Esalen Origin Stories: Architecture at Esalen

Esalen Origin Stories
Architecture at Esalen: Building and Rebuilding
Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
The early Lodge.

"Have Reverence for all Living things." This was a saying of Selig Morgenrath, the human who set much of the physical foundation, configuring Esalen structures into the landscape. 

"He was the man responsible for the initial vision," said Ernest "Buzz" Montague, an early Esalen employee who lived in the Art Barn and worked with Selig on a number of projects, including the Esalen sign and the Fritz Point House. "If Dick [Price] and Michael [Murphy] were the management and spiritual foundations of Esalen, Selig was the architect of the grounds and buildings."

Pam Portugal Walatka, who came to live at Esalen in the late 60s and into the early 70s, recalls that Morgenrath “established what Esalen looks like and set the tone for what it remains today" while simultaneously recognizing the complicated (often charming) personal and professional duality that typically arises at Esalen: "[He was] a gray-haired, older, grouchy genius — a brilliant designer."

Morgenrath came to Big Sur Hot Springs ultimately acting as a handyman, artist, landscaper, rock wall builder, and more.

Photo by Sam Stern.

"My grandfather worked at Esalen from the time that it was known as Big Sur Hot Springs until his death," says Kyle Evans, Selig's grandson and a former Esalen staffer. Today, a rock plaque set between the Lodge and the swimming pool commemorates that lifetime of dedication with his motto as its inscription. "The rock walls, the buildings, the baths, the decks, the pool all had been actually built or deeply influenced by him before he died in 1977," shares Selig's daughter, Tara Evans. "His involvement in creating [Esalen] was the teapot for the tea."

Morgenrath wrote a manifesto in 1975 titled Toward a Total Ecology at Esalen, warning early on of the "crucial state of the world ecology and the environmental degradation" — nearly half a century ago. He was "the person most responsible for the early move toward the ecological," according to Michael Murphy. "This was when no one even knew what that word meant. We had the first ecological seminar here. We had to explain what it meant. Arguably, Selig planted the very first seeds.”

Another creative and design giant of Esalen’s history was Mickey Muennig. As “the unsung pioneer of California's iconoclastic organic architecture movement," he had an incredible impact on Esalen — though reportedly Esalen actually changed Muennig's life first. The acclaimed architect originally came to California to attend a Gestalt therapy workshop, "which was how he discovered the stretch of California coast — a huge pivot for him," explained David Price, son of co-founder Dick Price and former general manager of Esalen. (Muennig was already "very established" at that time: "We can't take credit for Mickey's success,” Price quickly added.) 

The original baths, photo by Paul Herbert.

Muennig would eventually be responsible for a number of architectural gems in the area: the Post Ranch Inn, the Hawthorne Gallery, the Psyllos House, the Pavey Residence, and many beautiful homes in the area. Muennig is now known as “the man who built Big Sur,” and his legacy includes saving one of the most treasured places on campus: the baths.  

After the El Nino storms destroyed the old redwood baths in 1998, Muennig conquered enormous challenges to design the current incarnation in keeping with his ecological style of embracing — never competing with — the area's awe-inspiring landscape and majestic views. Today's baths, completed in 2002, called forth "an elemental combination of glass, concrete, and steel perched above the surf," were built directly into the earth along vertical hillsides using concrete and sandstone for greater stability.

The baths as designed by Mickey Meunnig, photo by Emma Barry.

Another notable design shift transformed the Lodge and what was once the old Huxley meeting room. In 2014, it was announced that the Lodge would be renovated by Arkin-Tilt Architects. Change had not happened in decades as the core dining area design was initially built in 1939 by the Swedish architect Lennart Palme. 

Until 2014, the original Huxley was a meeting room located where the current bar sits. Named after writer Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception, Brave New World), an inspirational thinker for Michael Murphy and Dick Price, the space was elevated (physically and metaphorically) to a new second, upper level with increased size, expansive and porthole windows, a cushioned bamboo floor and geothermal pipes for heating. Always working toward sustainability, materials from the previous Huxley room were repurposed, including wood from ancient redwoods.

