It’s been a long time since the days of Clint Eastwood’s mayoral stint in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Yep, you read that right, Clint Eastwood of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Kelly’s Heroes, and Million Dollar Baby was the nonpartisan mayor of the small Northern California town back in the ’80s, working to legalize the public consumption of ice cream and increase the town’s number of public restrooms and stairways to the beach.
Though Eastwood certainly took his civic duty more seriously than most, at that point his position in public office made sense, as it wasn’t odd to see more than a few celebrity faces floating among the fewer than 5,000 residents who made up the town’s population. Despite this A-list history, when news broke last week that Brad Pitt purchased a property in Carmel for $40 million, it certainly raised some eyebrows.
The Bullet Train star’s purchase offers a welcome refresh to Carmel-by-the-Sea’s long dormant position as a favorite getaway of Hollywood’s top celebrities, a mantel that has been held by Montecito, California, in recent decades. Doris Day was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the ’50s and ’60s, but when she chose to leave behind life on the silver screen in favor of animal rights activism, she chose Carmel as her home base.
In Carmel, Doris Day owned an 8.62-acre residential property for 38 years, until her death in 2019. Though the home’s vaulted ceilings, high windows, and bright yellow exterior are plenty to talk about, these details are overshadowed by the unique pet-friendly additions, which include a “cattery” where felines would reside and a canine-specific space with its own kitchen, walkways, and gardens. As is only natural for an activist, Day wanted to ensure that other pet and pet owners had access to similar accommodations. So, along with the two nonprofits she had at the time, she purchased the historic Cypress West Hotel in the mid-’80s, renamed it The Cypress Inn, and promptly prioritized its conversion to a totally pet-friendly space. At the time, pet-friendly accommodations were much less than common than they are now, so this move quickly put Carmel on the map as the home of the country’s most famous pet hotel.
Another Alfred Hitchcock–film actor, Kim Novak, also took a liking to quaint Carmel. In fact, her former property, which is built into the granite cliffside according to SF Gate, is to this day one of the most notable homes in the area. Betty White represented the small-screen-bound half of Hollywood in Carmel, owning the traditional-style spot she commissioned in 1981 until her death last year.
In the decades since Eastwood left his post in office, though, there’s been fewer and fewer celebrities paddling up the coast to spend time in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Especially in the last five years (since the premiere of Big Little Lies), Carmel has been overshadowed by the neighboring Monterey, where parts of the critically acclaimed HBO series were filmed.
Brad Pitt’s headline-making purchase has drawn attention to exactly what made Carmel so interesting in the first place—its gorgeous architecture. For such a small place, it is chockfull of architecturally interesting properties, including a seaside Frank Lloyd Wright home and work from prominent figures of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Greene and Greene. Pitt’s own home, known both as the D.L. James House and Seaward, is a historic structure designed by Greene and Greene themselves in 1918. The abode is particularly notable for its use of locally sourced granite and limestone, which gives its facade a sense of timelessness, as though it’s just as fundamental a part of its environment as the rocky cliff it sits on. No matter how you slice it, it would appear that Carmel may have many more days in the sun after all.