James Franklin Devendorf, an attorney who cantered down the coast from San Francisco via horse and buggy, was one of the first to witness the pristine arc of white sand sweeping the shore. He vowed to create a haven for artists and intellectuals that would endure through the trials and tempests of time.
Carmel-by-the-Sea was, in the eyes of Devendorf and developer Frank H. Powers, a real estate development-in-waiting. The two established the Carmel Development Company, which filed its map of the city in 1903 and began to market the haven to the poets and writers, artists and academicians, who would create Bohemia-by-the-Sea and launch the art colony renowned today.
At the turn of the 20th century, little about the Carmel homescape rivaled the appeal of the magnificent seascape. That is, until Devendorf and Powers ordered the planting of 100 cypress trees in the barren potato patches along the coast and right down Main Street – now Ocean Avenue – then invited young Michael J. Murphy to come to Carmel to build homes. Murphy built his first house in 1902 around the tent in which his family was living. Today, “The First Murphy House” is a “Welcome Center” in town.
In 1924, Hugh Comstock – neither an architect nor a carpenter – created a 300-square-foot cottage for his wife that was so quaint and so different from Murphy's board-and-batten summer homes that the demand for Comstock's “Dollhouse Tudor” homes made the young man a legend. His legend remains alive, particularly the landmark Tuck Box teahouse and the iconographic Hansel House.
“M.J. Murphy was 16 when he came to Carmel from Utah. His father believed in education. He went to work very early for Devendorf and Powers, who were both very educated people. These very cultured people impressed themselves upon him, and he learned what they wanted in a house. His first little Victorians were copies of houses in Utah. He quickly began to add craftsman embellishments in the roofs and other handiwork."
It was during the 1920s that the bright young architect designed and sold collectible Carmel houses for about $100, lot included. Some 80 years later, Murphy's inimitable houses are still collectible; but these days, the rate is far from $100. In fact, local Realtors upped the ante by $8,249,900 when escrow closed for the asking price in December 1999 on a 5,000-square-foot Scenic Drive property, a 1929 Murphy house restored to accommodate life in the new millennium without sacrificing historic value or the front-row ocean views from Point Lobos to Pebble Beach. “Every house along Scenic Drive is a diamond," said Carmel Realtor Tim Allen. "But this one is the Hope.”