This cluster of cliffside buildings that seem ready to slide into the pounding Pacific is actually the beginning of a remarkable new resort community called Sea Ranch, which will stretch for 14 miles up California's spectacular coast only two hours north of San Francisco. One day there will be 3,000 houses at Sea Ranch, but the vision of its builders has insured that the seascape, with its coves, seamist-enshrouded forests and driftwood beaches, will never be spoiled. Even when fully developed, two-thirds of the 5,200 acres will remain wilderness, common land for all Sea Ranch settlers. The architecture is equally visionary. The dramatic condominium complex that looks like a fortress against the elements is built around a central courtyard that captures the sun and is raked so that every apartment has a view of the sea. The cypress hedges, gracing the shore meadows since the turn of the century, will soon shelter groups of other dwellings. Eventually a golf course, tennis courts and swimming pools will contribute to the recreational attractions of this unique vacation community.
PIONEER PLANNER IN THE WESTERN WILDERNESS
The 100,000 vacation houses that are now going up each year could well turn America's coastline into one long Shanty-town-by-the-sea if it were not for such men as Lawrence Halprin, the man behind the magnificent use of the land at Sea Ranch.
Halprin is one of America's foremost landscape architects, a master planner who has come a long way from the green-thumb garden stage to the complexities of urban redevelopment, freeway planning and new towns. He lives in San Francisco, where he dedicates his time to seeing that America's landscape doesn't go completely down the drain. A native of Brooklyn, he has adopted the rugged, outdoor look of the West—at Sea Ranch he wears heavy tan Levi's and suede climbing boots. A small but powerful pair of Bushnell binoculars is slung round his neck, and he carries a sheath knife stuck in his belt. The binoculars are for bird watching and the knife for slicing abalone.
Larry Halprin is a new breed of landscape architect, an environmental planner. He has been intensely occupied with the Bay Area Rapid Transit scheme, the revolutionary network that hopefully will solve San Francisco's very considerable commuter woes. Ground has been broken for a new town he designed for 65,000 people in Hawaii, and plans are completed for another in California.
Halprin is no prophet crying in a vanishing wilderness. "To be sure, I'm an ardent conservationist," he says, "but I understand that people can't enjoy the land unless they're on it. What we need to do at the moment is to plan environments that let people live on the land without destroying it."
Sea Ranch is an ideal place to put such a theory into practice. It follows the north-south shoreline of Sonoma County in California, bounded on the north by the Gualala River, whose chief claims to fame are that it flows north and that Jack London used to fish there for steel-head. Until a few years ago Sea Ranch was a working sheep ranch. Then Oceanic Properties, Inc. came along and bought it for $2.7 million. They put a further $2 million into developing it as a vacation community and brought in Lawrence Halprin.
Halprin's office studied the area for two years before submitting a master plan. Halprin himself slept out on the beach for weeks. He explored the effects of weather, noting that there is no rain to speak of between April and October. He mapped wind shadows, for the best placing of houses. He observed that one day out of three in this hardy country the weather is either windy, foggy or rainy. The other two days are lovely.
Halprin's plan for the land calls for reseeding the meadows, thinning the forest, planting 100,000 trees and damming the erosion gullies caused by the weather after the sheep had chewed the grass so short there was virtually no field cover left.
Large sweeping meadows and groves of trees will run between the clusters of houses built on each side of the cypress hedges. New roads will follow the natural terrain. In the forest—redwood, bull pine and fir—trees have been tagged for removal, and Halprin has adopted the old Indian conservation practice of controlled burning of the choking underbrush on the forest floor.