The Court of Mysteries on Fair Avenue in Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Coast Life

‘We did what we came to do — we saved it’: Court of Mysteries owners at peace with moving on

The pandemic sank Artina Morton and Douglas Harr’s plans for an “ohana compound” at their historic Westside property/passion project and made them realize how much work it would be for the two of them to keep up. But they’re not second-guessing their decision to sell — and they’re aiming to stick around Santa Cruz.

The Westside property known as the “Court of Mysteries” has sparked curiosity in Santa Cruz and beyond for decades, and a massive overhaul and building project there in recent years brought the historic space into sharper focus.

News that it was on the market less than 15 months after its owners crossed the finish line on that marathon project begged a new question: Why?

Why indeed, after years of often granularly detailed work at 515 Fair Ave. to restore the brick “temple” familiar to generations of locals and the construction of 3,000-plus-square foot home, plus a garage with an in-law unit and a lap pool, are Artina Morton and Douglas Harr ready to move on?

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The short answer, it turns out, is that it’s just too much for the two of them.

“There was just something telling us it just doesn’t make sense, just the two of us to be tackling this,” said Morton, a self-described Jill-of-all-trades mix of English major/artist/tech industry veteran/hairstylist, “because as you get older, maintaining a property of this size on your own, it gets to be a lot.”

After buying the property in 2016, Morton and Harr — who also has the tech industry in his background — began to focus on building what they called an “ohana compound,” with a home for them on one side of the courtyard and buildings for friends on the other.

Detail of the gate of the Court of Mysteries property on Santa Cruz's Westside.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

But their “we want to retire with our friends plan” dissipated amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as the friends got more rooted where they were sheltering in place and Harr and Morton got a handle on just what managing the property would entail for the two of them.

With the listing priced at $4.625 million and the property coming with some bureaucratic tethers given its historic status, the couple knows it will take just the right buyer — much as the overgrown, underloved property they bought in 2016 did.

Douglas Harr, one of the owners of the Court of Mysteries property in Santa Cruz.
Douglas Harr calls himself “a child of the Santas and Sans — San Fernando Valley, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, San Francisco.”
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“It could be anyone from a couple to a family of four and or beyond, maybe they have a grandmother who wants to stay in the unit above the garage,” Harr said. “It’s kind of a special thing — you see with the listing it’s a lot of money. So, you know, it’s going to be a certain kind of vibe.”

The couple’s next move hasn’t come into focus yet, but they’re aiming to stay in the area — maybe in Seabright or Midtown there’s a Craftsman in need of some Harr-Morton-style TLC — and keep tabs on this passion project.

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Given how much they’ve learned about the 515 Fair property from local historians and neighbors, Harr wouldn’t rule out putting together a book (though he’s got enough experience with that to say “it’s a great way to lose money.”); Morton says she’d love to be in touch with the next owners “just so that we can come by and say hi.”

Though “it’s a little bit of heartbreak to let it go,” Morton said, there’s no second-guessing.

Artina Morton, one of the property owners, describes herself as a "Jill of all trades."
Artina Morton describes herself as a “Jill of all trades,” a mix of English major, artist, tech industry veteran and hairstylist, with a side of general contracting knowledge.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“We’re just like, OK, let’s just go with that flow, and be at peace with letting this go, to someone who can love it for the next stage,” she said, “and just know that we did what we came to do.

“You make peace with things, and you know that sometimes you just let things go, like, ‘We did what we came to do. We saved it.’ It’s going to be secure for the next 100 years, and that makes us really happy.”