House Built of Bridge Timbers in Big Sur

In 1968, I moved from Mill Valley to Big Sur and worked as foreman on a job building this house out of bridge timbers. The architect was George Brook-Kothlow. George had purchased all the bridge timbers from the town of Duncan’s Mills on the Russian River; they tore down the redwood bridge to build one of concrete, and George had hand-hewn 12 × 12 posts, 16-foot-long 6-by-16s and 16-foot-long 8-by-22s.

Carpenters Paul and Seth Wingate went down with me and we lived on the site, Rancho Rico, a 400-acre ranch with two private beaches. We remodeled some chicken coops for living quarters.

I spent about a year on the project. It was a struggle. We had to splice together two 8-by-22s for the 32-foot-long rafters, and lift them into place with a boom on the back of the ranch backhoe. There were 11 concrete pours for the foundation, each one coming 40 miles down the winding coast from Monterey. I quit after we got the building framed.

About 10 years ago, I went down for a visit. The family had moved into the chicken coops and they were renting the house for $13,000 a month.

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

3 Responses to House Built of Bridge Timbers in Big Sur

  1. Hey, I’d love to see a photo of the chicken coop. I stayed with you guys one night after you gave me a lift down the coast. Dropped me off the next morning with a bag of cookies and instructions to find the tunnel at Partington Canyon. That visit changed my life in many ways, so thank you for stopping. Do I remember correctly that you had a harpsichord in the chicken coop?

  2. I’m lovin’ these look-backs Lloyd, great reminders of how it was – like you, I’m an octo who has spent his life on the left coast (mostly Oregon, but I’ve lived/visited in most of it).

  3. We run a small 63 year old public aquarium on Washington State Coast. The man who built the aquarium with his family in 1957 is now an oyster farmer, not too far away from the aquarium. In 1957 when they built the aquarium they used timbers from the Elks River Bridge for the ceiling joists. They replaced the Elks River Bridge with a new concrete bridge also. Your story about the beatiful house above in Big Sur reminded me of the bridge timbers in the aquarium. We also used some old timbers from a 100 year old fish packing company in Aberdeen. The building had a fire and the city urged us to get rid of the timbers (about a square foot thick). We took them out, planed off the cm of charred outside, put some polyurithane on them, and created a weight baring wall with them in the aquarium. Gorgous wood! They just don’t seem to make trees like that anymore 🙂 Fires have a hard time burning wood that solid. I didn’t realize til I moved out to this area that Aberdeen, WA supplied a lot of the wood for the re-building of SanFrancisco after the great earthquake in 1906. All of that wood Aberdeen sold, created a boom town at that time, and there are some beautiful buildings in the area from that time period. Great surfing out here by the way, I thought of your newsletter comments about crowded beaches everywhere. Come on a week night in the summer at sunset. I am sure it will be you and a few others to the whole beach.

Leave a Reply