Designed in 1984 by James T. Hubbell, a San Diego-based architect known for his focus on blending art & architecture into the natural spaces, this non-denominational chapel sits on a tree-studded meadow off Highway 1, overlooking the Sonoma Coast.
Some call it the mushroom chapel for obvious reasons.
It’s actually made to resemble a whale in the sea, not a mushroom.
It’s a sanctuary for prayer, meditation, and spiritual renewal.
The Chapel is an example of the architect’s philosophy–to create unique living environments for humans to dwell in harmony with nature.
It’s open to the public daily, 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset. The project was built with local stone, as the artist’s focus was to utilize existing supplies and materials nearby whenever possible. The chapel walls provide the foundation on which the building appears to sit while the cedar roof structure undulates in unusual shapes. It is accented with copper and crowned with a bronze spire, echoing a nearby windswept tree.
Native redwood used throughout the interior is highlighted by teak doors.
Resembling the petals of a flower, an unusual plaster roof crowns the interior space, complete with graceful metalwork accents found in a chandelier and screen behind a prayer desk.
Local redwood was used for the seating, which is carved rather than installed as boards.
Sea Ranch residents Robert and Betty Buffum gave the chapel to the community as a gift.
They wanted something in their small ocean-front community that would offer an attractive place for meditation and spiritual renewal, while providing a point of interest for passers-by, as well.
They sought out internationally-known San Diegan James T. Hubbell when they viewed many options and decided his work would best be crafted into what they envisioned.
They asked him to create a masterpiece that would inspire all who passed by.
Hubbell assembled a team of local artists and craftsmen to create a structure that evoked a sense of harmony with its surroundings by echoing elements of the forest, meadow, and sky.
The 360-square-foot chapel and its grounds were gifts in memory of Kirk Ditzler, a navy pilot, zoologist, and artist. It was his drawings that formed the basis for the chapel’s design.
If you drive north from San Francisco, along the wildly beautiful Sonoma coast beyond the Russian River, you eventually arrive at Sea Ranch, CA. Stretching along 10 miles of rugged cliffs that hover above the crashing waves of the Pacific, this enclave of weathered weekend houses began as a unique experiment in design. Scattered over 4,000 acres, the community was planned in the idealistic spirit of the 1960s—it was a satellite, in a way, of the countercultural capitals of Berkeley and San Francisco, 100 miles to the south. Even the name—the Sea Ranch—conjured up a romantic utopia and spoke to the primacy of the natural surroundings, while the simple early houses, clad in boards or shingles, with shed roofs, nestled self-effacingly into the windswept meadows or forest hillsides. The highly prescribed architecture of the development meant that the structures were “not to be married to the site but to enter into a limited partnership with it,” as the original architects put it.
Those prescriptions were filed as detailed covenants with the property’s title in May 1965. Now, as the Sea Ranch celebrates its 50th anniversary, both newcomers and long-time residents are still grappling with the ideals set forth by its original planner, Lawrence Halprin (1916–2009), the landscape architect. He had been hired by Oceanic Properties, the Hawaii-based developer that bought the timber and grazing lands for $2.3 million in 1963, to plan a new town of second homes. Halprin’s enchanting hand-drawn sketches depict his careful study of the Sea Ranch’s winds, tides, sunlight, wildlife, and vegetation, and contain the powerful central ideas of the community he envisioned.
His principles were based on both natural and human ecology. He wanted to maintain the landscape, with its grasses and old cypress hedgerows—and to ban non-native plants and suburban-style lawns and to “avoid prettiness.” Even more important, his plans called for siting the unprepossessing houses in clusters that allowed open views of the sea and left large parts of the meadows as untouched common land for the community. “The usual curvilinear ‘cutesy-pie’ subdivision plan is anathema,” wrote Halprin, who was inspired by the model of the kibbutz and a belief that the Sea Ranch should attract a diverse socioeconomic group of residents.
For all the open, egalitarian philosophy behind the community, there was, inevitably, the scent of elitism wafting through the Bishop pines. Not only was it composed of second homes, but it was caught up in a bitter state-wide controversy over beach access. Amazingly, when the Sea Ranch was being planned in the early 1960s, only 100 miles of California’s 1,300-mile-long coastline was accessible to the public, and environmentalists feared this private patch of paradise would block beach access. Years of legislative and court battles put a damper on most new development here. By the time the issue was finally resolved in 1981—and public trails were cut through the property down to the shore—land values had soared. The Oceanic company sold out, and future development tended to stray from the Halprin concept of modest houses clustered together. The chapel is located on Hwy 1 at milepost 55.66, on the northbound side, across from a street named Bosun’s Reach, in Sea Ranch, CA.
Protecting and preserving historic, sacred, and sensitive sites should be practiced by all. Locations, directions, and names to some of the places found on this site are not listed, please don’t ask for them. Tread lightly, leave no trace and always respect the wonder that surrounds you.