An anonymous developer wants to tear down the remnants of an old monastery in Inverness Park CA to build six new structures, totalling 8,300 square feet of building area. The 17-acre parcel near the start of Drakes Summit had been the home of St Eugene’s Hermitage, a Christian community that lived in cramped cottages, made candles, and whispered prayers in a small white chapel since 1951. The monks departed in 2006 after repeated attempts to expand provoked neighbours’ ire, leaving the property unoccupied and littered with fir needles for the past several years. The new owners, Hidden Dragon, LLC, submitted designs to county planners last month to demolish the four existing structures and build a 5,494-square-foot two-story home, a second 750-square-foot residence for the caretakers, a 1,316-square-foot detached studio for art or writing, two garages, a lap pool, and a “meditation hut”. They also plan to install two septic systems, two 5,000-gallon water tanks, a 1,000-gallon propane tank, and four parking spaces for guests. They want to remove four dozen Douglas-fir, California bay, coast live oak, and madrone trees, 31 of which have protected status due to their size; they’d replant 28 California live oak big leaf maple and buckeye trees.
The Inverness Association’s design review committee will look at the application over the coming weeks, said Bridger Mitchell, the group’s vice president. The Community Development Agency is accepting comments on the application’s completeness and the project’s merits until next Friday, 12 September. Designed by Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects, whose other residences the New York Times described as “ruggedly elegant” and “uncomplicated” in form, the primary residence is a steel and concrete structure with a painted metal roof. Its walls would feature an aged-wood siding to match the dense forest around the home, and its rooms look out onto the landscape through large windows. Architect Steve Grim said that his design intends to be a transition between the meadow and the forest on the parcel, a mediation “between those two experiences while being in and of both”. It utilises a pavilion structure to reduce bulk and keep a low visual profile from the street. Inspired by the J B Blunk house, Mr Grim said that the design means to be “sustainable, healthy, and visually unobtrusive”.
Chris Stanton, who represents the titleholders through his San Rafael CA-based firm, Inverness Construction Management, wouldn’t disclose the names behind the limited liability corporation. According to the California Secretary of State’s records, the agent behind the LLC is Whitney Rugg, who lives in a luxury Presidio Landmark apartment recently remodelled from a dilapidated graffiti-painted hospital in San Francisco. The home will be their secondary residence for now, but the owners plan to retire here, Mr Stanton said (a young couple with a child who previously lived in West Marin will be the property’s stewards and live fulltime in the second cottage). In that sense, the property is returning to its oldest use… Inverness began as a hideaway, or a hermitage, if you will, for those in “the Establishment”, as historian Jack Mason wrote in Earthquake Bay. During the summer, “bankers, doctors, and judges from San Francisco and the Valley cities, and academicians from the Berkeley scene” retreated to their Inverness houses, which “reflected taste and affluence that set the town apart from the jerry-built summer colonies elsewhere in the county”.
James Cobb, who worked in the insurance business and lived in Berkeley with his wife and five children, built the first house on the parcel, which appears to still be standing, in 1920. During the summer town’s heyday… between the building of a horse-and-wagon stageline to Point Reyes Station in 1905 and the downturn after the Great Depression that bankrupted the hotels… the house was a vacation home, presumably, or even a rental. A later owner, Maria Lurie of San Francisco, gifted the property to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1951. She named it St Eugene’s as a memorial to her son Eugene Lurie, an infantryman killed on the last day of World War II only hours before the declaration of peace.
The first inhabitant, Rev Dimitri Egoroff, built two small cottages… one with a chapel suitable for one person to occupy and another with a kitchen and reception area for guests. In a 1956 sermon, Fr Dmitri recounted, “In the California forest, on the small hill on which the monastery stands, an air of detachment from one’s surroundings, which were somewhere down below, wafted. The place reminded one of something Athonite (a holy mountain in Greece with twenty Orthodox monasteries) and breathed an untroubled peace”. Under vows of poverty, chastity, and solitude, Fr Dmitri lived alone, praying the morning matins and the nightly even-song until his health began to decline after 18 years. At each sunset, his chanting, “Thou makes darkness and it is night”, echoed through the forest accompanied by floating trails of incense.
After the founder left, several monks trickled in and out until a group of nuns moved from Calistoga in 1983. They resumed a years-long project to build a small chapel suitable for services. Completed in 1988, they built it around the cupola from the belltower of Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco, where the young Mr Lurie had been a member of the congregation before his death. A relic with a piece of a saint’s toe and painted icons of Jesus surrounded the walls, all lit by beeswax candles on silver bases. When the nuns could no longer care for the property and moved to Santa Rosa, the Monastery of St John took over operations in 1996. They continued to make candles in a rusting shipping container and pray in regular devotions, but the growing organisation of about a dozen monks needed to expand beyond the original dwellings, intended for one or two people, and had since fallen into disrepair due to crude construction and an infestation of black mould after years in fog. The monks’ plans faced continual rejection… “stymied by Marin County officialdom”… and eventually, fed up, they dismantled their small chapel, loaded it onto the back of a flatbed truck, and carried it off with them north to Manton, a remote town in Tehama County, in 2008.
Mr Stanton said the new owners, like the holy men before them, have “concerns” about how their plans will be received, saying, “I wouldn’t equate it with the chapel, a residence, and having 30 people at the site, but you know, it’s West Marin, and so we plan to see some objections raised”. One wonders how the men and women in black robes would react to seeing their cottages bulldozed, how the monks who renounced this world to instead plead daily for repentance would feel observing the new owners towel off from the pool and retreat into their own meditation hut. In his 1956 sermon, Fr Dmitri gave his own arguments justifying a “small, modest, secluded” life. He preached, “A person in the world becomes accustomed to the world and starts to live by its interests, but we know that everything in the world is temporary and swiftly passing. As for man, his days are as the grass… as a flower of the field, so shall he blossom forth. For when the wind is passed over it, then it shall be gone, and no longer will it know the place thereof”.
4 September 2014
Point Reyes (CA) Light