Huxley, elevated to the second story. Photo by Edward Caldwell.

Today, as one walks the grounds of Esalen, the current melange of structures harmoniously blends into the magnificent landscape — a testament to decades of work by visionary architects and designers who shaped this sacred place over the decades. The built environment here reflects a philosophy: Each element is carefully constructed from natural materials — an invitation for guests to always feel at one with the spectacular Big Sur setting and to fully experience the regenerative power of nature alongside extraordinary shelters. Here, architecture becomes not just about physical forms but a channel for cultivating deeper connections — to self, to others, and to the living world.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

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Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
The early Lodge.
Esalen Origin Stories: Architecture at Esalen
Esalen Origin Stories
Architecture at Esalen: Building and Rebuilding

"Have Reverence for all Living things." This was a saying of Selig Morgenrath, the human who set much of the physical foundation, configuring Esalen structures into the landscape. 

"He was the man responsible for the initial vision," said Ernest "Buzz" Montague, an early Esalen employee who lived in the Art Barn and worked with Selig on a number of projects, including the Esalen sign and the Fritz Point House. "If Dick [Price] and Michael [Murphy] were the management and spiritual foundations of Esalen, Selig was the architect of the grounds and buildings."

Pam Portugal Walatka, who came to live at Esalen in the late 60s and into the early 70s, recalls that Morgenrath “established what Esalen looks like and set the tone for what it remains today" while simultaneously recognizing the complicated (often charming) personal and professional duality that typically arises at Esalen: "[He was] a gray-haired, older, grouchy genius — a brilliant designer."

Morgenrath came to Big Sur Hot Springs ultimately acting as a handyman, artist, landscaper, rock wall builder, and more.

Photo by Sam Stern.

"My grandfather worked at Esalen from the time that it was known as Big Sur Hot Springs until his death," says Kyle Evans, Selig's grandson and a former Esalen staffer. Today, a rock plaque set between the Lodge and the swimming pool commemorates that lifetime of dedication with his motto as its inscription. "The rock walls, the buildings, the baths, the decks, the pool all had been actually built or deeply influenced by him before he died in 1977," shares Selig's daughter, Tara Evans. "His involvement in creating [Esalen] was the teapot for the tea."

Morgenrath wrote a manifesto in 1975 titled Toward a Total Ecology at Esalen, warning early on of the "crucial state of the world ecology and the environmental degradation" — nearly half a century ago. He was "the person most responsible for the early move toward the ecological," according to Michael Murphy. "This was when no one even knew what that word meant. We had the first ecological seminar here. We had to explain what it meant. Arguably, Selig planted the very first seeds.”

Another creative and design giant of Esalen’s history was Mickey Muennig. As “the unsung pioneer of California's iconoclastic organic architecture movement," he had an incredible impact on Esalen — though reportedly Esalen actually changed Muennig's life first. The acclaimed architect originally came to California to attend a Gestalt therapy workshop, "which was how he discovered the stretch of California coast — a huge pivot for him," explained David Price, son of co-founder Dick Price and former general manager of Esalen. (Muennig was already "very established" at that time: "We can't take credit for Mickey's success,” Price quickly added.) 

The original baths, photo by Paul Herbert.

Muennig would eventually be responsible for a number of architectural gems in the area: the Post Ranch Inn, the Hawthorne Gallery, the Psyllos House, the Pavey Residence, and many beautiful homes in the area. Muennig is now known as “the man who built Big Sur,” and his legacy includes saving one of the most treasured places on campus: the baths.  

After the El Nino storms destroyed the old redwood baths in 1998, Muennig conquered enormous challenges to design the current incarnation in keeping with his ecological style of embracing — never competing with — the area's awe-inspiring landscape and majestic views. Today's baths, completed in 2002, called forth "an elemental combination of glass, concrete, and steel perched above the surf," were built directly into the earth along vertical hillsides using concrete and sandstone for greater stability.

