clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Hidden Histories: Djerassi Artist Colony

Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed Contributor Alex Bevk highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it’s no longer there, maybe it’s been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.

Today's Hidden History actually comes from a reader tip:

I was on a backwoods motorcycle ride a while back and wandered across an interesting area on Bear Gulch Road. Heading north from 84, about three miles inland from the 1, you hit some private property. Google Maps hints at some sort of artist's colony nearby. The most intriguing thing about it is the name 'Bear Gulch'. Was this bear territory at one time? Who owns all this land? Anything exciting going on back there? Bear Gulch is actually the area surrounding the Bear Creek, which flows from the Santa Cruz Mountains down through Woodside, CA and ends near Stanford. Once part of a Mexican land grant, Americans named the area Bear Creek Gulch for Mexican War veteran James "Grizzly" Ryder's near fatal encounter with a California Grizzly bear.

Djerassi land off of Bear Gulch Road [Photo: Djerassi Resident Artists Program on Facebook]

The property our reader was asking about is the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. The place was founded back in 1979 by Stanford professor Dr. Carl Djerassi, one of the scientists from Syntex who invented the birth control pill back in the 1950s. The doctor made enough money to to purchase a tract of land in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which he called SMIP (Syntex Made It Possible....but renemed Sic Manebimus in Pace, or Thus We'll Remain in Peace, in 1970). After the doctor's artist daughter committed suicide, Djerassi and his second wife decided to open an artist's retreat, eventually converting the old farm buildings into studios and living quarters. The land is apparently peppered with sculptures from past artists.

Totally unrelated but fun fact - just a little further down the road is Neil Young's Broken Arrow Ranch, where the singer has lived since the 1970s. An SPIN article from 1995 describes is as:
a real ranch, with a foreman named Larry, cattle herds, and trucks with Broken Arrow Ranch stamped on their sides. But it's also a children's paradise, where peacocks step out into the middle of the road and llamas lounge on the grass. From the ridge Young has me drive to, you can see a canyon full of trees, a lake, several roads, and hills off into the distance. All his land. · Djerassi Resident Artist Program [Djerassi]
· Djerassi Resident Artist Program [Facebook]
· KQED set [Flickr]
· Neil Young interview in SPIN [ThrashersWheat]
· California Name Places [Google Books]