Open Houses

State Parks interpreter Tyler Markley says the dining room at the Larkin House was used to host posh dinner parties in the 1920s: “Think of Great Gatsby, but in Monterey.”

It’s a sunny weekday in downtown Monterey and Tyler Markley, an interpreter with California State Parks, stands outside the Larkin House, one of the most historic buildings in a city filled with them. Built in 1835 by local merchant Thomas Larkin, the mix of East Coast-style with California adobes was initially unique, but was copied widely in Monterey for decades after.

Larkin was appointed as U.S. Consul to Mexican-controlled Alta California in 1844 (he would be the last), and the house/store acted as the consulate, as well as a social center in the town.

Markley is leading a tour, a service that recently resumed at the Larkin House and the nearby Stevenson House, for the first time since 2008. He notes how opulent the home was for its time, particularly with features like plate windows, which would have had to spend six months at sea before arriving to Monterey.

Inside, he notes the indoor staircase – in that era, staircases in Alta California were all outside. “This is insanely impressive for the time,” Markley says, “because this is the only building that would have that.”

Stepping into an expansive, well-appointed room off the hallway, Markley explains how it was originally home to Larkin’s shop, but after Larkin’s granddaughter Alice, a wealthy socialite living in Santa Barbara, bought the house in 1922 as a vacation getaway, it became a lavish dining room. “She’s inviting people like Bing Crosby to her Christmas Party,” Markley says, “and secondhand accounts said people like Charlie Chaplin were here.” (Alice gave it to the state of California in 1957.)

Adjacent to the dining room is what Markley calls the safe room, where Larkin kept a safe because at the time, there were no public safes in California. The back of the safe – visible on a wall – meets the back of a brick fireplace. A security precaution in a home with mud walls, Markley says.

As he works his way through the remainder of the building’s first floor, Markley points out various artifacts and paintings, including a portrait of Alice in full 1920s flapper gear. “I refer to this building as our mini Hearst Castle,” Markley says. “It’s not the same size, but the art and artifacts we have here are essentially the same quality.”

Outside, in the lovely garden that is open to the public daily from 10am to 5pm, Markley expresses excitement about the tours starting back up: “We want people to come and see it.”

Just across downtown, the expansive garden behind the Stevenson House is even more inviting, and secluded from the street by a wall.

There, Aaron Gilmartin, also an interpreter with State Parks, explains that his forthcoming tour of the house – which was a boarding house where author Robert Louis Stevenson lived and worked in late 1879 – would explore “the mark he left on Monterey, and the mark it left on him.” Stevenson lived in the house for a couple of months before he was famous, and the novel he was working on while living here, a western set in Monterey called Vendetta in the West, was never finished and ultimately scrapped; it is believed he destroyed the manuscript.

Stevenson left Monterey to head to San Francisco to meet the recently divorced Fanny Osbourne, whom he would marry and raise her kids with.

It his her children that gifted the many artifacts and books lining the display cases throughout the building to the state, including the signature velvet coat he wore for author portraits, a Buddha statue he kept on his writing desk, and a conch shell used as a dinner horn during his time in Samoa.

The revival of the tours, Gilmartin says, will help provide visitors context with what they’re looking at. “What we really want to do is show the man behind the books, and how that relates to Monterey,” he says. “[Monterey] really did play a pivotal role in the transition of this guy from nobody, broke and lonely, to being married, famous and cranking out these novels we still read in school today.”

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