A Place to Call Home: History with a touch of mystery in Cardiff-by-the-Sea

I first became enamored with the name Cardiff-by-the-Sea in the ‘60s while living in Claremont, but it was 20 years and three states later before returning to California to settle in this community with the beguiling name.

Immediately I got involved with the Cardiff Chamber of Commerce, and was very interested to know how the name came about. I soon discovered that J. Frank Cullen, who founded the area, wished to develop it as an artist colony with streets having Spanish names.

Columnist Irene Kratzer is wondering who crafted the fireplace at the J. Frank Cullen house in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Photo by Ken Harrison

Columnist Irene Kratzer is wondering who crafted the fireplace at the J. Frank Cullen house in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Photo by Ken Harrison

However, Mrs. Cullen convinced him otherwise, so Cambridge, Chesterfield, Edinburg (though it is spelled Edinburgh in the United Kingdom) are just some of our street names.

In searching through old photos and news clippings, I found a picture of Cullen’s house.  It is a picture that many of you have seen and it appears that the house is very near the ocean.

So having no further information, I assumed it had been torn down.  It took Mark Gubb, a visitor from Cardiff, Wales to inform Ken Harrison and myself that in fact the Cullen house still existed on the northwest corner of Oxford Avenue and Norfolk Drive.

Mark gave us the present owners name, we were able to make contact and he graciously invited Ken and myself for a tour.

It has been beautifully preserved, is a bit larger than the original, which by the way was a model for the homes that Cullen intended to build in his new community.

It has a large, well-kept yard and the current owner has planted a passion fruit plant in keeping with the ones that Victor Kremer grew for jams and jellies before they were destroyed by frost.

Kremer developed the Composer District and is credited with adding “by-the-sea” to our name from the song.

On entering the home I felt a connection to what it must have been like to be the first and only home on the hill with an unbelievable view of the blue Pacific.  The owners pointed out the original size, which was one large room, a living/dining combo with fireplace, a bedroom, kitchen plus an upstairs.

The additions include a bathroom and modern kitchen with an enclosed porch across the front facing the ocean.  The reason it appears to be on the ocean in old pictures is that there were no houses or greenery in front, causing the ocean to appear much closer.

Outside in the carport one could easily visualize a 1911 Ford nestled there.

Ken and I were both impressed with the workmanship of the fireplace chimney and would be interested to know the name of the mason who crafted it because it is a beautiful work of art.

In speaking with Author Chris Ahrens, as a friend of the original owners, he remembered visiting there on many occasions.

The Cardiff-by-the-Sea Library Community Room has a picture of J. Frank and Esther Cullen and now it is easy to visualize them living in their house on the hill overlooking the sea in the early 1900s.

After being fascinated with the name, plus digging into the history, it was indeed lucky when a visitor from our unofficial twin town of Cardiff, Wales was able to introduce us to this fascinating lost link.

Every day in every way it is indeed wonderful to live in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, the place we are all pleased to call home.

A founding and life member as well as past president and current board member of the of the Friends of the Cardiff-by-the-Sea Library, Irene has lived here since 1982.

1 Comment
  1. Phyllis James 6 months ago

    Hello Irene,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your informative and interesting article. I am going to share with Diane. When or if I am able to visit perhaps we can drive by this residence.

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