Saturday, June 30, 2007

Robinson Jeffers' TOR HOUSE & HAWK TOWER, Carmel, CA.

I thoroughly enjoyed 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 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.”


Blogger kenju said...

That house and view would certainly inspire anyone, and especially artists and poets.

7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful location and photos.
I'm waiting to read about your recent trip and lessons.
Have a great weekend.

1:49 PM  
Blogger dmmgmfm said...

Beautiful photos. It looks like an amazing place.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Great spot. Too bad the rich now seem to gobble up views like this with their monster homes.

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ginnie!
Welcome back. I hope you got some photos of the workshop. Thanks also for your note on my "Dr. Strangelove" post. I knew that you would be among the few to have seen it.

This is an excellent post. I knew a bit about Ansel Adams, but didn't know about the connection with Robinson Jeffers. I really enjoy your stories about staying in interesting places.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

I have always admired Ansel Adams and enjoyed your post, as always.

Welcome back!

5:15 AM  
Blogger Cazzie!!! said...

My best friend grew up in Carmel CA, and she lived in a house in which she was right on the beach..well, on a cliffside on the beach. She often told me of how she spent her childhood looking out her window and looking over the seas..imagining all sorts of stories and happenings OUT THERE.
I miss her, and so, I thank you for this wonderful post.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

Hi have a lovely blog. I found it while I was searching for photos of Carmel, CA, for my vision board. One of my dreams is to spend an entire summer in a cottage in Carmel.

Warm regards,

12:23 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Nice post, although it contains a number of relatively minor errors.

Adams was one of RJ's earliest and most ardent admirers. His 1927 pic of the poet remains the finest there is. But Jeffers was much more than just our greatest poet, he was, as Adams aptly observed, "The Prophet of our age."

9:18 PM  
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7:55 PM  

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