(Photo credit by local photographer-artist Phil Wendt)

Architectural Purpose in The Sea Ranch

The Uniqueness of California’s Famed Sea Ranch Community

The Sea Ranch is a stunningly beautiful and unique planned community located along a desirable stretch of the California coastline. Its uniqueness is without question as few communities earn their own exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art or begin as a challenge given to a group of college faculty members. The community has changed some during its more than 50-year history, but the changes are far less than what most people would expect in today’s modern world. The Sea Ranch remains a place unlike anywhere else on the California coastline, or perhaps in the entire country.

How it Began

The Sea Ranch began in 1964 when Al Boeke, a local developer, hired a group of faculty members from the University of California to help create his vision. The architectural experts took on a challenge to transform a 5,200-acre sheep ranch into a nature-driven residential community. The land consisted of ten miles of coastline just three hours north of San Francisco and was a very desirable development spot.

How it Worked

The architecture in the community is exquisite, but carefully designed so it does not take attention away from the beauty of nature. Many of the homes include sloped roofs so they blend with the sloped terrain. The gray wood houses disappear into nature and stayed unpainted for that purpose. Every step taken received careful thought, so the natural world experienced as little disruption as possible.

The design of buildings arose after the architects studied the land where it would sit. The priority was always what existed naturally, and the homes became a part of the topography. Trees, shrubs, and bushes became privacy fences, windbreaks, and more instead of cleared out and replaced with grass seed or flower gardens and swimming pools as they would have been in other areas.

The Sea Ranch remains so valuable today because it is a functioning community that continues to follow by the same restrictions as its original design. It is proof that people can live comfortably and luxuriously without needing to pave or destroy nature. The area also offers an interesting vacation rental destination for those that want to experience what the coastline of California was like before the over development of all ocean-view property took place in the country.

Why it Excels

Community members remain committed to the original plans for the area. Today, the population of the community is around 1,300 people on 2,288 lots. New homes continue to go into the area, but each retains the basic look of the original buildings. The designs of the first homes were so ahead of their time, they look modern even according to 21st century standards. Open floor plans, a focus on views and natural light, and design features like ladders rather than staircases and lofts that make it easier to have more in less space.

Condominium One, a home built in 1964 and considered the first important building of the community, has a place on the National Register of Historic Places. It took only a year before a style of the home named after the community became one of the most desirable architectural styles around the world.

The builders were protective of nature, but also of the structure already on the property when they began. The only remaining structure from the original 19th-century farm was a barn built-in 1870. The barn remains on the property today and received a complete restoration in the 1980s.

How to Enjoy

It is still possible for people to make The Sea Ranch their home. The community allows new development if the homes meet the same design standards as the existing houses. Acceptable changes include the use of materials that make the homes more fire-resistant. The newer houses often stay small, and sometimes include multiple tiny connected structures to prevent monopolizing the view. It is an unusual tactic for builders developing a coastline, but this is also a place that originally advertised itself as a destination where ” The terrain is rugged, the surf treacherous, the ocean cold.” And it still succeeded.

Visitors that want to experience what life is like at the Sea Ranch can do so at a vacation rental. The rental houses available through the community are immaculate, and many have unbeatable ocean views. The community offers visitors a chance to see if they enjoy a calmer and more nature-centered life. Recreation centers, playgrounds, and picnic areas are located within the community. An on-site library is open to everyone and offers a change of pace for the quieter days of a vacation. Nearby the Sea Ranch are plenty of urban areas and natural sites that offer an endless amount of day and night activities of all types.

The desire of the architects that began The Sea Ranch project was to create a community where people would ” live lightly on the land” The examples of this include the use of locally sourced Redwood boards for the siding of Condominium One in 1964. Today, when developers removed a tree from property to build a new home, the wood from the tree became the benches in the same yard. Visitors that want to experience the uniqueness of the community should honor the original planners and builders and plan to ” live lightly” as well during their stay.