History in Stone
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Destiny may seem a strange concept when discussing buildings, but the structure on the northeast corner of Ocean and Dolores is living out a privileged ordination. Steadily for 100 years to date, it has been in the real estate business. Construction on the building began in 1906 by Philip Wilson and when completed, he hung out his sign. It read, Philip Wilson Jr. RE.
Earlier this month, a ribbon cutting ceremony with Carmel’s Mayor Sue McCloud announced another completion and the hanging of another sign. Burchell House was the building’s new owner, via partner Gerry Hopkins. The history of the journey from rent to purchase to opening is a worthy one.
While the storefront office has always been a real estate firm, the upstairs was rented to many, including City Hall at one time. Burchell House leased just the storefront until 2000 when the art company above closed and the real estate firm expanded to the top floor.
During the grand opening party for that renovation, the Wilson family said they were selling the building. Burchell partners were able to buy it and another renovation of a far different breed began.
Creating the present building without losing the historical character of the original essentially required starting from scratch while leaving the old building alone at the same time. It takes more than stamps from the planning office to build anew without disturbing precious DNA and details. In fact, it took the design integrity of Jim McCord, AIA, the esthetic brilliance of Jaroslav ‘Jerry’ Stepanek, contractor, and the dedicated attention of Timothy Meroney, Carmel building inspector to achieve such alchemy.
“First of all,” says Stepanek, “the building had no foundation.” It had been built, as many were, with redwood-heart boards laid across sand. “But everything had shifted just enough over time that I knew if we didn’t make a solid foundation the doors would eventually not swing evenly and the windows could pop out.”
Thus, Stepanek had to invent a means of creating what was needed without destroying what was wanted. He devised a way to jack up parts of the building in small sections so concrete could be poured and safety assured.
In 1920, the original peaked building and its twin were divided by a staircase to the second floors from a side door on Dolores. That stairway was no longer sound and needed replacing. Aye, but there’s the rub. Tim Meroney explained that it couldn’t be removed due to historic preservation codes. And it was clear to all it couldn’t stay due to safety codes.
“With every professional attention to the letter of the codes, Mr. Meroney discovered the answer for us,” says Stepanek. “We were allowed to build a matching staircase over the original. That way, if the historically valuable one was ever needed, it was still there.” Today, that side door on Dolores suggests the romance of European staircases leading to worlds unseen from the street.
Left at the top of the stairs under the first peak are agent and administrative offices. Stepanek’s artisans built furniture designed precisely for a space sized like a canal house in Amsterdam. To the right, a conference room under the second peak is a jewel with skylights, big windows, corner fireplace, a kitchen and intriguingly, a staircase to the “third floor” open-view loft. Up in a theme unto one, partner David Kent created his office, a truly inspired idea, like the many that brought this commercial property to fruition.