“There’s a fine line between what we want and what we need. If you make what you need, you may find that it’s also what you want.” —Alex Weygers

A member of the original (1962) Esalen staff, Bob Nash served as groundskeeper for a while. Here, in ca. 1963, the iconoclast-artist poses beside the old Waterfall House.

As I discuss in the book, the buildings of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, were a primary influence on designers and builders of handmade houses in the 1960s and ’70s. Starting in 1964, the year of the first folk music festival at Esalen, those moments of beautiful seduction took place frequently and en masse.

My favorite building at Esalen is the spectacularly sited tiny cabin called Waterfall House (with the Fritz Perls House running a close second).

Esalen’s records show only that Waterfall pre-dates the organization’s 1962 founding. There’s nothing on its designer or builder.

Taking into account research by the late Jeff Norman (if you’re reading this, be sure you own Norman’s book Big Sur), I suspect Waterfall House was improvised on the spot and built by an employee of Thomas Slate, who owned the property and operated it as Slate’s Hot Springs, a resort, between ca. 1880 and 1910, the year he sold it to Dr. Henry Murphy of Salinas. (In the 1930s, Murphy added more buildings to the property, and Waterfall House could be one of those, but it seems to me to be older than that. Or is it just that the materials are older—reclaimed from early structures on the property? You see how this can go…)

Anyway, Waterfall House, as it was in the ’60s, had that romantic California Gold Rush-era pioneer look, which I like. Even now, it might be the coolest writer’s cabin on the planet.

In its time, the house has had many tenants, including the late Bob Nash, who would’ve called it home during the 1960s. (I’ve never met anyone who lived the philosophy of the aforementioned Alex Weygers quote like Bob Nash did during his years in Big Sur. But that’s another story, one you can read about in Henry Miller’s Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch… and in Nash’s autobiography, the wonderful On My Way: Fragments of My Life as an Artist.)

More recently, Waterfall House underwent various modifications and “improvements,” with the addition of the lattice privacy wall being the least soulful. What we live with every day can be easily taken for granted.

Waterfall House, Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California, on an unfortunately overcast day in 2011. In the white expanse is the Pacific. You'll have to trust me on that.

About 100 feet below a Highway One bridge is Waterfall House (left), Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California. Round House sits just above it.

Waterfall House, photographed with one foot in the waterfall.

Fritz Perls House, Esalen, in 2011. The stair rail and the iron strap hinges on the door are likely the work of Selig Morgenrath, who did all of Esalen's early decorative ironwork and built a few very impressive houses in Big Sur.

The Fritz Perls House at Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California. The original house was designed and built in the early '60s by Big Sur builder Selig Morgenrath. In 1989, it was remodeled by architect Ned Callihan and builder Torrey Waag.


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