The baths as designed by Mickey Meunnig, photo by Emma Barry.

Another notable design shift transformed the Lodge and what was once the old Huxley meeting room. In 2014, it was announced that the Lodge would be renovated by Arkin-Tilt Architects. Change had not happened in decades as the core dining area design was initially built in 1939 by the Swedish architect Lennart Palme. 

Until 2014, the original Huxley was a meeting room located where the current bar sits. Named after writer Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception, Brave New World), an inspirational thinker for Michael Murphy and Dick Price, the space was elevated (physically and metaphorically) to a new second, upper level with increased size, expansive and porthole windows, a cushioned bamboo floor and geothermal pipes for heating. Always working toward sustainability, materials from the previous Huxley room were repurposed, including wood from ancient redwoods.

Huxley, elevated to the second story. Photo by Edward Caldwell.

Today, as one walks the grounds of Esalen, the current melange of structures harmoniously blends into the magnificent landscape — a testament to decades of work by visionary architects and designers who shaped this sacred place over the decades. The built environment here reflects a philosophy: Each element is carefully constructed from natural materials — an invitation for guests to always feel at one with the spectacular Big Sur setting and to fully experience the regenerative power of nature alongside extraordinary shelters. Here, architecture becomes not just about physical forms but a channel for cultivating deeper connections — to self, to others, and to the living world.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

Esalen Origin Stories: Architecture at Esalen

About

Esalen Team

< Back to all articles

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
The early Lodge.
Esalen Origin Stories
Architecture at Esalen: Building and Rebuilding

"Have Reverence for all Living things." This was a saying of Selig Morgenrath, the human who set much of the physical foundation, configuring Esalen structures into the landscape. 

"He was the man responsible for the initial vision," said Ernest "Buzz" Montague, an early Esalen employee who lived in the Art Barn and worked with Selig on a number of projects, including the Esalen sign and the Fritz Point House. "If Dick [Price] and Michael [Murphy] were the management and spiritual foundations of Esalen, Selig was the architect of the grounds and buildings."

Pam Portugal Walatka, who came to live at Esalen in the late 60s and into the early 70s, recalls that Morgenrath “established what Esalen looks like and set the tone for what it remains today" while simultaneously recognizing the complicated (often charming) personal and professional duality that typically arises at Esalen: "[He was] a gray-haired, older, grouchy genius — a brilliant designer."

Morgenrath came to Big Sur Hot Springs ultimately acting as a handyman, artist, landscaper, rock wall builder, and more.

Photo by Sam Stern.

"My grandfather worked at Esalen from the time that it was known as Big Sur Hot Springs until his death," says Kyle Evans, Selig's grandson and a former Esalen staffer. Today, a rock plaque set between the Lodge and the swimming pool commemorates that lifetime of dedication with his motto as its inscription. "The rock walls, the buildings, the baths, the decks, the pool all had been actually built or deeply influenced by him before he died in 1977," shares Selig's daughter, Tara Evans. "His involvement in creating [Esalen] was the teapot for the tea."

Morgenrath wrote a manifesto in 1975 titled Toward a Total Ecology at Esalen, warning early on of the "crucial state of the world ecology and the environmental degradation" — nearly half a century ago. He was "the person most responsible for the early move toward the ecological," according to Michael Murphy. "This was when no one even knew what that word meant. We had the first ecological seminar here. We had to explain what it meant. Arguably, Selig planted the very first seeds.”

Another creative and design giant of Esalen’s history was Mickey Muennig. As “the unsung pioneer of California's iconoclastic organic architecture movement," he had an incredible impact on Esalen — though reportedly Esalen actually changed Muennig's life first. The acclaimed architect originally came to California to attend a Gestalt therapy workshop, "which was how he discovered the stretch of California coast — a huge pivot for him," explained David Price, son of co-founder Dick Price and former general manager of Esalen. (Muennig was already "very established" at that time: "We can't take credit for Mickey's success,” Price quickly added.) 

