Robinson Jeffers' TOR HOUSE & HAWK TOWER, Carmel, CA.
I’ve just finished reading the fascinating autobiography of Ansel Adams, the famous photographer of the early twentieth century. Among his many eccentric friends was the poet Robinson Jeffers. Adams considered him a genius who “produced much of America’s greatest poetry.” It was fortuitous that they both lived out their final years in Carmel, California.
Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) and his beloved wife Una (1884-1950) fell in love with the unspoiled beauty of the Carmel,Big-Sur coast south of California’s Monterey Peninsula and it was there that he built Tor House and Hawk Tower. It became the refuge of the couple and their twin boys and was where he wrote his most memorable poetry.
In January of 2001 I was visiting friends in San Carlos, Ca. and we made reservations to tour the Jefferson home. (They open two or three time a week for very small tour parties.)
We actually had a hard time finding the property. I knew that it had been built on a barren and windswept promontory, overlooking the ocean …so it was a shock to find that the property has been practically over-run by multimillion dollar estates. But it was still very impressive, as you can see by my photographs.
Jeffers had the help of a contractor to build his cottage “Tor House” modeled after a Tudor barn in England; but, “Hawk Tower”, he built himself. On both of these he used sea-worn granite boulders that he pushed up from the beach. He also placed pieces of rock and stonework, collected by friends from around the world, into the foundation.
The house has been maintained exactly as it was and still contains the Steinway piano that Ansel Adams refers to in his book. Jeffers was a recluse and it was up to his wife Una to “screen” the visitors until she felt they passed muster. It wasn’t until Adams played some pieces by Bach that Jeffers thawed and a friendship ensued. They became fast friends and it was Ansel Adams who initiated the Robinson Jeffers Foundation, which oversees the property to this day.
The 40-foot tower was a delight. He built this as a hide-away...a study on the ground floor where he did most of his writing and a room above for Una to enjoy the view of the ocean. A “secret” staircase connects the two rooms. It is so narrow that I had to put my left shoulder ahead of me and “slink” up the steps. It was a tight fit but I made it. My friends preferred the staircase that curved around the outer walls ...but we all ended up at the same place. The view from the top of the tower was exquisite...and, as I sat on the stone ledge, I thought of the man who had built this tower as a gift for his wife.
“I built it with my hands. I hung stones in the sky.”