By ELLAH FOSTER
Samuel Finley Brown Morse was the man behind all that Carmel came to be.
If the name doesn’t ring a bell, how about Pebble Beach? Concours d’Elegance? Hotel Del Monte?
Arriving in the Monterey Peninsula in 1915, Morse was a pivotal part of creating the coast as it stands today. His grandson Charles Osborne recently published the book “Boss: The Story of S.F.B Morse, the Founder of Pebble Beach” at the end of 2018. Stories of lavish celebrity parties, bought-and-sold property and old-fashioned barroom brawls fill the 132 pages fit into 24 chapters.
“I decided to write the book about five years ago when a friend of mine asked me, ‘Well, why did Sam Morse do this?’” Osborne begins. “I said I didn’t know, but I thought I should dig in a little further.”
Coming to the area as a manager of the Pacific Improvement, which focused on properties like mines, hotels and other developments, Morse soon got involved in Hotel Del Monte. The area was just beginning to develop, lacking much more than a hotel complex and water company. The hotel that soon came to be was described by Osborne as a “bustling and end-destination resort” where guests would spend their days admiring the well-kept grounds and participating in the hotel’s plentiful outdoor activities, such as archery or swimming.
Eventually, Morse grew to control Pebble Beach and slowly transformed the coastal landscape in every way, from planting trees to plotting homes on the expansive property. With the novel’s history dating back to the 1700s, minute details included through it all, Osborne reminisces on how he first came up with the idea for the book, explaining that there had been a few attempts to write about Morse but that they simply hadn’t turned out. Upon realizing the novel’s potential, Osborne began his research, picking from a variety of sources.
“It took a lot of research.” Osborne smiles. “One thing is that he had written me what he called his memorabilia, kept in my mother’s garage. He was also a very public character, so there were a lot of news stories. All of those papers are in the Green Library at Stanford and the Historical Society in San Francisco.”
Among the dates, property exchanges and familial history are stories from the author’s mother, Mary Morse, and her experiences growing up. As an only child, Mary had an unusually elaborate childhood. Osborne comments on her friendship as a young girl with Salvador Dali and close encounters with stars such as Jean Harlow and Errol Flynn, even including the occasional president paying a visit.
Similar to his mother’s, Osborne explains that his youth was different than most others, grinning in remembrance of the “splendid isolation” that was growing up in Pebble Beach.
“The nearest neighbor was still far away, with only maybe 15 kids that lived within walking distance,” Osborne reminisces. “I would come over to Carmel for my friends and such. The ‘famous people’ part of it was cool. I remember a prince came to our house once, and he was about 65 years old. He was not my image of a prince and the first thing I said was ‘Well, he doesn’t look like a prince.’”
The book also details the intricacies of Morse himself and how he grew the property to what it is known as today.
While lesser-known than his career as a land developer and investor, Morse had a more creative side as an artist, fitting in with the quaint, bohemian community at the time. Incorporating that into his paying work, Morse often consulted artists for the layout, design and landscaping of the golf course.
Osborne goes on to laugh about how Morse once called back a group of landscapers who had planted trees on the Pebble Beach property, angry that they had been placed in a straight line and saying, “That’s not how trees grow!”
Morse also fancied himself a cowboy who loved a good brawl, as Osborne puts it. With the nickname to the public of “The Boss,” it doesn’t come as a surprise that Morse “never backed down from a fight,” Osborne writes.
From an undeveloped forest to a destination golf course, Morse transformed the community into the timeless vacation spot that it is today.
“Boss: The Story of S.F.B Morse” is available online on Amazon, as well as local bookstores such as River House Books, located in the Crossroads in Carmel.