Alta Vista in 2005
While we realize that nothing is forever and that acceptance of impermanence and change is the first step on the road to happiness and enlightenment, we still haven’t been able to shake a strong sense of loss over the enormous amount of Big Sur history wiped out by the Basin Complex Fire.
Fire is a fact of life in Big Sur and there have been plenty of fires over the years, but the number of historic structures destroyed by the Basin Complex Fire was completely unprecedented. These places, built by the hands of the pioneers, and steeped in the tears and sweat of generations, provided the Big Sur community with a good deal of its unique identity. Built, never larger than need demanded, from the stone of the mountainsides and the redwood of the canyons, these irreplaceable homes defined Big Sur style, attitude and consciousness.
While Big Sur has been moving away from that early aesthetic and toward homogenization with the modern world ever since the highway opened in 1937, with this loss it seems that the break with the past is now complete. The pioneers and their works are now largely erased from the landscape. Like de Angulo’s Ne-sia-Hualala, they have followed the sun into the West.
We don’t know what Big Sur will become in the years ahead, only that it will be something new and different. And perhaps that’s as it should be.
But before we head off toward that future, we’d like to take another look back …
We’re starting here with a look at the Overstrom Place, Alta Vista, a ridgetop homestead far from roads and accessible only by trail. We expect to follow this up with photos of other iconic places now gone.
We don’t have photos from Alta Vista’s early days, so we’ll start in the ’70s. The following 10 photos, from 1971, were taken by, and are presented here courtesy of, Sterling Doughty. We highly recommend his website for more photos, as well as stories, from Big Sur in the ’60s and early ’70s.
Drill bits by the window
Rock & Redwood
The Ironing – note the redwood block floor
Redwood cabinetry around the sink
The Lady of the House
Root Cellar Door
Jeff Norman at the Alta Vista gate – Easter 1980
Easter – 1980
Honey in the Window – Summer 1988
Jeff at the door – Summer 1988
Above the root cellar – November 1988
Barn Repairs – 1989
The Animals – 1990
Judith Goodman and sweet peas – 1992
Packer Jeff – 1993
Cat at the door – 1990s
Growing the Grape Arbor – 1990s
In the shade of the grape arbor – 2003
Boon evicts a rattlesnake – March 2008
My last look was from the backseat of a helicopter
Still smoldering – July 8, 2008
Sorting through the rubble – April 2, 2009