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Globe May Spin Off to a New Site

Icons: Leisure World Historical Society is trying to save the Laguna Hills landmark before it is sold as scrap.


Like a relic of an ancient civilization, the Leisure World globe in Laguna Hills sits half-hidden in a weedy lot between a lightly traveled street and a busy freeway.

Once the symbol of a new lifestyle, the 32-foot-diameter steel-and-fiberglass sphere is now almost hidden from view and so rusted that city officials have issued an ultimatum: Unless it is moved by year's end, it will be dismantled and sold as 10 tons of scrap.

That prospect has galvanized the Leisure World Historical Society, which has a plan to save the landmark.

"It's a unique artifact," said Bob Miller, a spokesman for the group. "It's a symbol of Leisure World and, as such, has value to the community."

The historical society is leading a campaign to restore the globe and move it to a more visible spot. "We don't want to lose it as an artifact and a treasure," Miller said.

The globe was the idea of developer Ross W. Cortese, who began building large retirement communities in the early 1960s for active senior citizens. The concept redefined retirement living and helped popularize gated developments across the United States. Cortese's inspiration for the icon was photographs of a globe at the 1939 World's Fair in New York.

The Laguna Hills model, built in 1963, originally sat near Cortese's Orange County real estate sales office in an area that is now part of Laguna Hills. When the site was sold to developers for a motel in 1980, the sphere was moved to its current location just off Interstate 5 near the southbound El Toro Road offramp. Miller said similar globes still are in good repair at Leisure Worlds in Seal Beach and Walnut Creek, Calif.; East Mesa, Ariz.; Olney, Md.; and Princeton, N.J.

Originally set in a small pond, the Laguna Hills globe used to spin, powered by a small motor. "About seven or eight years ago, the local Kiwanis Club lit it up and fixed it to spin," Miller said. "It ran for one day then was shut down as an attractive nuisance. We've had a few natives say that we're missing New Zealand. Otherwise, it's a pretty good depiction."

The imposing structure once was clearly visible from the freeway, signaling the upcoming exit for Leisure World. Construction of a freeway sound wall in recent years, however, partly obscured it. When Laguna Hills annexed the site in 1996, the globe became a city concern.

"It's not very well displayed," said City Manager Bruce Channing. Besides, he said, an Episcopal church next door is eyeing the property as a potential parking lot.

"It's not a symbol of our community," Channing said. "If it's one that's important to theirs [Leisure World], we want them to have an opportunity to put it in a place that's more significant for them than for us."

The historical society said it has found just such a place: land owned by Leisure World in Laguna Woods, a city that incorporated two years ago and comprises most of the retirement community's 18,000 residents.

The new city seems amenable to the idea.

"We've waived our transportation and planning fees," said Leslie Keane, Laguna Woods' city manager. "It's a historical artifact for Leisure World, and because it's a big part of their history, it's a big part of our history."

Miller said the historical society will pay the $45,000 tab to move the globe three miles to a spot off Moulton Parkway just north of El Toro Road and across from the Laguna Woods Golf Club.

"We have to design and build a foundation," he said. The group wants to move the globe by Dec. 31. "We'll probably have to cut it in half at the equator to move it along the streets," he said.

Leisure World residents have mixed opinions about the move.

"I'd have been terribly disappointed if they'd destroyed it," said Jean Flemins, 73, a resident for 10 years. "It's a symbol of Leisure World, and I like Leisure World."

Marge Amstadter, 67, said she likes the community too, but could do without the globe. "It doesn't mean anything to me," she said. "They should probably sell it for scrap."

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