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End of an Episode

After a 43-year run, Ozzie and Harriet's beloved Laguna Beach home is due to meet the bulldozers. But a sense of the Nelson family history will live on in the new owners' house.

July 24, 1998|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The days are numbered for one of Laguna Beach's celebrity houses, the former oceanfront home of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson.

Come October, if all goes according to plan, the three-bedroom, single-story house perched atop a bluff in the gated neighborhood of Lagunita will be razed.

Tony and Jane Ciabattoni, the new owners, will then begin building a two-story, Italian country house reminiscent of those on the southern coast of Italy.

Designed by Newport Beach architect Brion S. Jeannette, the 6,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home will feature an office, an exercise room, a hobby room, a game room, a wine cellar, a home theater, a small meditation chapel off a courtyard, and an elevator linking the two upper levels and basement.

The preliminary architectural plans, which have received the blessing of the Lagunita Community Assn., go to the city's design review board next month.

The Ciabattonis, who bought the Nelson house in May 1997 for $1.85 million, always intended to build a new home on the property. It was the setting--not the structure or its celebrity pedigree--that appealed to Ciabattoni, former owner of two office furniture companies; and his wife, a former teacher with the Capistrano Unified School District.

"It's a beautiful setting, but you take the history associated with the house and it makes it just more special," said Tony Ciabattoni, 53, who grew up watching "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet."

The Nelsons' Cape Cod Colonial home in Hollywood--the big, white two-story house seen in the opening credits of their long-running TV series--was unquestionably the more recognizable Nelson home.

But the smaller, low-profile house in Laguna Beach figured no less prominently in the lives of one of America's best-known show business families.

Built in 1955 as a weekend retreat, the Nelsons' Lagunita home is where the family came to relax during time off from filming the series.

It was Ozzie's love of the ocean that drew them to Laguna, Harriet Nelson told The Times in 1989. "I didn't care for it at first, but he loved it so," she said. "I learned to put up with it, and then, gradually, I learned to love it too."

A lifelong swimmer, Ozzie took a half-mile ocean swim twice a day and played volleyball on the secluded beach below the house.

During the 1950s, David and Rick's teenage buddies were frequent visitors, sleeping on the living room floor and prompting Harriet to later say, "I'd have to step over them to get to the kitchen in the morning."

To provide more room for David and Rick--and their friends--in the original two-bedroom house Ozzie and Harriet had the garage converted into a guest house and built a new garage next to it.

By the late 1960s, Lagunita had become the focal point for Nelson family members and friends. Rick and his wife at the time, Kris, had a condominium at nearby Blue Lagoon and later a house at the end of Victoria Beach. Rick's in-laws, Tom and Elyse Harmon, lived two doors from Ozzie and Harriet. Ozzie's brother, Don, a writer on the TV series, also owned a house in Lagunita. So did actor Kent McCord, whose acting career began on "Ozzie and Harriet," and producer Joe Byrne, a high school friend of David and Rick's who began his career as a gofer on the show.

David Nelson, now 61, has fond memories of the place.

"My first family and my second family all grew up there on the beach, and that's where I met [second wife] Yvonne," said Nelson, a father of five. "The memories are really of the water and the beach and fishing and bodysurfing and snorkeling and stuff like that. It was a lot of fun."

*

There were also some bad times.

The Lagunita house is where a still-grieving Harriet moved full time after selling her longtime home in Hollywood a few years after Ozzie's death to cancer in 1975. It's also where Harriet learned over the evening news that Rick had died in an airplane crash in Texas on New Year's Eve, 1985.

And it's where Harriet, with David and other family members by her side, died of congestive heart failure in 1994.

The house was inherited by David as well as by Rick's children: actress Tracy Nelson and her three brothers--Sam and twins Matthew and Gunnar--who are carrying on the family's musical tradition.

Now 30, the twins have a large store of memories of Lagunita, both as children and as young men.

"For us, that's really the place we escaped to, and Grandma was the person we escaped to," said Matthew Nelson.

His strongest memory is of a conversation he had with his grandmother in her living room late one night about three years after his father died.

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