A Town of Storybook Houses and How They Came to Be


In 1924, a man named Hugh Comstock took a little trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California to see his sister and her husband. The town was becoming well known as a haven for artists and other creative types, so it’s not surprising that he met a doll maker named Mayotta Browne during his stay there. Miss Browne was the creator of Otsy-Totsies, cute little felt and cloth dolls meant more for collectors than children. The love bug hit Hugh and Mayotta almost instantly and they married within the year. Mayotta’s business was soon booming, with retailers across the country requesting loads of her merchandise. The dolls began to take over their home, so Mayotta asked her husband to build something to showcase them when buyers came through. Hugh was no architect, nor was he a builder. But he did have a good eye for the whimsical, so he thought he’d give it a shot. Inspired by British illustrator Arthur Rackham, Comstock constructed a little cottage full of handmade details and quirky architecture. He purposely didn’t use a level, so things were just a little skewed and imperfect in an absolutely charming way. The cottage, which he named Hansel (pictured), was just right for Mayotta’s dolls.

The Carmel Pine Cone, the local newspaper, took stock of Hansel and immediately declared it - and Comstock - genius. It wasn’t long before people were knocking down his door, asking for fairytale creations of their own. Because the town was full of artists and writers - Jack London, Mary Austin, Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair and George Sterling among them - the unique style was extremely popular. In response, Comstock built numerous cottages over a period of just five years, hugely influencing the town’s flavor. Most of them have been kept up nicely (or restored) as the decades have gone by, and with good reason: it’s been recorded that Comstock purchased parcels of land on which the cottages were built for as little as $100, and his building materials were dirt cheap. These days, the small but totally original houses go for about $4,000,000. Not a bad investment.

All of the houses have perfectly suited names as well. There’s the Tuck Box, the only commercial building Comstock built; Gretel, the companion house to Hansel; the Honeymoon Cottage; Casanova; Fables and Sunwiseturn, among others.

Anyone ever seen these storybook homes in person? If not, this Flickr set by photographer Linda Hartong will make you feel like you have.

Hansel photo from Tales from Carmel