Three of the many local homes that reveal their owners’ unique personalities.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Like the clothes we wear or the kind of pet we choose, a building can be a reflection of our personality.
Local architectural historians and Monterey Peninsula College professors Kent L. Seavey and Richard Janick—who are currently working on a map of contemporary buildings of the region for the American Institute of Architects—can reel off a handful of unorthodox structures in the area. There’s a Carmel home designed by architect Albert Henry Hill with a roof that folds down around the sides of the residence like the wings of a paper airplane, and a Carmel dwelling designed by Marcel Sedletsky in a modern Tudor style. Three homes stand out as perhaps the most deeply personal expressions of three very unique individuals.
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The residence at 604 Laine St. in New Monterey looks like several grey Jenga blocks precariously stacked on top of one another. The view from an alley behind the structure reveals that the much larger second floor rests atop a small basement block, while a large peaked roof crowns the building above a tiny square of third floor.
Seavey believes that the architect, a former Monterey resident and eccentric named Gino Bushini, designed the house to reach up as high as he could to best utilize a very small plot of land. “Gino would take impossible lots and build on them,” Seavey says.
Rather than building to the edges of the property lines, Bushini found there were few area zoning code restrictions against building vertical. “There wasn’t anything except a maximum height identified,” Seavey says. “Hell, he stacked rooms on rooms.”
Though there are no known books written about Bushini, a stack of papers that Seavey and Janick gave me reveal the architect’s eccentric side. In an essay credited to Bushini, the architect describes waging a “continuous battle against the stupidity of the world” since the age of 15. He writes that he spent weeks inside his Wisconsin childhood home, because he was unable to stomach all the “ugly telephone wires strung all over.”
At 17, he realized his life’s calling when he observed “a very strange and beautiful building” on a nearby hillside. The event caused him to draw “strange things” in his high school mechanical drawing class. “That was the beginning and end of my formal education in architecture,” he writes.
During the ‘60s and ‘70s, when Bushini lived in the area and built other buildings in Carmel and Pacific Grove, Seavey and Janick were able to meet the eccentric. “He was a hippie,” Janick says of the architect. “I think he did jewelry. He did everything.”
After his stint in Monterey, Bushini spent some time in New Mexico before moving to the Philippines in the ‘70s. “He just disappeared,” Seavey says. “He may be well known in Manila, but we don’t know that.”
Bushini’s buildings, like the one on Laine Street, immortalize a life led in an unconventional way. “You talk about thinking outside the box,” Seavey says. “Boy, Gino thought outside the box.”
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With a family he loved and a thriving real estate business, Allen Knight could not afford to spend weeks at a time bobbing around on the Pacific Ocean in a sailboat. So the longtime Carmel resident and maritime-history lover decided to construct a boat-like building beside his Carmel home, which is located on Sixth Street a few houses down from Guadalupe.
Knight built the cabin out of Carmel River rock and the parts of 57 shipwrecked vessels. The bottom floor of the building utilizes portholes instead of windows, while it is believed that the pilothouse, which sits atop the structure like a cap, was a part of a former tugboat.
One of the most striking features of the building is the entrance, which is a green metal door. Knight’s daughter Allene Fremier, who has written a book about her father titled b, says her dad spent a lot of time trying to locate a “watertight door” and finally secured the item from the Naval destroyer the USS Farquhar.
Fremier says all who entered the building were required to sign the ship’s logbook. Once inside, folks could climb a ladder into the pilothouse, where a ship’s wheel and compass still reside. “It was set up just like a pilothouse,” Fremier says.
Also inside are the wooden ribs of a ship, known as a ship’s knees, which arch across the structure like support beams. Fremier says one of the knees apparently came from a boat that transported Napoleon Bonaparte to Elba, an island where the French emperor was exiled for nine months in 1814. Some of the other knees were scavenged from Knight’s own boat, The Aurora, which ran aground on Monterey’s Del Monte Beach.
Fremier contends that her father, who also served as Carmel’s mayor from 1950 to 1952, built the structure she calls the “Ship House” to appease her mother. It appears that Mrs. Knight did not want her husband’s maritime memorabilia cluttering their home. After Knight passed away in 1964, his collection eventually led to the creation of the Monterey Maritime & History Museum to house the artifacts.
Most importantly, the “Ship House” served as a refuge for Knight, who often dreamed of being out of sea while pursuing a fruitful life on land. “He could go topside there,” Fremier says. “Look at Point Lobos and think that he was on a ship.”
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J and Sonja Jackson’s Pacific Grove home would be best described (with a timeworn cliché) as a labor of love. The house, which is located at 309 9th Street in Pacific Grove, is painted in the vibrant colors of a Mexican ice-cream store, and is adorned with over a thousand butterflies. The residence, which is referred to as the “Butterfly House,” has butterflies painted all over it and fake plastic butterflies stuck to its walls, the surrounding trees, the retaining wall and the garage. Other decorations include half moons and Mardis Gras masks.
Though a striking sight, the story behind the home is even more impressive. Since 18 years of age, Sonja has suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes progressive vision loss. Seven years ago, a doctor at Pacific Grove’s The Blind and Visually Impaired Center told the Jacksons that with Sonja’s deteriorating eyesight she would only be able to make out bright colors. Consequently, J, a massage therapist, set out to make their two-bedroom home a place Sonja would be able to see. “I’m going to build you a butterfly house,” J says he told Sonja. “Since Pacific Grove is the butterfly capital.”
Since then, J has created a “Wall of Love,” where visitors can purchase a plastic butterfly and attach it to a retaining wall near the home. All proceeds from sales of the butterflies benefit The Blind and Visually Impaired Center.
Another unique feature of the home is located in house’s garage. There J has a wall of braille for blind visitors to the “Butterfly House.”
J maintains that his home is the most photographed on the Peninsula. “We get people from South Africa and lots of people from Australia,” he says.
Seavey insists that though J didn’t build his home it still should be considered a reflection of his nature. “It’s a personal expression,” he says. “He did it for his wife. It’s an expression of love.”