Carmel Bay, viewed from a rocky cliff on the Monterey Peninsula's 17-Mile Drive, glistened in a cold early-morning sun that made the white beach below Carmel-by-the-Sea look more like snow than sand. Smoke rose from the chimneys of handsome homes hidden among pine and cypress trees, its pleasant smell blending on this forsty morning with the fresh smell of the sea.
A few golfers were already stirring on the world-famous Pebble Beach course. But a few hundred yards down the road from the Del Monte Lodge, the only sound heard by a couple of tourists who had stopped to snap pictures was the crashing of waves against the rocks below the cliff. They shared the quiet scene at that moment only with a herd of sheep grazing in a vacant lot across the road.
But the Monterey Peninsula, one of the world's prettiest blends of forest, sea and sand is not as tranquil as it seems today. It's not all candlelight and sunsets, Rolls-Royces and Mercedes, bogeys and birdies in the Del Monte Forest.
Many of the 5,000 residents in this private preserve are worried and angry. Their forest has been sold and they believe their beautiful and comfortable way of life is threatenend.
On May 1 the new owner, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., is scheduled to take over everything in the forest not owned by private citizens. And then it will not be long, residents believe, before the Del Monte Forest will be desecrated by dreaded condominiums, ugly high rises and parking lots. And not only that, the feeling goes, Hollywood types in blue-suede shoes, calling each other "baby," will chase starlets in X-rated orgies at the Del Monte lodge.
And then, you know, there goes the neighborhood.
Residents have not been this nervous since the late 1960s when a transition in ownership left the forest without a member of the Samuel F. B. Morse family in charge for the first time in 50 years.
"You can feel the heat in the room go up at the mention of condos and high rises," said Robert Campbell, director of publicity and promotion for the Pebble Beach Corp., present owner of the forest.
But Campbell also says, "The specter of high rises and acres of blacktop is illogical and erroneous. They (Fox) can't do anymore than we've done."
Campbell is no outsider plugging his company's time. He has lived in the forest for 31 years and views Carmel Bay from his home on the second fairway at Pebble Beach.
"We recognize the apprehendion of the residents," he said. "they're wondering what might these guys do, what might they be ab le t do."
The fact is, he said, the film compaly is bound by a 1977 contract between the Pebble Beach Corp. and the Del Monte Forest Property Owners' Association, which limits development to 4,300 living units, including hotel rooms, on 5,300 acres over the next 5 years.
"The plan can't be changed," Campbell said, "even by Arabs.
Corporation President Harry Holmes said he can't understand all the hysteria. "they can't overrun the place with bulldozers," he said. Besides, Campbell said, the forest is protected by the California Coastal Zone Commission, "which would prevent Fox from doing anything without approval on property 1,1000 yards from mean high tide." That covers the entire forest.
But residents are still wary and write angry letters to the editor of the Monterey Peninsula Herald and harass corporation executive with phone calls and letters. Signatures were solicited recently to incorporate the area so residents could have a say in how it is developed. The status of that plan, Campbell said, is unknown. Some property owners opposed incorporation, fearing they would lose some exclusivity.
Just how exclusive is the forest?
Just how exclusive is the forest?
Well, 5000 full-time residents live in 2,200 homes and a few condominiums or "cluster units" protected by 40 private security guards behind four locked gate. Its 85 miles of roads, including the popular 17-mile drive, encompass some of the prettiest scenery this side of Yugoslavia's Adriatic coast.
Residents charge outsiders $4 a car and $2 a bus passenger to get a look at their view, and they think traffic will get worse if tourists get the idea they can see movie stars as well as seascapes, seals and sunsets. As one longtime resident said, "Everyone wanted to lock the gates. After all, they said, 'I've got mine.'"
Some residents say the gates are locked to control traffic, not to keep strangers out. One can understand their reluctance to unlock the gates after getting caught in traffic during the Bing Crosby golf tournment, which is played every winter on three of the forests five courses. (The new owners say it will be continued.)
The contrast is startling-as the two picture-snapping tourists discovered. One day the forest was swarming with spectators, and traffic on the two-line 17-mile drive bumper to bumper. The next day there were no traffic, no crowds, no noise and deer had returned to the fairways at Cypress Point. It was enough to make anyone vote for the status guo.
Homes in the forest range in price from $100,000 to $3 million. Views range from the splendid to better. Mist clings to cypress trees that have been flattened into huge umbrellas by wind from the sea. Fireplaces often are as busy in June as January. Residents wear a lot of tweed and cashmere. And most of them play golf.
Familiar names live here ... Crocker, Westinghouse, Firestone, Bechtel, Eastwood (that's Clint, the actor). The late Bing Crosby had a home for many years beside the 13th fairway at Pebble Beach.
Golf probably is the most popular sport in the forest-the courses are world famous-but as in other affluent neighbourhoods, equestrian events abound on the social calendar. Recently, for example, there was a winter horse show, a hunt race meet and steeplechase. It is one of the few places in the world where popo is still played regularly. Tennis tournaments and automobile shows are other popular social events.
Residents are allowed to have unattached garages or park a trailer on their lots. Carports are forbidden. They must get permission to cut down a tree or pave a driveway. There are so many restrictions even Pebble Beach Corp. executives were caught violating one. The had been running an illegal commercial enterprises-their own offices-for two years near the first tee at Pebble Beach. The office has moved to Pacific Grove.
For its $71.6 million, Twentieth Century-Fox will get 2,700 acres of undeveloped land, all 85 miles of the forest's roads, the Del Monte Lodge (one of the world's best hotels) and three golf courses, Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill inside the gates and Del Monte in Monterey.
By virtually and standard, Del Monte Lodge gets five stars. Service is impeccable and costs you 15 percent of you bill. Dining in its two splendid restaurants, by candlelight in the Cypress Room or down stairs in the less formal Club XIX, is elegant-and expensive.
From most of its 133 rooms the view is almost worth the price (about $115 a day, including service), especially if you're a golfer. One can sit in front of a woodburning fireplace and look across the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach to Carmel Bay and the mountains beyond. A guest also gets $10 knocked off Pebble Beach's green fee.
Despite residents' hope that their forest will not change, the truths is its character has changed. And no place is change more evident than at the Del Monte Lodge, a symbol of gracious living for 60 years. Affluence has moved down to a level of people who don't seem to appreciate the elegance and comfort of a place and life style that once set the lodge and forest apart from resorts that surrender to the economics of mass marketing.
The Lodge's library is gone. Convention delegates hold noisy cocktail parties where guests one quietly playhold noisy cocktail parties where guests once quietly played bridge. Young men and women in jeans and sneakers are seen in the lobby. Commercial properties have replaced the dormitories where lodge employes once lived and the gardens where flowers were grown for Cypress Room tables.
But the hotel today is more popular than ever. Guests, including many foreigners, book rooms and tee times at Pebble Beach three and four years in advance. And, as pro golfstar Jack Nicklaus a frequent lodge guest, told a reporter, despite all the changes it's still a nice place to visit.
Today across the road from the hotel are a bank, a post office, a country store a gas station. Can a movie theater showing "star wars" be far behind?