The original baths, photo by Paul Herbert.

Muennig would eventually be responsible for a number of architectural gems in the area: the Post Ranch Inn, the Hawthorne Gallery, the Psyllos House, the Pavey Residence, and many beautiful homes in the area. Muennig is now known as “the man who built Big Sur,” and his legacy includes saving one of the most treasured places on campus: the baths.  

After the El Nino storms destroyed the old redwood baths in 1998, Muennig conquered enormous challenges to design the current incarnation in keeping with his ecological style of embracing — never competing with — the area's awe-inspiring landscape and majestic views. Today's baths, completed in 2002, called forth "an elemental combination of glass, concrete, and steel perched above the surf," were built directly into the earth along vertical hillsides using concrete and sandstone for greater stability.

The baths as designed by Mickey Meunnig, photo by Emma Barry.

Another notable design shift transformed the Lodge and what was once the old Huxley meeting room. In 2014, it was announced that the Lodge would be renovated by Arkin-Tilt Architects. Change had not happened in decades as the core dining area design was initially built in 1939 by the Swedish architect Lennart Palme. 

Until 2014, the original Huxley was a meeting room located where the current bar sits. Named after writer Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception, Brave New World), an inspirational thinker for Michael Murphy and Dick Price, the space was elevated (physically and metaphorically) to a new second, upper level with increased size, expansive and porthole windows, a cushioned bamboo floor and geothermal pipes for heating. Always working toward sustainability, materials from the previous Huxley room were repurposed, including wood from ancient redwoods.

Huxley, elevated to the second story. Photo by Edward Caldwell.

Today, as one walks the grounds of Esalen, the current melange of structures harmoniously blends into the magnificent landscape — a testament to decades of work by visionary architects and designers who shaped this sacred place over the decades. The built environment here reflects a philosophy: Each element is carefully constructed from natural materials — an invitation for guests to always feel at one with the spectacular Big Sur setting and to fully experience the regenerative power of nature alongside extraordinary shelters. Here, architecture becomes not just about physical forms but a channel for cultivating deeper connections — to self, to others, and to the living world.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

< Back to all Journal posts

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
The early Lodge.
Esalen Origin Stories: Architecture at Esalen
Esalen Origin Stories
Architecture at Esalen: Building and Rebuilding

"Have Reverence for all Living things." This was a saying of Selig Morgenrath, the human who set much of the physical foundation, configuring Esalen structures into the landscape. 

"He was the man responsible for the initial vision," said Ernest "Buzz" Montague, an early Esalen employee who lived in the Art Barn and worked with Selig on a number of projects, including the Esalen sign and the Fritz Point House. "If Dick [Price] and Michael [Murphy] were the management and spiritual foundations of Esalen, Selig was the architect of the grounds and buildings."

Pam Portugal Walatka, who came to live at Esalen in the late 60s and into the early 70s, recalls that Morgenrath “established what Esalen looks like and set the tone for what it remains today" while simultaneously recognizing the complicated (often charming) personal and professional duality that typically arises at Esalen: "[He was] a gray-haired, older, grouchy genius — a brilliant designer."

Morgenrath came to Big Sur Hot Springs ultimately acting as a handyman, artist, landscaper, rock wall builder, and more.

Photo by Sam Stern.

"My grandfather worked at Esalen from the time that it was known as Big Sur Hot Springs until his death," says Kyle Evans, Selig's grandson and a former Esalen staffer. Today, a rock plaque set between the Lodge and the swimming pool commemorates that lifetime of dedication with his motto as its inscription. "The rock walls, the buildings, the baths, the decks, the pool all had been actually built or deeply influenced by him before he died in 1977," shares Selig's daughter, Tara Evans. "His involvement in creating [Esalen] was the teapot for the tea."

