The Laguna Beach City Council approved a plan to renovate the 106-year-old White House bar and restaurant into Finney’s Crafthouse late Tuesday.
The 3-2 vote (Councilmembers Toni Iseman and George Weiss dissented) came down after some heated exchanges between the historic property’s long-time owner Jules Marine, Councilmember Peter Blake, and Iseman.
The council majority ultimately approved a compromise crafted by Mayor Bob Whalen where the restaurant will shut down by 12 a.m. instead of 1:30 a.m., 120 seats instead of the proposed 143, and Marine must finally sign a contract with the County of Orange to continue keeping trash dumpsters on the library’s property.
A string of questions from Iseman ended with her pointing out that Marine must not pay attention to the number of drunk driving arrests in town.
“I’ll tell you what, if you don’t want any problems in town close up all of the business and they’ll be no traffic, they’ll be nothing. But if you want to have a vibrant town you’ve got to have people in here and you’re going to have noise. That just comes with it,” Marine said.
After attempting to bargain from the dais, Iseman fired back.
“You need us and we would like to welcome you,” she said. “But we don’t need a restaurant that doesn’t provide a location for its own trash. We don’t need a restaurant that will stay open until 1:30. A restaurant that has no place to park its employees. It’s a problem.”
Blake rushed to Marine’s defense, arguing the proposed number of seats was necessary to recoup the costs of restoring the historic building and the opposition stemmed from a poor understanding of the restaurant industry’s reliance on alcohol sales to make a profit.
“This is a massive de-intensification of use because you’re going from a nightclub with live music and people that were pseudo-dancing—even though you weren’t supposed to dance— into a restaurant now,” Blake said.
Weiss emphasized that the plans for a $2 million restoration drawn up by local architect Morris Skenderian looked attractive.
“On the plus side, we want to see the White House restored and Morris always does a great job,” Weiss said. “On the negative side, it looks like fast-casual dining. You get in and you get out.”
Finney’s currently operates a small chain of six locations spread between the Central Coast and San Fernando Valley. Their menu includes bar food like hamburgers, chicken wings, vegan pizza, and an extensive craft beer selection.
Marine said he believes the food, beverages, and refreshed design will attract residents and visitors.
Originally constructed in 1915, the White House’s building contains no on-site parking spaces. A new building with a 143-seat restaurant, two retail shops, and an office would require 62 spaces but a city law that incentivizes preserving historic buildings effectively waves this requirement, according to a staff report.
On Tuesday, councilmembers’ discussion of approving Finney’s permit strayed into the deeper issue that some downtown businesses haven’t been required to help fund parking for customers and employees’ vehicles.
“I think our system is way over-generous on historic restoration,” Whalen said. “We’ve got a figure it out as a city and I think it’s going to be paying an in-lieu fee.”
City staff still need to sign off on design changes to the building’s facade on Ramona Avenue to accommodate a new requirement from Southern California Edison to add a power transformer on the property, Skenderian said.View Our User Comment Policy