P.G.’s Hart Mansion is in a league of its own.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
The little girl standing hand-in-hand with her mother on the sidewalk in Pacific Grove in front of 649 Lighthouse Ave., thrilled by three stories of white, mesmerizing facade belonging to the landmark Queen Anne Victorian Hart Mansion, said, “Mommy, do those people live in a wedding cake?”
Yes, they do. Or in a dollhouse, or in the trademark Disney castle. The Hart Mansion conjures magical, mysterious and romantic images for any witness.
It’s boldly fun: patterned shingles, steep roofs, huge gables and tiny ones with teensy cut-and-colored glass: glimpsed jewels of the crown. In contrast, surprisingly simple, large geometrically-shaped panes are displayed in the cut-away bay windows. The turrets zoom skyward. The mansion is a treasure chest of an architectural era.
Queen Anne Victorians combined Victorians gone before: Gothic, Italianate, Second Empire. There’s an unfurled exuberance to the Queen Annes, and the 116-year-old Hart Mansion is a genre treasure.
Its history navigates 70 years of Hart ownership, from 1893 when it was built for Dr. and Mrs. Andrew Jackson Hart, until the family sold it in 1962. It became a sanitarium with their son, Dr. Frank Hart, and in the ’30s, brother Charles converted it into two apartments for nearly three decades. Perhaps adding to the home’s accumulating fame, Knut Hovden, founder of Monterey’s famed sardine canneries, was once a tenant.
Since Charles sold the mansion in 1962 it has been owned for as few as two years and for as long as 15 years two separate times – most famously as the acclaimed restaurant Maison Bergerac, and later as Robert’s White House, owned by famed Peninsula chef Robert Kincaid of Fresh Cream.
The mansion has been home to some businesses, and it may be a stretch realizing the mansion was ever a home and not simply a commercial wonder.
Stepping inside fixes that fast with the sudden and fully felt awareness of its hominess and of its personal life as a private house. The fanciful exterior contrasts instantly with stalwart interior dark wood everywhere, protective and friendly; the latter proven when what seems a simple red, green, black and white stained glass window on the front door is revealed by the original mirror facing it in the entry to spell DR. HART in script. Way cool, as the Victorians never said.
The entry is truly enchanting, chandeliered by the dazzling, tiered crystals and graced by a superb curving staircase of thick, gleaming wood railing and spindles. The stairs arrive where the large second floor balcony looks directly down onto the chandelier, or all the way up to its suspension source in the ceiling of the third floor.
That floor has three bedrooms and a full bath. The entire second floor remains one single, mostly Victorian and fascinating apartment (full bath and a really-something antique stove). The first floor that was once the Hart families’ living room, parlor (Victorian tile fireplace), dining room, kitchen, pantry and hallways was transformed decades ago into formal restaurant dining rooms, industrial kitchen and two half baths: ladies and gents, the only rooms without windows.
The windows and what shines through them make up one of the many delightful aspects the mansion claims. Aside from the terrific brightness they create, the window frames surround glass art and are not all Victorian-predictable. Their variety of shape, ingenious designs, colors and textures deserve magical picture books for little children to centenarians.