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EXTERIORS : Mission Viejo Pool Is a Marble of Ingenuity


MISSION VIEJO — Randy Branson wasn't planning to copy Willie Hearst. He just wanted a pool for family fun.

But do-it-yourself projects have a way of growing.

Branson is a tile and marble contractor. So why not, he figured, do something with the pool that would show off his professional talents?

The result is what Branson says may be the only fully marble-lined pool south of the famed Neptune Pool at the late newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst's sprawling estate, La Cuesta Encantada, on the Central Coast at San Simeon.

It is a claim that the Marble Institute of America won't dispute.

"Anytime you say something is the only one, you get in trouble," said Robert Hund, managing director of the Michigan-based institute. "But I don't know of any others except at San Simeon."

Louie Carnevale, owner of one of the state's premier commercial and residential marble companies, Carnevale & Lohr in Bell Gardens, said he knows of a marble pool in Hawaii and of a number of pools in Southern California that use marble, granite and other stone for edging, "but nothing other than San Simeon with a marble-lined one."

Branson's 17-foot-by-33-foot marble pool won't run Hearst's off the pages of Architectural Digest anytime soon, but it still is an eye-catching installation: A county Sheriff's Department helicopter pilot frequently overflew the Branson back yard during construction in summer 1990 and wound up, sans copter, on the front porch one day asking for a firsthand look at the checkerboard marble work.

So far as Branson knows, the pilot didn't rush out to install a marble pool of his own--and nobody else has signed up to have Branson install one, although he has shown the pool to several clients and says that a South County obstetrician "is talking pretty seriously about having me put one in for him."

As a pretty easily bent rule of thumb, Branson figures that at today's material and labor costs, the tab for doing a marble lining in a fairly simple pattern would be about $20,000 over the cost of the basic pool.

With conventional concrete and plaster pool prices starting at about $20,000, that's a lot of money.

But then, marble--in pools or on kitchen and entryway floors--is not an everyday material. It typically costs more than tile and is used principally for looks by people who don't mind spending $10 a square foot or more, plus installation, to get what they are looking for.

(For the budget-conscious, there are ceramic tiles being made these days that approximate the look of marble for about half the cost. Branson figures they would provide an acceptable alternative in a pool and could knock perhaps $6,000 off the cost).

Besides the look--and even under four feet of chlorinated water the black and white marble of Branson's pool looks sinfully rich--marble (and tile and, for the very well-heeled, granite) can offer a pool owner the benefit of permanence.

If treated right--the Marble Institute's Hund says the chemical balance of pool water has to be maintained very precisely to keep the chlorine from eating away at the stone--marble, ceramic tile and other stone products don't have to be replaced.

The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle has lasted nearly 60 years.

By contrast, vinyl pool liners and conventional pools' plaster coatings weaken from traffic and exposure to water and chemicals and should be replaced every 10 to 15 years--at a cost of $2,000 or more.

Branson's own pool was far less expensive than a conventional one.

In part that's because, as a marble contractor, he was able to buy material at cost and do his own labor.

But he also used an unusual French-made swimming pool kit that he said a reasonably competent homeowner can install with the help of a few friends and a rented tractor with a shovel attachment.

The kits, by a company called Jean Desjoyaux,, have been withdrawn from the U.S. market because the company didn't want to spend the money needed to launch a full-scale marketing program in the midst of a general recession, he said.

But Branson said that a determined customer can still buy the Desjoyaux kit from European distributors.

The French kit uses prefabricated, bolted-together plastic wall sections for the shell of the pool, which can be built in a variety of rectangular, oval or free-form shapes. The shell is erected inside a rough excavation that a homeowner or contractor can dig in one day with a Bobcat or other tractor-powered digging machine. Wire mesh screens or iron reinforcing rods are laid on spacers on the ground at the bottom of the pool; reinforcing rods are slipped into hollow spaces in the plastic walls, and concrete is pumped into the walls onto the mesh flooring to create a one-piece reinforced concrete shell.

Desjoyaux's brochure claims that all of that can be done by one or two people in three days. A vinyl liner and specially cut stone rim is added on the fourth day, and the pool can be filled and ready for swimming on Day Five.

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