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FOCUS : Old San Clemente: Home of Ole Hanson's Vision

May 10, 1990|ELENA BRUNET | Clipboard researched by Elena Brunet / Los Angeles Times; Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

Newspaper columnists of the 1920s called Ole Hanson a fool for planning his ideal Spanish village among grasslands and cow pastures, without a tree or a bush in sight, said Charles Ashbaugh, president of the San Clemente Historical Society. But in fact, after Hanson advertised his plans for the new village, people from miles around (Caucasians, that is, by deed restrictions) took advantage of the price: $300 for a lot 40 feet wide by 100 feet deep.

Hanson sold from an architectural plan (Orange County's first planned city), on condition that new constructions "had to be Spanish-style houses of white stucco and handmade red tile roofs," Ashbaugh said.

The 10-room home that Hanson built for his own family in 1927-28, "Casa Romantica," still exists at 415 Avenida Granada in old San Clemente. But these days it's showing its age. The roof leaks in five places, cracked ceilings are in danger of flaking and the plumbing and wiring are in desperate need of repair. The house harbors termites, and raccoons live in the attic. About half a million dollars would be needed to bring the house up to its original condition, said Maureen Capielo, who has been leasing the house for the last six years and renting it out for weddings.

Under George Welch's ownership, the house was a convalescent home in 1962-89. The city, which bought the house in February, 1989, had been negotiating with the Ratkovich Co. of Los Angeles to build a $55-million seaside resort incorporating the home, along with a 160-room hotel, 60 condominiums and retail and office space.

But these plans were abandoned last week after the vociferous opposition of 200 local residents at a meeting at Casa Romantica. "San Clemente is a quiet community on the beach," Maureen Capielo said. "Ole Hanson built it as a retirement community (of) second homes (for his wealthy friends)."

If developer Cliff Ratkovich "gets his way, we will bury Ole Hanson," she warned.

The company subsequently withdrew its plans on May 1. The community did not "warmly embrace us and invite us in," Cliff Ratkovich said.

Up until two years ago, the real estate market in the area was exploding, said Dennis Reed, park supervisor for the city and a resident of the old house's neighborhood near the San Clemente Pier.

Five to 10 years ago, every street here featured at least one vacant lot, he said, but "there are none today. There is no open space."

No single-family home sells in the district for less than $200,000 today. Those speculating in real estate found they could make a lot of money with very little effort. "Only within the last 16 months or so have property values stabilized," he said.

Here in old San Clemente "older homes that have fallen into disrepair are being demolished and rebuilt," Reed said. Some cottages are being refurbished; others bought by developers are being replaced with condominiums.

"The amount of investment dictates a higher rent" and limits where medium- and low-income residents can live, he said, so "people of the public sector with a minimum-wage job are having trouble finding a place to live." Just three out of 10 employees who work for him in the city's Parks and Recreation Department live within city limits.

Some of the original houses built of white stucco and red tile roofs remain in San Clemente along Calle Puente, Buena Vista, Mariposa and Avenida Aragon, but they are not in the majority. After Hanson died in 1940, no one was left to enforce the Spanish-style building code he had written into deeds of ownership.

Now, homes of aluminum siding or stucco of varied colors stand beside those made of wood shingle or brick (or both) and Cape Cod cottages. An ill-advised developer gave a nod to Ole Hanson's aesthetic by putting up two-story apartment buildings with red tile not as the roof but as decoration, like bangs at the top of the building's face.

But vestiges of Ole Hanson days remain in the neighborhood. The San Clemente Beach Club (called by many the Ole Hanson beach club) earned a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The weathered white-stucco structure with turret and red tile roof and the Olympic-size swimming pool remain as functional contributions to the village by its founder.

The National Register of Historic Places also recognizes the neighborhood's Easley block on El Camino Real. Built by Oscar Easley, to whom credit is due for the city's paved streets, this building at 101 El Camino Real is, as expected, a two-story white-stucco building with an arched entry and a red tile roof. The painted tiles on the underside of steps leading to the second story are an unexpected decorative touch. The building houses offices for architects, landscape architects, insurance companies and a public relations firm, as well as a florist and barber.

Hanson founded San Clemente here as an ideal city (architecturally, at least) and left these words behind, under the pseudonym of Homer Banks in "The Story of San Clemente" (1930): "Our beach shall always be free from hurdy-gurdies and defilement. We may build at San Clemente but one building, but we will preserve for all time these hills from the heterogeneous mixture of terrible structures which so often destroy the beauty of our cities."

What would he say of old San Clemente today?

Population Total: (1989 est.) 9,770 1980-89 change: +21% Median Age: 28.4

Racial/ethnic mix: White (non-Latino): 73% Latino: 22% Black: 2% Other: 4%

By sex and age: MALES Median age: 27.6 years FEMALES Median age: 28.5 years

Income Per capita: $16,450 Median household: $28,146 Average household: $33,794

Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 44% $25,000-49,999: 33% $50,000-74,999: 16% $75,000-$99,999: 4% $100,000 and more: 3%

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