Monterey County California Genealogy and History

Monterey County: Biographies


It has long been recognized that Edward G. Kuster, a retired lawyer and the projector, builder and proprietor of the Theater of the Golden Bough at Carmel-by-the-Sea, has been one of the dominant individual factors in the social and cultural development of that delightful resort which has done so much to add to the attractive values of this favored section of California. When Mr. Kuster entered upon this "adventure" in the field of theatricals there was much speculation regarding the outcome of the plans he had announced to some of his choice friends, and it was thus that on the night the unique and beautiful Theater of the Golden Bough was opened that distinctive little playhouse proved itself quite inadequate to contain all who desired admittance, so that repeated performances of the opening engagement had to be given.

As was pointed out by an experienced reviewer at the time, Mr. Kuster's playhouse combines all of the newer ideas and ideals in theater construction and is the product of years of study, much experiment, the wise expenditure of money and the exercise of good taste and intelligence. Much of interest, too, attached to the personality of the man who put his money and his ideals into this handsome theater built on the sands of Carmel, away from the track of commerce, a plaything with a serious purpose. Mr. Kuster belongs to the Los Angeles family oi that name, a family of wealth and influence. He was a lawyer for nineteen years and then gave up a practice that had grown to large proportions, cast his fortunes with those of the people of Carmel and set about developing that quaint spot. He was always fascinated by the theater and, relieved from business cares, proceeded to indulge his fancy by erecting this home of the drama, with the result that in the bringing about of the Theater of the Golden Bough he has created a playhouse as much unlike the usual theaters of the commercial managers or even those dilettante things, the Little Theaters-except for the fact that it is a place where plays are staged and people assemble to see them-as it is possible to imagine. The critical press of California has carried far and wide the special message conveyed by Mr. Kuster's experiment in cultural and dramatic expression, tourists have carried this message even farther and the same is familiar to all hereabout, but no verbal description can convey fully the impression of restful content carried to the consciousness of the thoughtful and discriminating patron of this unique home of the drama, with all its subtle tones of color and effect, the sheer artistry of its architecture and the amazing effectiveness of the cunning stagecraft there employed.

When asked where he got his idea for his unique architectural effects, Mr. Kuster said that he had hunted quite a while and finally discovered in the architecture of the Lombards, those savages who overran Italy in the seventh and eighth centuries, just what he wanted. "They found Christianity in Italy," he said, "and they built churches which they thought were Christian but which were really pagan temples, and that is the model on which I built my theater. I remembered Percey Mackaye's words in 'The Civic Theater. It should be a 'serene and joyous temple,' and that is what I hope the Theater of the Golden Bough will be."

As set out by one of the newspapers at the time of the opening of this interesting experimental playhouse Mr. Kuster, contrary to common report, got one of his ideas from visiting the new homes of the drama in Europe. "I haven't been abroad since I was ten years old," he said, "and I am forty-six now. I was always interested in the theater. My family believed it was part of life to love good plays and good music. When I was a boy in high school I used to sit in the gallery every Saturday to see some play.

"I took up law and practiced in Los Angeles from 1900 to 1919, and I was successful in its practice but somehow it did not make life complete for me. I never played around with amateurs but by chance Ruth St. Denis became a client of mine when she was preparing to open Denishawn and in a way that was an outlet for my longing for the theater. When she gave the Ballet of the Nations in the Greek Theater in Berkeley I stage-managed it, using another name, so that my clients had no idea I had other interests. Then I chanced on Gordon Craig's first book and I felt that I had found what I had been reaching out after, but did not know how to formulate.

"When the war came on I began preparations for service, gradually getting out of my practice as a lawyer until I had closed out everything and gone into the coast guard and was waiting to go over seas, which I did not do, however. A spell of influenza came just as I was mustered out and I spent six months in the Hawaiian Islands, getting well and deciding on my future. Should I go back into the law, from which I was released, or should I take up the work that was very dear to my heart? I had some property in Carmel, and my wife and I finally decided to make our home here. The people were congenial, the climate ideal; and we have been very happy here. Two years ago I found myself ready to begin work on my theater. I had been working with Arts and Crafts and with the Forest Theater, but there was need for a better theater. The Arts and Crafts did not care to undertake it and were satisfied with what they had, so I determined to build my own house along new lines. I went to architects, men who had built theaters, and they said my ideas were impossible. I therefore made the plans myself, contracted for everything, and the Theater of the Golden Bough is the result."

Source: History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California's history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1925, 890 pgs.