McWay Falls and Julia Pfeiffer Cove with sunset light on California’s Big Sur Coast.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is located on California’s famed Big Sur coast, about 40 miles south of Carmel, California. The Park is located on the former Saddle Rock Ranch homesteaded by Christopher and Rachel McWay from the late 1870’s-1924. The 1,600 acre ranch was purchased by Lathrop and Helene Hooper Brown in 1924. Lathrop Brown was a wealthy united States Representative from the state of New York who ,coincidentally, was roommates with Franklin Delano Roosevelt while attending Harvard University. In 1910, at the age of 15, Helene Hooper Brown became an orphan and simultaneously inherited $10,000,000. Her inheritance had been amassed through the Ames Shovel Company which became wildly successful because of the need for shovels during the California Gold Rush and the United States Civil War. Her family also had significant interests in the railroad and banking industries.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns was the the daughter of Big Sur pioneering homesteader, Michael Pfeiffer. She married John Burns in 1914 and leased land for cattle ranching from Helene and Lathrop Brown. Helene and Julia became close friends until Julia’s death in 1928.
Helene and Lathrop built a redwood cabin on top of the cliffs that view down upon McWay Falls. They later built the their Waterfall House on the same site. It had ornate fixtures of gold and brass and was lavishly decorated with artwork by Gauguin, Dufy and Degas. The house included a 16 ft wide marble staircase, elegant furniture, and giant windows aha overlooked the Pacific Ocean. Helene’s bedroom included views of McWay Falls, far below.
Lathrop and Helene left Big Sur for Florida in 1956 where Lathrop died in 1959. In 1961, Helene donated the estate to the State of California with the agreement that it would would become a state park named after her dear friend, Julia Pfeiffer Burns.
The 80 foot tall McWay Falls is the only waterfall on the Big Sur Coast that drops directly into the Pacific Ocean. The beach below McWay Falls is not accessible via Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The Burns’ “Waterfall House” was demolished in 1965 but the footprint of the house and adjacent gardens are accessible to park visitors. I captured this beautiful image of Julia Pfeiffer Cove and McWay Falls with my large format 4×5 film camera at sunset while traveling the Big Sur Coast with my amazing daughter Emma and her good friend, Zoe. For purchasing information about this print, please visit, Big Sur Fine art photograph.