Much hinges on Stonehenge
The historic “Stonehenge” house, marked by the octagonal cupola and sunroom just north of Laguna Royale, was stripped of its interior without permits in June of 2009. Then in 2010, demolition resumed, also without permits, removing the exterior surfaces too. The city issued stop work orders both times.
Now a new owner says, “Well, the historic integrity has been compromised. I want to demolish all the structures completely.” Not only would this result in loss of an important historic resource, it would set a precedent encouraging wanton demolition. This is a house that can be rehabilitated instead of being destroyed.
Stonehenge is not just an iconic landmark, the house is associated with important events and people in Laguna’s history.
The house is a key (K-rated) historical resource, originally the house of Guy Skidmore. He and his brother Joe Skidmore of the Skidmore Development Company were important to Laguna Beach history in the 1920s and ‘30s, associated with Laguna’s first water system, the incorporation of the city and the construction of a Laguna Beach airport, located where the St. Regis is now.
Skidmores filed the tract map for Coast Royal in 1924, making the neighborhood north of Eagle Rock Way including Monterey, Brooks, Bluff Drive and Camel Point the oldest in South Laguna.
The design of Coast Royal was innovative for its time. Eric Jessen, the retired former county park’s planning and acquisition chief, writes,
“The Skidmores made statewide history in dedicating for public use the County’s West Street and Camel Point beaches. This is the earliest known public beach dedication in Orange County. The developers also established a series of public access ways cascading down the slope of Aliso Peak from Brooks Street to the shoreline. Using locally collected, native San Onofre Breccia (stone), they constructed for public use the stairway still located just south of Camel Point Drive and the picnic shelter at the foot of this stairway. These were among the first developer-constructed coastal access improvements in the state.”
Joe and Guy Skidmore each built a home in Coast Royal to demonstrate their commitment to quality investment in the area. Joe’s was at Camel Point. Guy’s was Stonehenge. When the Great Depression hit, the Skidmores lost many of their properties. By 1931 Stonehenge was owned by Mr. and Mrs. William Crockett Watkins. Mr. Watkins was a key figure in the South Coast Improvement Association, working for scenic beautification. As seen in newspaper archives, community meetings were often held at Stonehenge, and they built the octagonal sunroom over the garage.
Why should this historic resource, this evidence of our community’s history, be lost because of illegally caused damage? The Heritage Committee says it shouldn’t. They recommend rehabilitation of the house using plans prepared and approved after the first demolition in 2009. After all, the framing, foundation, roof, fireplace, and gabled shape of the house is still intact. From a construction point of view, the house is no worse off now than one undergoing an extensive remodel.
The city’s historic preservation ordinance provides for penalties for illegal demolition, including fines up to $100,000 and stays of 2-5 years on issuing permits. However, neither of those brings the resource back. Rehabilitation would.
It doesn’t matter that the new owner didn’t himself do the demolition. He assumed the responsibility to resolve the code violations when he acquired the property. He was notified in both the Residential Property Report and by the Heritage Committee prior to purchase.
The city decision on what to do about the new owner’s demolition request has been broken into parts that have made it difficult to focus on the basic goals we are trying to achieve. Staff’s efforts to consistently limit the scope of the Design Review Board’s decisions have improperly clouded the issue, leading three of the five members to believe the scope of their powers did not include an ability to consider the historic resource at the last hearing.
As stated in the General Plan we are to, “Preserve and enhance buildings and structures of historic significance in Laguna Beach.” Not demolish them.
The council will consider an appeal of the Design Review Board’s decision to allow demolition at their meeting of March 6.