Kathy Anderson walks down the original driveway as she recalls living on… (Don Leach, Daily Pilot )
When Kathy Anderson graduated from college, she left her parents' house for good.
Turns out, though, she didn't move very far.
Anderson, 62, has lived the years since in a little house next to her childhood home within her family's 1.24-acre property in the 2100 block of Tustin Avenue in Costa Mesa, land her parents bought in the 1940s. The parcel stood out more for what wasn't there than for what was, in this otherwise long-ago developed plot of Orange County.
"Don't you come right here and feel like you're in the country?" Anderson asked.
She knows the story of every tree planted on the property, including a transplanted Christmas tree that grew to three stories. She can vividly recall the horses she kept there, Little Thunder and Tao. Family members' nicknames, written on a wet concrete curb, are still frozen in 1964.
But Anderson's residency in her one-bedroom bungalow has come to an end. The trees are gone, along with both houses. In their place is a dusty construction site where Matt White Custom Homes, which bought the property in late 2012 for $3.55 million, is set to build 14 detached, single-family homes in a tract to be named East Haven.
Offers had poured in for years from developers eyeing the spot for new housing on Costa Mesa's pricey east side, which shares sea breezes with neighboring Newport Beach. After her mother's death at 92 in 2011, Anderson and her three siblings decided it was time to sell.
For Anderson, a retired teacher, selling was never about the money, which was split among the siblings. It was just time to move on, something she could finally do after putting behind her grief over her mother's death.
"I'll sit on my couch, and I'll think, 'My goodness! A young mom is going to be here in the house of her dreams, with a couple of kids. She'll be happy as peaches and cream on this spot,'" Anderson said.
The Anderson property probably had the longest driveway in all of Costa Mesa. The cracked and rustic path led to the two shaded, postwar bungalows.
Each had been a Santa Ana Army Air Base building that survived the base's decommissioning in 1946. The one where Anderson stayed as an adult was about 900 square feet. The other, where her parents lived, had three bedrooms and two bathrooms in 1,144 square feet.
The grassy and dusty open parcel stood in contrast to the surrounding tract homes, manicured lawns and more modern buildings around it. For the Andersons, though, it had long been a haven.
Anderson's father, Orby, was a Texas native and for a time was the executive chef at the Santa Ana Country Club. In 1969, Orby even cooked for the returning Apollo 11 astronauts in the fabled "Dinner of the Century" at the Century Plaza Hotel.
Her mother, Margaret, also a Texan, worked for the school district in Costa Mesa.
By the 1990s, though, Orby was almost convinced that it was time to sell.
"My mom said no," Anderson recalled. "It's my mom's home. She's a very country, outdoors person. She grew up on the prairie, so she didn't want to give up her land."
After her dad died at age 83, she and her mom were the only ones left on the property. Taking care of the land was important to Margaret Anderson, and right up to her death, she tended her gardens, trimmed the trees and used a riding lawn mower.
By the 2000s, Kathy and Margaret Anderson often found themselves listening to interested developers. They'd take their business cards and collect them in a box.
"At the height at the boom, before the big crash," Anderson said, "two and three times a week they were just comin' and bringing the cards."
Of all the interested parties, Matt White of Matt White Custom Homes was viewed by the family as the best, and they sold to him.
Some nearby residents weren't pleased to see the pastoral swath of land go, voicing a few complaints to the Planning Commission and City Council.
Neighbor Jim Little said the new two-story homes will directly look onto his backyard patio and pool area. "Our privacy is gonna be gone," he said.
Jonathan Atha, president of the adjacent homeowners association, argued for a development with fewer, larger homes. "Most of the people on this street are original owners, 16 years," he said of his 12-unit tract. "It's shocking that we made it this long without somebody behind us."
Anderson is headed across town, where she will be near a niece. She says she's smitten with the location, her new neighbors and her new trees. She figures "it ought to be 20 or 30 years for me there, too."
She admits she's not sorry to leave one memory behind: "I will not miss the gophers!"