Morgenrath wrote a manifesto in 1975 titled Toward a Total Ecology at Esalen, warning early on of the "crucial state of the world ecology and the environmental degradation" — nearly half a century ago. He was "the person most responsible for the early move toward the ecological," according to Michael Murphy. "This was when no one even knew what that word meant. We had the first ecological seminar here. We had to explain what it meant. Arguably, Selig planted the very first seeds.”

Another creative and design giant of Esalen’s history was Mickey Muennig. As “the unsung pioneer of California's iconoclastic organic architecture movement," he had an incredible impact on Esalen — though reportedly Esalen actually changed Muennig's life first. The acclaimed architect originally came to California to attend a Gestalt therapy workshop, "which was how he discovered the stretch of California coast — a huge pivot for him," explained David Price, son of co-founder Dick Price and former general manager of Esalen. (Muennig was already "very established" at that time: "We can't take credit for Mickey's success,” Price quickly added.) 

The original baths, photo by Paul Herbert.

Muennig would eventually be responsible for a number of architectural gems in the area: the Post Ranch Inn, the Hawthorne Gallery, the Psyllos House, the Pavey Residence, and many beautiful homes in the area. Muennig is now known as “the man who built Big Sur,” and his legacy includes saving one of the most treasured places on campus: the baths.  

After the El Nino storms destroyed the old redwood baths in 1998, Muennig conquered enormous challenges to design the current incarnation in keeping with his ecological style of embracing — never competing with — the area's awe-inspiring landscape and majestic views. Today's baths, completed in 2002, called forth "an elemental combination of glass, concrete, and steel perched above the surf," were built directly into the earth along vertical hillsides using concrete and sandstone for greater stability.

The baths as designed by Mickey Meunnig, photo by Emma Barry.

Another notable design shift transformed the Lodge and what was once the old Huxley meeting room. In 2014, it was announced that the Lodge would be renovated by Arkin-Tilt Architects. Change had not happened in decades as the core dining area design was initially built in 1939 by the Swedish architect Lennart Palme. 

Until 2014, the original Huxley was a meeting room located where the current bar sits. Named after writer Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception, Brave New World), an inspirational thinker for Michael Murphy and Dick Price, the space was elevated (physically and metaphorically) to a new second, upper level with increased size, expansive and porthole windows, a cushioned bamboo floor and geothermal pipes for heating. Always working toward sustainability, materials from the previous Huxley room were repurposed, including wood from ancient redwoods.

Huxley, elevated to the second story. Photo by Edward Caldwell.

Today, as one walks the grounds of Esalen, the current melange of structures harmoniously blends into the magnificent landscape — a testament to decades of work by visionary architects and designers who shaped this sacred place over the decades. The built environment here reflects a philosophy: Each element is carefully constructed from natural materials — an invitation for guests to always feel at one with the spectacular Big Sur setting and to fully experience the regenerative power of nature alongside extraordinary shelters. Here, architecture becomes not just about physical forms but a channel for cultivating deeper connections — to self, to others, and to the living world.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

Esalen Origin Stories: Architecture at Esalen

About

Esalen Team

< Back to all articles

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
The early Lodge.
Esalen Origin Stories
Architecture at Esalen: Building and Rebuilding

"Have Reverence for all Living things." This was a saying of Selig Morgenrath, the human who set much of the physical foundation, configuring Esalen structures into the landscape. 

"He was the man responsible for the initial vision," said Ernest "Buzz" Montague, an early Esalen employee who lived in the Art Barn and worked with Selig on a number of projects, including the Esalen sign and the Fritz Point House. "If Dick [Price] and Michael [Murphy] were the management and spiritual foundations of Esalen, Selig was the architect of the grounds and buildings."

