Long Beach is about to lose its only castle.
The historic Pacific Coast Club on Ocean Boulevard will be demolished by February to make way for condominiums, owner Robert R. Bellevue said last week.
The news won't please preservationists, who have been fighting to save the landmark downtown building. But it wasn't easy for Bellevue to announce, either.
"It's an absolutely gorgeous building, and it makes me sick that the building is coming down," Bellevue said.
Once a gathering place for the city's elite, the medieval-type edifice is on the National Register of Historic Places. The club is remembered fondly by many in Long Beach as a sumptuous structure with high oak-beamed ceilings, huge fireplaces and grand chandeliers in its main meeting and dining rooms.
"I think it will probably be a very sad day in Long Beach's history if in fact the building is coming down," said Rita Woodbury, the immediate past chairwoman of the city's Cultural Heritage Commission.
Chances Seen Slim
Woodbury acknowledged that chances for saving the building are slim at best.
"I think the only way we're going to see anything happen now is if there is sufficient public outcry that says to the City Council, 'We don't feel you voted in the best interest of the City of Long Beach,' " said Woodbury, who plans to spearhead a signature-gathering campaign.
Bellevue has left the door ajar to any new plan that could save the building, but he points out that it costs him more than $60,000 for each month the structure sits abandoned.
Bellevue has been holding off on the condominium project, approved by the city in September, to give local preservationists a chance to develop alternatives.
This week, Bellevue rejected a plan by the Coalition for Historic Long Beach recommending that he convert the 61-year-old club to condominiums while preserving most of the structure.
That plan has "some major problems," Bellevue said.
'Economics Very Bad'
Mainly, "the economics of the project are very bad. Financially, it doesn't make sense," Bellevue said, adding that the proposal would result in a multimillion-dollar loss to him.
The coalition's consultant, San Francisco-based Kaplan, McLaughlin & Diaz, recommended that Bellevue demolish only part of the structure, build a tower for condominiums and restore the rest to look as before. The proposal called for the developer to use an adjacent city lot and a fenced-in beach area for parking, Bellevue said. But that would be unacceptable, he said, since the city has rejected similar proposals in the past.
Condemned several years ago, the club is used as a backdrop for horror movies. That's about all it's good for these days, Bellevue said: "For horror movies and costing people money."
Having rejected the renovation proposal presented by the coalition, Bellevue said he expects the building to be torn down after the holidays. In its place, he wants to erect a $45-million high-rise condominium.
Approved Condo Unit
The city's Planning Commission approved the 187-unit condo project after the City Council rejected Bellevue's plan to build a hotel that would have partially restored the beachfront structure once used as a private men's club.
At the time, the council voted 5 to 3 to deny the hotel project, saying it was too large and would infringe on the public beach, block shoreline views for miles and set a political precedent that could lead to similar beach development. With its vote in May, the council overturned the Planning Commission's original approval of the hotel plan and sided with city staff members who recommended against it.
Woodbury and Bellevue agreed that at least part of the building could have been saved had the council approved the hotel project. But that proposal was opposed by residents of the adjacent Villa Riviera condominiums who collected nearly 2,300 signatures.
The developer's original hotel project also was opposed by several preservationists, who complained that the partial restoration altered the character of the building.
Woodbury, whose group supported Bellevue's hotel plan from the onset, concedes that "unfortunately, there was a split in the preservationist community."
Now, however, as preservationists realize that if they couldn't save all of the building they could have saved some of it, there is added support for Bellevue's original hotel plan, Woodbury said.
But it's probably too late for a change of heart.
"On a personal basis," Bellevue said, "I'm sad that it appears that the club--given the political and economic climate--cannot be saved."