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Posted by on Jan 15, 2011 in Interesting Houses, Thinking of Buying? | 21 comments | Print Print

Big Sur

Driving south on PCH through Big Sur, you can see a glint of sun coming off an A-frame home that’s perched on the edge of the bluffs 600 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

Recently restored/remodeled and offered for short-term vacation rentals, “Wild Bird” was designed by San Francisco architect, Nathaniel A. “Nat” Owings (Skidmore Owings & Merrill). Following its completion, Time Magazine described ‘Wild Bird’ as “the most beautiful house on the most beautiful site in the U. S.”

Owings built “Wild Bird” as a permanent home at Big Sur in 1958. In the early 1960s, he and his wife joined neighbors in organizing to limit development along the scenic highway of California Route 1. This small step into the world of political activism led to Owings further involvement in conversation and preservation campaigns.


  1. The Big Sur A-Frame has been my favorite house for over 30 years. What an incredible house. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. What a beautiful House.
    The definition of an environmentalist – one whose cabin is already built.

  3. Oh yeah. They build there dream house then work the rest there lives to “preserve” the area around them. I’m so sick of these hypocrites. They’re all over the north county coastal. Hell, in University City, we can’t even build the Regents Road Bridge for over 30 years because of crazies – and it’s been paid for by developers.

  4. Yes, beautiful solid house which is totally free of Spanish tile and Stucco.

  5. Beautiful house. But the irony of “I build a house here, then I block anyone else from doing the same” is just too rich. I remember a story a few years back about Carmel by the Sea, where an old widow living alone in a 8,500 sq ft ocean front mansion with solar panels on the roof described herself as “an ardent environmentalist”. I’m sure she was a very nice person and really believed that about herself, but she had no idea how wrong she was.

  6. I second the hypocrite. Big Sur has too much private land for being so empty. It has been preserved by confining the public to highway 1 and hiding the villas in the hills. Next time it burns, don’t send for the fire department. That will do more to preserve the area in its natural state.

  7. As a 4th generation Californian who loves Big Sur, I thank God for Nathaniel Owings, Ansel Adams and the others who kept billboards, strip malls and housing tracts out of one of the most beautiful places on earth. [The Owings family was also instrumental in bringing California’s sea otters back from the brink of extinction, but that’s another post.]

    And as far as “I build a house here, then I block anyone else from doing the same” — try googling Big Sur Real Estate:

  8. @JRB
    I could not agree with you more, nail absolutely on the head, really woried about conservation? Then why did YOU desecrate the landscape with your erection!

  9. The California dream:
    step 1 – Built you dream house
    Step 2 – Campaign against further development.
    Step 3 – Complain about high taxes and high prices.
    Step 4 – Repeat Step 1 in new location.

  10. @JRB II Though it is a marvelous piece of architecture

  11. While I appreciate the sentiment of keeping out tract housing, strip malls and billboards, there’s a point where you’ve just become a jerk.

    Let me cue up my usual Coastal Commission rant…

  12. Art,

    Are you going to send over those links? or post them?

  13. If you have the money, you can have a house built in Big Sur. One of my friends from college (well, their family) has a vacation house there.

    It is a beautiful place and if you have the means and the drive, it can be done. But this is why Big Sur is so spectacular and serene…it is hard to build there as it is in many nice areas. Like Rancho Santa Fe (nightmare galore if you’re in the covenant), oceanfront anywhere in San Diego and other locals.

    People want it that way because that is what makes it so popular! Not like a strip mall over in Morgan Hill. I have no problem with Morgan Hill…nice town, actually quite scenic in the hills above town.

    But it’s no Big Sur and few places in the United States compare in terms of the sheer beauty.

    Be prepared to come with an open checkbook, because you’re going to need it to buy land and go through the planning process. And existing homes are, of course, expensive.

    But if you don’t have the money to build and/or buy a house in Big Sur, don’t complain….buy elsewhere. It is the strict limits on development that make it so special along with Rancho Santa Fe and the Art Jury committee.

  14. College Joe and Luisa, please see post #10.

    Anyone who builds a house in an area and then campaigns against further development in that areanshould be forced to give up ownership of their house. Let’s call it the “hypocrite law”.

  15. I don’t believe that and I have every right to do what I want with my money. People pay HOAs and are otherwise subjected to some sort of restrictions…CC, Art Jury for example. Ever looked into what it takes to build a house in Nantucket, Marthas Vineyard, East Hampton, Greenwich? It takes forever!

    I would love to home in Big Sur and if I’m ever able to, I will. And when I buy that house, a major concern will be the preservation of the land around me. I don’t need a lecture from anyone dictating what is moral and what is not.

    What do you expect the Big Sur owners to do? Create a campaign to tear down preservation laws and allow rampant construction?

    That would be ‘fair’ right?

  16. So I buy land in the Covenant of RSF and have to go through that slogging process to build a home…..why do I NOT have the right to preserve the ambiance of my neighborhood?

    It’s not all about keeping people out. It’s about keeping it the way it was when you bought it and most homeowners would agree.

    It is exactly these kinds of restrictions that make places like the covenant and Big Sur such special places.

    People should, and do, have a right to do what they want with their money and if they want to spend it on preserving the existing area….I don’t see the immorality of such an action.

  17. Can’t stand A frame homes. You can’t put bookcases against the walls.

    The books keep falling out! 🙂

    Also, I have to agree about the hypocrisy. If the owners were honest and stated they wanted to limit development to keep THEIR neck of the woods beautiful, then I wouldn’t have any problems with that.

    But to also claim you’re an “environmentalist” is about as hypocritical as the people who buy a Toyota Prius for “environmental reasons” despite the fact just building that pathetic excuse of a car generates even more environmental damage from its construction alone than a gas powered vehicle with decent fuel mileage would ever generate in its entire lifetime!

  18. The truth is, the house is beautiful and the location is magnificent and honestly most of you that wrote here including myself envy this liefestyle. Maybe one day we can do the same 🙂

  19. Owings hired a young architect from Carmel, Mark Mills, a buddy of Soleri, to design his house.

  20. G’day,
    I live overseas & have adored Wild Bird for years.

    And Margaret Owings concepts and- and-and, the list goes on.

    Would thoroughly enjoy a paid even tour of Wild Bird.

    Bry Sta

  21. Lamont is correct the house was designed by Mark Mills.


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