At the Laird’s Landing historic site in the Point Reyes National Seashore 30 miles north of Druid Heights the National Park Service (NPS) has decided to remove the additions to the buildings that were made after what has been judged to be the place’s period of principle historic significance, 1890-1910.
At Druid Heights the NPS has set the period of significance from 1954, the year when Elsa Gidlow and the Somers family moved in until 1973, the year when Alan Watts died.
What follows is a brief attempt at imagining what following the example set at Laird’s Landing could mean for the buildings at Druid Heights. As the example of Laird’s Landing clearly shows, this is a possible future for Druid Heights. What the buildings would be used for once such a restoration was complete is an open question.
The four photos of The Mandala House at Druid Heights below are included because they clearly show the exterior of that building as it was in the 1970s and how it looks today. Its restoration would require the removal of some significant additions. Other buildings at Druid Heights would need similar removals of additions or else need to be demolished as they were built after 1973.
The Mandala House and roof, 1970s.
The Mandala House front side and roof, 2009
To imagine this future without getting bogged down in side issues we need to set aside any thoughts on whether the period of significance at Druid Heights should be extended beyond the year of Alan Watts’ death or whether the loss of later additions to buildings would be tragic. That is a different discussion.
In a nutshell the restoration of Druid Heights to how it was at the end of the 1954-1973 period of significance would mean the removal of all buildings and additions to buildings made after 1973. Even after all the time the author has spent studying Druid Heights he does not know how old some of additions and smaller buildings at Druid Heights are. But I know enough to have a pretty good sense of what that a return to the 1973 status would entail. Being a retired contractor also informs his opinions.
Before such a restoration was attempted all the buildings would need to be very well documented. It seems likely that given current technologies, besides a physical model of the buildings as they were prior to such a project a virtual model could be created that could allow one to experience them and the site.
The Mandala House Roger Somers many post-1973 alterations to the Mandala would need to be removed and most if not all the immediately adjacent acccesory structures would need to be demolished because they were not there in 1973. As seen in the photos I have added to this post the Mandala House, originally called the Casa Rondo after being built by Ed Stiles and when it was the home of Thea Gidlow, was originally a much simpler structure and there were few if any of the accessory buildings near it. I will guess that there are more photos of it taken during that time but Detlef Kotzte’s give us an idea of what it would look like on the exterior if restored.
The Library built for Alan Watts The small kitchen and bath at the rear of the library were added after Alan’s death and so would be removed. As I understand it the hot tub below the Library was also a later addition, so it would be removed along with all the plumbing. I am not sure if this was one of the tubs built at Druid Heights by Ed Stiles but even if it wasn’t it is said to be the one that Roger Somers was found to have died in, so I would feel it should be preserved elsewhere at Druid Heights along with other artifacts.
Elsa Gidlow’s House With, perhaps, the exception of some of the decks Elsa Gidlow’s house saw little or no alteration after 1973.
The Meditation Hut This was built for Elsa Gidlow in the early 1980s according to its builder, artist Detlef Kotzte. He has also told us that her intention was to add an extra sleeping space. Given its unique details and small size it seems that breaking with the 1973 cutoff date would be taking a small exception for a significant result. It also suggests that a better end of the period of significance would be the death of Elsa Gidlow in 1986.
The Old Chicken Barn, later the Stiles House There appear to have been some additions made to this house but I don’t know when they’re completed. Comparing the photos of it when it was a chicken barn to the way it is now it appears that they were fairly minor as to the overall size, so it seems likely that not much would need to be removed compared to the Mandala House. I don’t know to what extent there were post-1973 changes to the interior.
The cottage adjacent to the Stiles House As I understand it this was built after 1973, so this would need to be removed. I wince as I write that because though I have seen only one photo of the interior I find the exterior a very beautiful building.
Ed Stiles Woodworking Shop As a wood worker myself i find that between the setting and the workspace within this is one of the most beautiful workshops I have ever seen, and besides the shops I have actually visited i have a coffee table book full of others. But Ed built the shop well after Alan Watts death, so if Druid Heights was to be restored to its 1973 state it would need to be removed. More wincing on my part at the thought of taking down such a beautiful building but I have to be consistent.
Faye’s House This is by far the most complicated building at Druid Heights, by far the most poorly constructed of all the major buildings at Druid Heights and by far the building in the worst shape of all the larger buildings at Druid Heights. Portions of it were certainly there prior to 1973. The most important of those in my opinion would be what was the original workshop and the drafting later music room. I would argue that those two portions should be restored even if that means they need to be rebuilt from ground up because of their importance to the history of Druid Heights and the projects that were built there. Think everything Roger Somers built for installation elsewhere, think Gerd Stern’s sculpture in ’63, and think all of Ed Stiles work from his arrival at Druid Heights in 1965 through his building of his own shop in, I believe, 1978. Especially if Ed’s shop were to be demolished there would need to be a place to tell the story of wood working at Druid Heights. As a wood worker myself I have my biases but I don’t think I am off base on this.
The Twin Peaks House While the most striking details of the Twin Peaks House were built well before 1973 there seem to have been some later additions. The points of the “Peaks” themselves seem to have been extended by Roger Somers fairly late in his life. I have good reason to believe that the tiled shower in the bathroom may have been added after 1973 and that may also be true for the small back bedroom. Like everything I have suggested all would have to be confirmed but the main features of the house would be left intact.
The cottage that includes a remodeled Airstream Trailer According to the NPS the California State Office of Historic Preservation feels that this structure is of significance. I have not seen a written description of this building so I can’t comment beyond saying that if they have come to that conclusion they must have a good reason for it. It is possible that there are other structures at Druid Heights that they have decided similar on. We have yet to view the relevant documents.
The treeless tree fort There was once a platform built on tall poles at the east end of the central meadow at Druid Heights. It is visible in several photos. Besides being something for kids to play on I have been told that a famous Japanese violinist (still trying to get their name) did a performance for an audience on the ground below once upon a time. Give the structure’s simplicity it seems like a building a replica would be a valuable addition to a restored to 1973 appearances Druid Heights.
The water tank Since the Haapa family’s days at what was to become Druid Heights there has been a large water tank at Druid heights. Even if changes in the water source for Druid Heights were to happen (and that should happen because part of the current water source is the nearby creek) the tank should remain as long as it is still structurally sound. That could be indefinitely if the water is removed and a roof built over the top.
Other small structures There are other small structures at Druid Heights. Some appear to have been used as dwellings or detached bedrooms and others for storage. They all appear to be in pretty bad shape and many if not all were likely built after 1973, so they would need to be removed.