. Although Grace never visited Asilomar, it was she who gave the final approval for its construction. The Chapel Auditorium, built in 1915, was dedicated to Grace H. Dodge.
Ellen Browning Scripps (1836-1932)
Ellen Scripps was born in London, England, but moved to Rushville, Illinois at the age of eight. By her late teens, she was teaching school and had saved enough money to send herself through nearby Knox College.
In 1856, she became one of the first women in the United States to attend college. After graduating in 1859, she returned to Rushville where she partnered with her brother James, and became a journalist and publisher, building a newspaper empire of 24 major papers.
By 1896, Ellen had amassed a fortune, and regarded her wealth as "a trust for the benefit of humanity." Her move to La Jolla, California set the stage for the philanthropic legacy that was to follow. Although she visited Asilomar only once -- in 1916 at the age of 83 -- she was greatly impressed with the work being done there and donated money to purchase land adjacent to the grounds to expand the facility.
She then set up trusts to ensure that any YWCA® college student or high school Girl Reserve from southern California could afford to attend Asilomar. In 1927, the Scripps Lodge Annex was dedicated to Ellen Scripps for her humanitarian work on behalf of the YWCA®.
Mary Sroufe Merrill (1853-1924)
Mary Sroufe was born in Diamond Springs, in El Dorado County, California. Her family moved to San Francisco in 1869, and Mary attended Mills Seminary at Benicia. She married wholesale hardware merchant John Francis Merrill in 1874, and they had six children, four surviving into adulthood.
When their home was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Merrills moved to a ranch in Atherton, California, a small town on the San Francisco peninsula just north of San Jose. While raising her children, Mary managed to become a very influential leader in San Francisco society.
Her impressive credentials as a founder and member of numerous charitable institutions are far too lengthy for inclusion here. She sat on the first board of directors of the California Red Cross® and was also president of the San Francisco Red Cross, which considered itself "most fortunate in having as a leader one so wise as well as gentle, one who could be firm and courteous at the same time, and who was willing to give her waking hours almost entirely to the work of her exacting position."
Mary was also one of the founders of a society called the Pacific Dispensary for Women and Children, which has evolved since its inception in 1875 to today's Children's Hospital on California Street in San Francisco. Mary also managed to find time to serve as the director of the San Francisco YWCA®, and in that role attended the 1912 meeting that sparked the founding of Asilomar.
She became Asilomar’s first director in 1913, a post she held for eleven years. She donated monies to support the building of Lodge, Stuck-up Inn (Hilltop), Health Cottage (Viewpoint), and Pirates’ Den (Tide Inn). On her death, Mary bequeathed $25,000 to Asilomar. In 1928, architect Julia Morgan used that money to complete her largest and last building at Asilomar, Merrill Hall