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Laguna Could Lose a Landmark View

Moss Point is for sale. Some fear the bluff-top estate could wind up closed to the public.

June 09, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

Woodrow Wilson slept at Moss Point, and for $15 million so can you.

The Laguna Beach estate, with its elegant, bluff-top Cape Cod-style home, is for sale.

Its big selling point: an inspiring view unique among homes in the area because the house sits on a point that juts several hundred feet into the ocean, giving it a view of the Pacific on three sides.

Neighbors and fans of the estate are edgy because new owners could mean the end of a long romance between the community and the landmark.

The Morthland family, the current owner, has allowed public access to a tennis court for several decades, and the grounds are a favorite site for charity fund-raisers.

The house was part of the Village Laguna Charm House tour, a fund-raising event for the nonprofit group that works to preserve the city's unique character. As a fund-raiser for the Assistance League and South Coast Community Hospital Guild, the owners invited decorators to remake the many rooms in the house.

Anthony Cupo, one of two real estate brokers listing the property, said he enjoys showing it to people, even those he knows cannot afford it.

"Once it sells, it's gone; it's private," Cupo said. "You have to understand the meaning of the view. It's a work of art; it's priceless. I think everyone should experience it."

Moss Point is hidden from South Coast Highway by a low stone wall and thick vegetation. Entry is through a private gate on Moss Street.

Tennis players and philanthropists worry about losing access to Moss Point; others are concerned that the property's appearance may be dramatically altered.

"The worst thing would be if they tear it down and build one of those larger-than-life mansions," said Ann Frank of the city's Heritage Committee. "Ideally, what would be nice is they don't do anything to it except bring it up so that it's in good condition. It's beautiful, and it should stay that way."

Virtually every room in the three-story house, with its library, staff quarters and seven bedrooms, offers sweeping views of the rugged coastline, from Palos Verdes to Dana Point.

The white, wood-shingled home sits atop a promontory surrounded by gently rolling hills of grass punctuated with succulents and hibiscus. Tall eucalyptus trees, neat shrubs, dudleya and flowering cactus flank flagstone paths that lead to an overlook sculpted from stone. Below, waves break on the rocky shore, creating tide pools on all three sides of the bluff. Two private stairways lead down to a beach that the public reaches along the shoreline, and where snorkeling is popular.

Inside, an off-white Berber carpet muffles the few creaks on the stairways, and the bedrooms, library and baths are bright from the light flooding through tall, wide windows.

In the master bedroom, a narrow room that stretches across the upper level, a settee is situated in front of an oversized window facing south.

Cupo and George Pagano, the other agent listing the estate, smile as they move from room to room, waiting for visitors to discover yet another special corner.

The house has admirably withstood decades of salt and wind.

It was built in 1917 for Col. Henry House, a millionaire with a ranch in Texas and a house in Pasadena. His brother, Col. Edward House, was a confidant to President Wilson and is considered the man most responsible for Wilson's election to the presidency.

When Wilson toured the country in 1919 promoting the League of Nations, he fell ill in Los Angeles and rested at Moss Point.

In the 1970s, the home was put up for sale, and one of the bidders wanted to build 20 condominiums on the site. The Andrew Morthland family, which lived on the estate in another house, bought and restored it, preserving its architectural authenticity. It has been rented ever since, although its current tenant, a supermarket magnate, is seldom on the premises. Cupo, on the other hand, visits regularly.

"You have to see how it changes," he said. "The tides, the sunsets; you just fall in love."

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