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FOCUS : West Newport has the Rhythm of Summer

June 29, 1989|Clipboard researched by Susan Davis Greene, Dallas Jackson and Rick VanderKnyff / Los Angeles Times; Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

The essence of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys echoes through the beaches and neighborhoods of west Newport Beach.

It is an inspired setting where bodies bronze under soft blue skies and a gentle warming sun . . . where friends and soon-to-be-friends play spirited, impromptu games of volleyball in the sand . . . where boats majestically dot the horizon while languorously keeping rhythm with the ocean. It is an environment where surfers, as abundant as out-of-state license plates, dare uncompromising waves that swallow the novice and propel the expert back to shore.

It is a community where specialty shops--hawking mostly T-shirts, bathing suits and surf boards--peacefully coexist with a diverse collection of restaurants from seafood to ethnic. The dress code is simple: Neckties and panty hose are non grata; swimsuits, shorts, jeans and black wet suits with shocking pink, lime green or sunny yellow day-glo stripes separate local from tourist.

West Newport is an older, better-heeled section of the city, and many consider it to be one of its best kept secrets. Though the community is perched directly on the Newport-Inglewood fault, residents remain unfazed.

There was a time in the late 1920s and 1930s when the city could barely give away the land at $100 per lot. Several unwitting individuals and subdividers did speculate on the land and built homes, but then the rains came and washed out the houses. Swampland is like that.

Since the flooding cycle was bound to recur, some homeowners weighed the cost of frequently rebuilding against the cost of taxes and decided to let the land revert to the city. However, those pioneers who chose to stay in spite of the flooding were vindicated when the Santa Ana River Flood Control Channel was built in 1957. Property values in the area jumped to $15,000-$16,000 during the 1960s, $24,000-$27,500 in the early 1970s, to the current staggering price of $500,000 for an oceanfront lot.

As a result, many of the homes in west Newport are old-money family dwellings that have been passed on from generation to generation. Instead of selling and realizing a quick, sizable profit, today's generation has opted instead to remodel and update its inheritance. Consequently, the area is a charming, eclectic combination of old and new. It's not unusual to find a quaint cottage nestled between an older two-story stucco and a newer wood-and-glass contemporary.

While hanging on to the family legacy may be rooted in sentiment, the sprouts of free enterprise are blossoming as well. It is these closely held properties, remodeled or not, that make rentals a huge business. Because the older homes were originally built with bachelor units on the lot, current owners have the luxury of living in the main house while generating as much as $500 to $1,800 per week in rental income.

There is one complication: Because residents are staying and because there is such a large influx of non-residents who need to be accommodated as well, the overcrowding has rendered parking a headache and traffic a nightmare. Add to that the ritual of "cruising" Balboa Boulevard on weekends, and the situation becomes, as one native describes it, "hectic."

City planners have taken steps to solve the problem by requiring two enclosed parking spaces per unit on all new construction. And there are special driving lanes for residents, whose orange stickers allow them to bypass normally congested areas. But it isn't a panacea. The building restrictions apply only to new construction; the older homes, most of which do not have garages or carports, are exempt. In many neighborhoods, then, on-street parking is the only kind available.

But there are prices to pay and compromises to be made in any situation. And the life style of west Newport Beach apparently makes it all worthwhile to many. So residents grumble quietly as they park the car, turn off the ignition, gather their belongings, lock the door and begin the half-mile trip home.

It isn't so bad, though. Brian Wilson's songs still echo in the memory. And that can make for very good company on the walk.

Population Total: (1988 est.) 6,584 1980-88 change: +8.4% Median Age: 31.0 Racial/ethnic mix: White (non-Latino), 91%; Latino, 7%; Black, less than 1%; Other, 2%

By sex and age: MALES Median age: 29.9 years FEMALES Median age: 32.8 years

Income Per capita: $26,231 Median household: $45,145 Average household: 53,499 Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 25% $25,000-49,999: 29% $50,000-74,999: 25% More than $75,000: 21%

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