About 100 yards north of the Walker House, the only building in Carmel designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, sits a beautiful new restroom that looks like it was designed by the legend himself.
Just west of Scenic Road at Santa Lucia Avenue, the new loo is set below the road and blends into the bluff. A living roof sprouts with native plants. Meticulously crafted stonework, mirroring the coastal rock walls, buttresses the base and rises around it. The building’s concrete is “wood-pressed,” giving the appearance of weathered planks, and each of its three doors is solid mahogany.
“The final solution was ‘non-architectural,’ something that would blend with the beach,” says Rob Carver, the architect who created the final design. “It’s supposed to evoke ruins.”
Carver’s former firm, Carver + Schicketanz, was enlisted in 2002 to investigate options for a public bathroom on the south end of Carmel Beach. The idea was abandoned for a time due to disagreements about the site, but the city tapped the firm again in 2008 for the present location.
In 2012, the Carmel Planning Commission approved their design, but that approval was rescinded a month later by City Council due to concerns about scale and visibility. The final result was designed by Carver’s present firm, Studio Carver.
“It’s got to be one of the prettiest bathrooms in the U.S.”
“We did a lot of research. There are some pretty great bathrooms in Scandinavia which are outside the box and have design integrity,” Carver says. “I think it’s up there with some of the world-class facilities.”
The idea for a bathroom on the beach was first hatched in 1991 by the city’s “2016 Committee,” a group of 15 residents and one city staff member whose goal was to envision what they wanted Carmel to look like in 2016, the centennial anniversary of the city’s founding.
Three of those members – Greg Cellitti, Ann Hougham and Neal Kruse – remain active in the committee, and they visited the bathroom on a recent morning before it opens to the public.
“It’s got to be one of the prettiest bathrooms in the United States,” Cellitti says upon seeing it.
Both Cellitti and Kruse credit Hougham as the one who came up with the idea 23 years ago and fought for it.
“I was like a terrier,” Hougham says.
For all of them, the bathroom fills the long-standing need to give beachgoers a place to handle their business.
“People from the beach were finding a vacant house and walking into the backyard and using it as a toilet,” Kruse says. “We had some problems that needed to be resolved.”
Some residents have been grumbling about the cost of the bathroom. Since 2008, the city has spent $98,765 on design, $647,112 on construction and leveraged another $150,000 in grants from the Coastal Conservancy. But those complaints might fade after the restroom opens later this month, when the final work is completed.
“It’s world-class architecture on a world-class beach,” says Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett.
That sentiment is echoed by City Administrator Doug Schmitz: “If you want quality, you pay for quality.”
As for Hougham, who saw the restroom for the first time on a recent visit: “It’s adorable.”