Our House at Willow Camp, Sea Downs, Stinson Beach

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The Chevalier Estate is near the northern end of Rancho Saucelito, an area once owned by Mexico and granted by Governor Alvarado of Alta California in 1838. Some eighty years later, William Kent, after whose father Kentfield was named, owned much of the land in today's Stinson Beach.

Upper House during construction, 1917

My grandfather, Laz Lansburgh, made the first of five separate purchases of what was to become the family's estate from what Kent called Sea Downs, along with a right of way to the beach. In 1916 the town was officially named Stinson Beach, and the following year Laz commissioned his architect brother Albert to build a redwood house on the slope overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Upper House from Hwy 1 ca 1918

At first, the house only consisted of the front room, the living room with its uniquely beamed ceiling and "inglenook" fireplace, and adjoining kitchen and bedroom.

Frank Airey's horse and buggy

Laz spared no expense, hauling rounded river stones for the inglenook from the Russian River with a horse and buggy, and bringing in imported hardwood for the floors. He even installed one of the first telephones in the area - our telephone number was 4.

Stinson Beach Directory1939 detail

From the house's vantage point above the waves, one can see the Farallones on a clear day, the whitecaps on a windy day, shearwaters blackening the distant sky during their migration, and spectacular sunsets.

Stinson Beach Sunset

Later, the south end of the house was added, including a larger dining room, master bedroom, bar, and deck, and later still the north basement was finished using redwood siding taken from the old Airey Hotel in Stinson Beach when it was torn down.

The cottage at the foot of the hill was built shortly afterwards. However, its present form is due to extensive remodeling designed and overseen during World War II by the Vienna-born maverick modernist architect Rudolf Michael Schindler.

Rudolph M Schindler, architect of Lower House

Schindler installed some unusual features for the time, including recessed lighting and clerestory windows. Due to wartime shortages, the beams for the ceiling never arrived, so Schindler improvised a combination of narrower planks, creating a decorative effect that was absent in the original design.

Haakon M. Chevalier working in Lower House

When I was younger, our immediate family, including my parents Barbara and the writer Haakon M. Chevalier, my sister Suzanne, and myself, stayed in this house. On colder nights the kitchen stove was well-stocked with coal, since that was the only source of heat other than the fireplace. (The cottage has since been fully modernized with high-efficiency central heating.) I usually slept in the study, which has not only a built-in desk, storage, and its own half-bathroom with sink and toilet, but also direct access via a hidden doorway to the tub in the main bathroom!

Stinson Beach in the 1920s

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