7 minute read

At Home: The Simpsons

The Carmel Cottage A Cozy Retreat

Story by Rachel Trigueiro | Photos by Dakota Jacobi

When the 1930s Dust Bowl pushed them out, thousands of Great Plains residents sought out a new place to call home. Visalia’s fertile soil became a landing place for many, bringing diversity and an abundance of experience to the Central Valley. When discussing their beloved history-filled neighborhood, Stan Simpson says much of Visalia’s storied past was shaped into what it is today because of the vision of the forefathers and the promise of opportunity for those migrating from the Great Plains—a phenomenon that created a gem, here in the heart of California.

In one of Visalia’s prominent downtown neighborhoods with towering Valley oaks and lush Ginkgo biloba sits Stan and Wendy Simpson’s Spanish-style home. The well-known Buckman house was built by Stan’s grandparents, C. T. “Buck” and Edna Buckman, in 1931. In 1995, the Simpsons bought the two-story home, expanding it to fit their grand visions of hosting guests and celebrities visiting the Valley while keeping its recognizable front. From politicians to musicians, well-known athletes to actors, the Buckman home has held countless events and fundraisers for local organizations.

East of the Buckman house lies a charming guest house, lovingly referred to by Stan and Wendy as the Carmel Cottage. After the home passed through several owners’ hands following its initial 1935 build, the Simpsons purchased it with plans to remodel the interior. Once demolition was underway, unforeseen problems required the house to be leveled and rebuilt; the Simpsons, however, maintained its original footprint, elevation, and 400 sq ft basement. The lines of the home and the unique Carmel stone covering the façade fulfilled, in part, Wendy’s dream of owning a Carmel cottage. Purchased in 2018, construction on the house finished just before Covid in 2020, making for a perfect minigetaway. “When everything shut down, Stan and I would come over to the cottage to have dinner. It was nice to have a little place to escape,” Wendy says.

With the large main bedroom overlooking a covered porch and a backyard perfect for entertaining, the 1700 sq ft cottage holds two bedrooms and two baths, with a gate connecting the two landmark properties. The Simpsons’ dream for the Carmel Cottage was to be a central place for friends and family to enjoy life together over good food and drink, and that’s precisely what it’s become. The cottage has already hosted many special occasions, from Wendy’s Canasta nights to baby showers, Rotary meetings, and live music with Run 4 Cover.

Wendy discovered her love for the building process in 1987 while building their first house. She has since been part of the process many times, including the Carmel Cottage, where she worked closely with local contractor Kevin Fistolera. With a fresh, airy kitchen of blues, yellows, and whites, Wendy says these colors have always been her favorite, “taking the house from its original cutesy-cottage to a more contemporary-cottage feel.” The couple tries to use local merchants as much as possible, hiring Franey’s for the floors and fabrics, Janeen’s for the cottage’s furnishings, and Jordon Long for custom artwork.

Pieces of history can be found around every corner, starting in the dining room. Stan’s grandparents’ chairs from the 1930s, now reupholstered, flank the extended dining table bordering the wall of windows to the backyard.

Over the years, Stan has collected local historical photos and documents. To commemorate this significant memorabilia, he created a floor-to-ceiling museum-style room, displaying some of Visalia’s greatest recorded moments and events, and the people who were part of them. With signed art pieces, autographed pictures, and newspaper clippings, it’s become a treasured space for Stan to share his love of Visalia with others.

With a great-grandfather born in 1857 in the Oval (neighborhood), a grandfather born in 1884 in the Oval, and another grandfather on his mother’s side born in 1889 near the Oval, Stan’s Valley roots run four generations deep. Stan’s grandfather opened Buckman-Mitchell Insurance in 1916. Forty-one years later, Stan’s first involvement at Buckman-Mitchell began one summer when he was in high school. After graduating college, he made his way back to the company, creating a life-long career.

Stan and Wendy’s Valley heritage flourishes both historically and socially. Terry Ommen, local author and historian, says many affectionately refer to Stan as “Mr. Visalia.” The title fits, as he was named Visalia’s Man of the Year in 1995, following closely in the footsteps of his grandfather (voted Visalia’s first Man of the Year in 1952). This is only one of many titles Stan has carried throughout his life in Visalia.

Visalia will always be home. I could never leave by any stretch.

Stan Simpson

In one of the first graduating classes of Redwood High School, Stan was student body president in 1958, which was a precursor to the life he would lead in Visalia. He went on to become President of the Independent Insurance Agents Association of Kings and Tulare Counties in ’73-’74, Visalia Rotary Club President in ’79, President of Independent Insurance Brokers – Agents Association of the West in ’05, and President of Tulare County Historical Society in ’20-’22. They were also owners of the Visalia Oaks Baseball Club from ’83-’88, “to keep baseball alive in Visalia,” Stan says. While the Simpsons’ social life is one of enjoyment, their involvement in the community has reached beyond their careers and hobbies, benefitting Visalia in ways still seen today. Wherever the Simpsons go, their investment of time and energy helps areas thrive.

When a good friend began an insurance company in Monterey in 1989, the Simpsons moved north to help it launch and bought their first house in the area in 1999. Since then, they’ve created a community in Pebble Beach along with other Visalians. Though no longer in the insurance business, with several houses, three daughters, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, the Simpsons find plenty to fill their time. They often spend it traveling the long road between Visalia and Pebble Beach, looking for the next best place to stop for lunch. Locally, some of their favorite spots are Alejandra’s, Vintage Press, and Elderwood. Stan is still involved in Rotary and the Historical Society, while Wendy gives much of her time to Las Madrinas Guild for Valley Children’s.

While the two enjoy the change of scenery and social life up north, Stan says, “Visalia will always be home. I could never leave by any stretch.” Wendy goes on to say there’s no place quite like Visalia. “I know people who have visited or moved here from the Midwest and say it reminds them of home with its small-town feel and values. It really is a special place to live.”