Green Light: Partnering for Preservation

By Tom Osborne
By Tom Osborne

Preserving the California coast and its historic cottages is a big job.  Often it requires the partnering of citizen activists and their groups, the California Coastal Commission, and generous donors.  Such has been the case locally at Crystal Cove, nestled along the shoreline between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach.  Laura Davick, founder of the Crystal Cove Alliance (CCA) in 1999, attested eloquently to all of this while providing a glimpse into the Alliance’s plans for the future at the April dinner meeting of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, held at Laguna’s Tivoli Terrace on Monday.

            Before she became a preservationist, Davick was a child of the cove. Her parents met there as tent campers in 1940, later moving into cottage No. 2.  A cove-ite kid, she and her friends enjoyed endless So-Cal summers of surf, sand, and luaus.  Thus began her lifelong experience of the place, which later blossomed into a passion to share with the public Crystal Cove’s rich history of Hollywood movie filmings, Prohibitionist-era smuggling of liquor, and California beach living.

Like sets of incoming ocean waves, successive generations and groups of people have stepped up and spoken up for the preservation of this slice of paradise.  While Davick’s energy, commitment, and effective leadership, along with that of Joan Irvine Smith, have been instrumental in the success of the Alliance’s work to date, to their credit they have recognized that help came from many other partners.  Laguna Beach attorney Jeannette Merrillees led the Save Crystal Cove coalition (including the Sierra Club) that battled in the 1990s to save the beachfront area from development into a major resort complex. Such a prospect was real. In 1997, state park officials approved a 60-year lease for the building of a private, high-end luxury hotel on the lines of Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn.

What I found particularly engaging in Davick’s presentation was the practical vision she outlined in the form of plans that are underway to connect the public with the marine ecology, the architectural style of the period cottages, the historical record and meaning of the beach enclave, and the surrounding environs of Crystal Cove State Park.  With palpable excitement in her voice, she ticked off the ongoing and soon-to-begin initiatives of the CCA:

  • The renovation of the remaining 17 cottages at a cost of $20 million. The late Peter Douglas, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, made a personal donation of $5 million toward this end. Davick described Douglas as “a dear friend.”
  • The completion of an Environmental Study Loop, a 1.5 mile circuit including an amphitheater, fire pit, and ramadas (open-sided thatched structures); working with state parks, an expected 250,000 school children and visitors annually would “study geology and wind science” as well as other nature-related matters.
  • An ocean and beach education and conservation program in which K-12 students from 30 schools would learn about marine protected areas, such as Crystal Cove State Park, by going offshore in a boat and using a digital-camera fishing pole that would tell the children what underwater marine life inhabited the area; scientists and students from UC Irvine and researchers from peer institutions will continue using the marine laboratory facility; the program would also provide for video conferencing, plein-air painting venues, movie-making at the beach, and more.

While this partnering work goes forward, we can continue enjoying the ambience and dining at the Beachcomber, located in the Crystal Cove Historic District, or quench a thirst at the Crystal Cove Shake Shack. A stroll along the shoreline here will continue to give us an opportunity to take a step back in time.

Historian Tom Osborne’s “Pacific Eldorado: A History of Greater California,” was recently published by Wiley-Blackwell. His next subject is Peter Douglas and his role in protecting California’s shoreline.

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  1. Thanks Tom! Great to get a short overview of CC and the planned future of the remaining cottages – always something to learn from your column – I did not know that Peter Douglas had donated $5M. My first big rally in LB was at Newport High School when we protested against the luxury resort that State Parks was supporting… Jeanette Merrilees will always be my heroine. Thank you for your historical perspective. Charlotte


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