Pam Portugal Walatka, who came to live at Esalen in the late 60s and into the early 70s, recalls that Morgenrath “established what Esalen looks like and set the tone for what it remains today" while simultaneously recognizing the complicated (often charming) personal and professional duality that typically arises at Esalen: "[He was] a gray-haired, older, grouchy genius — a brilliant designer."

Morgenrath came to Big Sur Hot Springs ultimately acting as a handyman, artist, landscaper, rock wall builder, and more.

Photo by Sam Stern.

"My grandfather worked at Esalen from the time that it was known as Big Sur Hot Springs until his death," says Kyle Evans, Selig's grandson and a former Esalen staffer. Today, a rock plaque set between the Lodge and the swimming pool commemorates that lifetime of dedication with his motto as its inscription. "The rock walls, the buildings, the baths, the decks, the pool all had been actually built or deeply influenced by him before he died in 1977," shares Selig's daughter, Tara Evans. "His involvement in creating [Esalen] was the teapot for the tea."

Morgenrath wrote a manifesto in 1975 titled Toward a Total Ecology at Esalen, warning early on of the "crucial state of the world ecology and the environmental degradation" — nearly half a century ago. He was "the person most responsible for the early move toward the ecological," according to Michael Murphy. "This was when no one even knew what that word meant. We had the first ecological seminar here. We had to explain what it meant. Arguably, Selig planted the very first seeds.”

Another creative and design giant of Esalen’s history was Mickey Muennig. As “the unsung pioneer of California's iconoclastic organic architecture movement," he had an incredible impact on Esalen — though reportedly Esalen actually changed Muennig's life first. The acclaimed architect originally came to California to attend a Gestalt therapy workshop, "which was how he discovered the stretch of California coast — a huge pivot for him," explained David Price, son of co-founder Dick Price and former general manager of Esalen. (Muennig was already "very established" at that time: "We can't take credit for Mickey's success,” Price quickly added.) 

The original baths, photo by Paul Herbert.

Muennig would eventually be responsible for a number of architectural gems in the area: the Post Ranch Inn, the Hawthorne Gallery, the Psyllos House, the Pavey Residence, and many beautiful homes in the area. Muennig is now known as “the man who built Big Sur,” and his legacy includes saving one of the most treasured places on campus: the baths.  

After the El Nino storms destroyed the old redwood baths in 1998, Muennig conquered enormous challenges to design the current incarnation in keeping with his ecological style of embracing — never competing with — the area's awe-inspiring landscape and majestic views. Today's baths, completed in 2002, called forth "an elemental combination of glass, concrete, and steel perched above the surf," were built directly into the earth along vertical hillsides using concrete and sandstone for greater stability.

The baths as designed by Mickey Meunnig, photo by Emma Barry.

Another notable design shift transformed the Lodge and what was once the old Huxley meeting room. In 2014, it was announced that the Lodge would be renovated by Arkin-Tilt Architects. Change had not happened in decades as the core dining area design was initially built in 1939 by the Swedish architect Lennart Palme. 

Until 2014, the original Huxley was a meeting room located where the current bar sits. Named after writer Aldous Huxley (The Doors of Perception, Brave New World), an inspirational thinker for Michael Murphy and Dick Price, the space was elevated (physically and metaphorically) to a new second, upper level with increased size, expansive and porthole windows, a cushioned bamboo floor and geothermal pipes for heating. Always working toward sustainability, materials from the previous Huxley room were repurposed, including wood from ancient redwoods.

Huxley, elevated to the second story. Photo by Edward Caldwell.

Today, as one walks the grounds of Esalen, the current melange of structures harmoniously blends into the magnificent landscape — a testament to decades of work by visionary architects and designers who shaped this sacred place over the decades. The built environment here reflects a philosophy: Each element is carefully constructed from natural materials — an invitation for guests to always feel at one with the spectacular Big Sur setting and to fully experience the regenerative power of nature alongside extraordinary shelters. Here, architecture becomes not just about physical forms but a channel for cultivating deeper connections — to self, to others, and to the living world.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team