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San Clemente Journal

The Cottage at San Clemente State Park

Mar 27, 2018 11:23AM ● By Shelle Sandberg
by Shelle Sandberg, historic photos by California State Parks

The Cottage in San Clemente State Park is an historic Ole Hansen era home with a fascinating history. Originally the home of the first mayor of San Clemente, Thomas Murphine, it was located one canyon over from T-street. The home was badly damaged in the 1933 earthquake, and a few days later during a presumed aftershock, a portion of the home fell into the canyon.

The Cottage was built from the rubble of Mayor Tom Murphine’s home which was destroyed in the 1933 earthquake.

  During the 1930s the United States faced economic disaster. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Emergency Conservation Act on March 31, 1933, creating The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The intent was to put people back to work building infrastructures such as roads, bridges, dams, and parks. Building a park meant jobs, and a 300-man camp was formed to build San Clemente State Park. Set up like a military encampment, it provided the economic engine for the community.  

At the same time the park was being built, the CCC salvaged timber and as much as possible of the damaged home. They used mules and wagons to move this treasure from two canyons away to be reconstructed at the park site. Adobe was handmade on-site and the plaster walls were put in. River rock was hauled from San Onofre to construct a stairway down the cliff.  The former home became a Cottage which became the residence for park custodians responsible for daily operations from 1936-1994. 

The adobe wall around the Cottage being built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

 After nearly six decades the adobe began to deteriorate and plaster fell as the walls crumbled. In 1994 it was determined that this historic building was to be reconditioned to the specifications of Ole Hansen’s vision to preserve the integrity and spirit of the era. A grant was awarded in 1999, and once again adobe was made on-site and the Spanish roof tile used was also made on-site. The reconditioning process took over a year to complete.

Today, the Cottage, along with its recently added courtyard in the back, is a state park facility serving multiple purposes. It is an educational venue, an event center, and a visitor center that works hand-in-hand with the San Onofre Parks Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports the preservation and understanding of the San Clemente and San Onofre State Parks. 
In its role as a Visitor Center, it sponsors a lecture series which operates July through September, displaying exhibits that are periodically rotated through a small gallery in the back of the house. The special exhibit presently showing is the History of the San Onofre State Park. It will be featured for a few years, displaying how the park transformed from a little fishing camp, to the ‘Sano’ surf camp, and finally, to where and what it is today.

Greg Long, famous longboard/big wave surfer and San Clemente celebrity participated in last year’s lecture series. After having had a near-death experience at the Cortez Bank, Long was originally scheduled to speak only one night to 200 people, but another night had to be added to the schedule to accommodate an additional 200.  

The Cottage Patio may be rented for special events.

 There are many dedicated community members holding the heartstrings of the Cottage.  Steve Long was the Park Superintendent from 2004-2008, and is now an advisor to the Board of Directors for the San Onofre Parks Foundation. Wendy Yoder, a longtime resident and one of the Board members, was astute in bringing Steve in as the historian for this interview. They both were incredibly complementary of our world-famous local artist, Rick Delanty. Delanty was commissioned to do renderings of our six beautiful beach trails, and paintings of what the land may have looked like to the native Acjachemen people over a century ago. Rick has been generous in allowing the notecard, gift card, and giclee profits to directly benefit the Cottage.
The artistry continues throughout the Cottage with San Mateo artifacts displayed. Picnic tables that were milled in the 1930s from fallen Redwoods logged in a Northern California state park, have been repurposed, making shelves that hold taxidermy of animals found in and around the area.

When the Cottage re-opened in 2001, another use for this breathtaking venue was as a wedding facility April through November. Sweethearts married there can choose between backyard ceremonies, or exchanging their vows out on the bluff with a full ocean panorama behind. The former garage has been converted into a catering kitchen and there is also a conveniently located bridal dressing room.  The capacity for weddings is 150 guests, and it is suggested to book one year in advance. 

The most challenging aspect the Cottage faces are how to let people know it exists, and what wonderful experiences await there. Full of period charm and packed with California history it is a little gem nestled among the park’s acreage. Ideal for 21st century activity, directors and staff continually seek ways to utilize the Cottage’s Mediterranean Seaside charm to allow more to experience these wonders located right in our own backyard.

For more information visit 
For information on school group tours or field trips, please contact:
California State Parks Interpretive Services (949) 366-8594
Or email Cryssie Brommer [email protected]