Park History

Park History

Nature & Architecture - A Love Story

At the end of the 19th Century, the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) provided shelter and vocational classes to women in search of low paying jobs in factories and offices (primarily in fields dominated by men). This effort gave way to the formation of YWCA Regional Leadership Conferences and field committees to drive a more aggressive agenda for women.

It was through the early days of these conferences, and thanks to some of the most influential and prestigious women in California, that a vision of Asilomar (as a meeting space) would be born. Among the women responsible for making Asilomar a reality - Phoebe Apperson Hearst (mother of pioneer publisher, William Randolph Hearst), Ellen Browning Scripps (successful publisher), Mrs. Warren Olney and Mary Sroufe Merrill (who authored a history of Asilomar and its founding).

Asilomar’s origins date back to it’s opening in 1913 as a Leadership Camp. In its first year, 300 young women attended Asilomar’s first YWCA student leadership conference. By 1921, Asilomar was able to accommodate 500 people, and was open year-round as a meeting and conference space for religious groups, college conferences and women's training courses.

At the beginning of the Great Depression, the YWCA struggled to raise funds and in 1933, a recommendation was made to close Asilomar. The years that followed would bring multiple people to Asilomar, as various groups traded ownership of the buildings/land for various hospitality ventures – including the use of empty rooms as living quarters for World War II military families in 1943.

After over a decade of multi-use, in 1947 - the YWCA began operating the grounds as a full-service conference facility.

In 1952, the Director of California State Parks expressed interest in purchasing Asilomar for its dune ecology. Four years later, in 1956, legislation was passed to make Asilomar, a 91-acre state park, owned by the state of California – and operated by the city of Pacific Grove.  

In 1971, the State Parks established a goal to protect the Asilomar environment and dune ecology by acquiring adjacent lands increasing the park to 107 acres.

Known as Monterey Peninsula’s “Refuge by the Sea”, Asilomar is celebrated today for its restored dune ecosystem and architectural significance.

After 25 years of successful restoration work by California State Parks, the dunes are now abundant with nature native plants and wildlife. The dunes are classified as Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve – one of the highest levels of protection afforded by the State of California. Asilomar’s conference grounds provide a beautiful example of Arts & Crafts style architecture with historic structures (now designated as National Historic Landmarks) dating back to the first 13 buildings designed by renowned architect Julia Morgan between 1913 and 1928.

Today, Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds welcomes guests and groups from all over the country to experience the tranquility and harmony that has been preserved in this peaceful oceanfront retreat.