by Tom Parks
It is late morning on a Thursday. The slight rain has passed and the sun is streaming through moist oak leaves into the small living room of perhaps the most beautiful cottage in the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Built by legendary Mike Murphy in 1905 and virtually untouched through 113 years, this Lincoln Street art object is the home of Linda and Jackson Smith. We’re here to talk about beauty and history, and in this case, they are one in the same. Entering the house. the first words that come to mind are—it smells like Carmel!
You and your husband are fortunate people to live in this jewel, Linda. The house seems intact. It’s mostly original 1905?
It is. Of course, there was no plumbing, just an outhouse and a rigged-up shower in the garden. Water was heated in tanks behind the fireplace wall. By the time I came here as a girl the “modern conveniences” had been added, but otherwise, it’s original. This is still a 700 square foot cottage with one bedroom and a sleeping porch.
It was your grandmother, Mabel Gray Lachmund Young and her husband who built this house?
It was. She was a European-trained classical musician, singer and pianist. In the early days, friends, artists, musicians, later to be called Carmel Bohemians, gathered in this little cottage to read, to sing, to gossip. There were no modern distractions, just talk, but important talk on current issues of the day. And there was always a pot of abalone chowder or steamed mussels from the rocks of Carmel Bay. It was a happy time and artistically a productive time for so many. Someone would read a new chapter of a book in progress. Another would bring along a painting; and there were always the poets aching to read new verses.
And who were these artists so often present, those who hunkered-down on Mabel’s floor cushions in the early days of Carmel Bohemians?
I suppose you could say, who wasn’t there. In and out of the house one could find George Sterling, Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, Davis Starr Jordan, Upton Sinclair and Ambrose Bierce. Besides being artists, they were another breed of people, and it was a different time in history…a simpler and less alienated and less materialistic time.
And what are your thoughts about past life in Carmel in this relatively new century?
I could say social and economic trends in the culture at large have profoundly affected our community. Most of today’s artists could not find a home in Carmel today. They wouldn’t be able to afford to live here. And the easy conviviality and creative exuberance of past lives would be impossible to recreate.
Given the chance to listen to the early history and culture of this place, young people could find it enthralling. We can and should cultivate the arts and artists. In fact, even with all the changes in culture and environment, given the chance, artists today could surely feel at home here.
In the days of my grandmother, Mabel, informality was the hallmark of everything they did. They were not at all a stuffy crowd; being together, making art was their call. No radio, no TV, they had each other. If you look at the photos on the walls you’ll see many of them, just as they were. They were stars, celebrities in their simple ways, and they didn’t know it, and if they did, it wouldn’t have made any difference.
This house, untouched and elegant and steeped in history is a Carmel museum. As we sit here in a room of 350 square feet there’s a feeling of being transported to the 1905 past. In one corner is a grand piano. Opposite that, a wonderfully worn mohair Chesterfield chair, a vintage davenport, and on the floor a much trod, blood red, Persian rug. We’re home.
Carmel, ever present was the wild beauty of the land inspiring and nurturing everyone. An entry in George Sterling’s diary reads, “Heard Mrs. Lachmund singing through the pines—thrilling.” This is authentic organic culture at its best.
Thank you, Linda Smith, a keeper of the culture and beauty in a once and hopefully future Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Interview originally published in The Voice, December 2018. Reprinted with permission.
Other historic Carmel Cottages