Plus Icon Location Big Sur, Calif. Plus Icon Year 1933
Big Sur is largely considered one of the most picturesque spots in the world. Comprising a 71-mile stretch of Central California coastline in between Carmel and San Simeon, the region is home to bucolic vista after bucolic vista. As such, it has become a frequent destination for filmmakers (not to mention influencers, much to locals’ chagrin). The area, with its jagged cliffs and hairpin-turn roadways, naturally lends itself to thrillers and dark dramas. “Play Misty For Me,” “Big Little Lies,” “Basic Instinct,” “Suspicion” and the 2020 Netflix series “Ratched” are just a few to take advantage of the striking scenery.
Sadly, Big Sur is also prone to frequent fires, mudslides and other natural disasters. In the past year alone, the region was devastated by both the Dolan Fire and the subsequent washing away of a large section of Highway 1 during a storm which cut off the area’s main – and in some cases only – thoroughfare for a whopping 86 days. And just this week Lucia Lodge, the historic motel that figured prominently in “Ratched,” was ravaged in a structural fire.
The quaint property, which sits perched atop a craggy bluff at 62400 CA-1, has long been a tourist and local favorite thanks to its stunning views, proximity to area attractions, popular roadside restaurant and historic past. So news of the blaze hit the community particularly hard.
The land where Lucia Lodge now stands was acquired by Indiana-born pioneer Wilber Judson Harlan in 1885 as part of a 167-acre parcel. Harlan, his wife, Ada, and their brood of ten children made their home on the site as well as utilizing it for the farming of barley, potatoes and wheat. Wilber also installed a sawmill on the premises, where he cut the redwood used to build his family’s two-story residence.
In the 1930s, Harlan leased a portion of his land to a man named Forest Delamater, who proceeded to build the Lucia Lodge there in 1933, doing much of the millwork and construction himself. When the portion of Highway 1 that runs through the area was finally completed in 1937 (after 18 years of construction!) it cemented the inn’s status as a quintessential roadside stop. The Harlan family eventually took over operation of the motel in 1964 and it remains in the family today, run by Wilber’s grandson, Kenneth James.
The secluded lodging consists of ten units – four freestanding cabins and six attached motel rooms – that are, by all accounts, austere. But what the place lacks in amenities, it makes up for in views! As noted on the Lucia Lodge website, “The accommodations are rustic in nature and offer neither telephones nor television. Rather, guests are treated to a romantic setting amid ever-changing seascapes and views of majestic mountains.”
The property has a bit of a unique set-up with its restaurant and general store situated alongside the highway and its motel rooms and cabins tucked away into a quiet cliffside about 600 feet away. It is the former that was gutted in the blaze.
Firefighters were called to the scene at 11:30 p.m. this past Tuesday and worked for hours to quell the inferno. Despite their efforts, the restaurant, known as Pacific Edge at Lucia, was completely ravaged and the adjacent market badly damaged.
It is an unfortunate loss for the area. Pacific Edge was not your typical roadside diner. Featuring patio seating as well as a handsome dining room, both overlooking the ocean some 300 feet below, almost everything served was homemade onsite daily. And the general store sold sundries and essentials, as well as art and jewelry sourced from local merchants. Most importantly, though, the sites were the only eatery and shop located along a lonely 30-mile stretch of road. As Erika Bratten reported for KION News Channel 5/46, “There’s not many places down Highway 1 between Gorda and the Coast Gallery, making Lucia Lodge a critical location and stop for food, grocery and public restrooms.”
Thankfully, the site’s cabins and motel rooms mercifully managed to escape the blaze unscathed. It is that area of the property that was prominently featured on “Ratched.”
Despite its beauty, the motel certainly has a gloomy cinematic appeal. Back in 1984, San Francisco Examiner staff writer Burr Snider wrote, “You’d swear you’d seen the setting in some brooding film noir classic, maybe a ‘40s dark Howard Hawks thriller: a small coastal roadside gas station-restaurant-store with a few cabins off to the side overlooking a steep cliff. You can almost hear the music swelling ominously.” So its use on “Ratched” must have been a no-brainer.
Audiences are first introduced to the motel, said to be the Sealight Inn at 129 Pacific Crest Rd., in the series’ first episode as Nurse Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) arrives in town and makes the place her temporary home. Mildred checks into Cabin 10 for the duration of her stay and the lodging was even selling commemorative Room 10 keychains for a time in honor of the cameo.
Of the locale, production designer Judy Becker told Town & Country magazine, “It’s amazing looking and when we saw it, I thought about ‘Psycho’ when she drives to the creepy motel in the middle of nowhere—I just knew we had to shoot there.”
The cast and crew spent only a few days filming onsite. Most scenes taking place at the inn were shot on a set constructed inside of a soundstage at 20th Century Fox Studios in Century City.
The set was built to be much larger than the actual motel and included a fictitious interior hallway leading to the front office with rooms on either side. As such, the onscreen rooms opened to both the outside and the corridor – a practical modification that allowed the many scenes involving Mildred venturing to and from the office to be shot at the studio in Los Angeles instead of on location in Big Sur.
Photo : Netflix
Clad in dark, shiny wood paneling and boasting a distinctive Art Deco feel, the “Ratched” rooms look nothing like those of the actual Lucia Lodge. Don’t go looking for the viridian curtains shading Mildred’s room anywhere on the premises either. Those were specially made by Becker for the set as a nod to the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. As she detailed to Town & Country, “There are secret Hitchcock references all over. One is the curtains in Nurse Ratched’s motel room. They’re a kind of fluorescent green, and that was something I saw in ‘Vertigo’ when Kim Novak is in her character’s crummy apartment and the curtains are green from the neon light outside. It was such an amazing shade and gave such an eerie look to the room. Ryan [Murphy] loved it, so we got tons of sheer green samples and we had a whole test process of stringing them up and lighting them from the back to see which glowed most like the green in ‘Vertigo.’”
Who needs specialty curtains, though, when there are views like these?