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Crystal Cove Cottages to Be Renovated

Coastal Commission OKs a plan to restore 1920s-era structures for overnight stays. One activist hails the move as 'a milestone.'

June 12, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

The California Coastal Commission approved plans Wednesday for the restoration of the Crystal Cove Historic District, clearing the way for renovations to the 1920s-era beachfront cottages.

The approval, which came on an 11-0 vote, is the culmination of a three-year struggle by environmentalists and activists to preserve the rustic cottages while ensuring that they are available to the public for affordable overnight stays.

"It's clear to us that people can hardly wait to get in and share this place, rent a cottage for the night," said Roy Stearns, deputy director of the state Department of Parks and Recreation.

"Now we have the final go ahead to get it done."

The plan's first phase calls for 22 of the 46 cottages to be renovated and then rented at nightly rates of $80 to $150; beds in three dorm-style cottages will cost $20 to $25 per night, said Ken Kramer, park superintendent at Crystal Cove.

The other cottages, most of which need to be restored, will be used for park visitor programs and state parks staff.

The parks department can now solicit bids and hire contractors to install sewers, water and power, and to restore the overnight cottages.

Work should begin in October, Kramer said, and be completed in about a year.

"This marks a significant milestone not only for me personally but for the community and beyond. It's big," said Laura Davick of the Alliance to Rescue Crystal Cove.

Her parents met at the cove in 1940 and bought their cottage for $2,000 in 1960.

The vintage cottages, considered the last intact example of a Southern California beach colony, are between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach.

They have been essentially vacant since the longtime tenants who rented them from the state were evicted in 2001.

Some families had rented cottages for several generations, adding on to them over the years, turning what started out as tents with bits and pieces of wood into cozy cottages nestled into the bluffs or right on the beach.

The summer season was filled with bonfires, lobster and abalone feasts, and breathtaking sunsets in one of the California coast's most picturesque coves.

When the property was sold to the state Parks Department in 1979, the residents were ordered to vacate the cottages.

But they won several extensions to their leases that lasted more than 20 years.

A short-lived plan by the state to have developer Michael Freed transform the rustic beachside shacks into a $30-million resort was denounced by environmentalists and preservation groups. The state withdrew the proposal.

Eventually, the historic district will have an interpretive center, archive center, visitor orientation center and a Crystal Cove house museum.

Officials said they hope to re-create the bohemian culture that existed at Crystal Cove before World War II, including facilities for artists.

A coastal commission analyst had recommended approving the renovation plan, but with certain modifications, including a bluff-top parking lot and preservation of the hundreds of acres of coastal sage.

Kramer said the parks department has rehabilitated and restored about 220 acres of coastal sage in the park. He said they have been working with other conservation agencies to restore habitats for plants and animals.

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