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Her Own Little Piece of the Rock

April 17, 1993

There's no telling what lengths people will go to in California to get their dream houses built. They'll wedge into mountains, perch living rooms over the sea and send up structures on matchsticks.

The breathtaking seaside setting of South Laguna in Orange County, an enclave of precipitous staircases and vertical drops to a crashing Pacific, has such appeal. It has held Mary Bowler, 75, to a 35-year-old dream, long after the husband who shared it died.

This week, the California Coastal Commission cleared her plan at last. Now she can scoop a 2,800-square-foot residence out of a huge boulder. Even in a state where wild vision finds its way routinely to reality, this one amazes.

Earlier efforts either to build on the rock or to flatten it failed. There was a certain logic in the only alternative on an otherwise unusable spot. An architect came up with a $2-million plan to dig the house into the rock, recap it with simulated material and landscape with original plants.

Some environmentalists and preservationists were appalled. But in the end this was a site that passed every visionary's final exam into home ownership. It was deemed a "buildable parcel." Where but in California would nature itself be reinvented? This surely will be a rock of ages.

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