Last Days for Chateau Relaxo

Workers starting the demolition of dilapidated Chateau Relaxo. Photo by Andrea Adelson
Workers starting the demolition of dilapidated Chateau Relaxo. Photo by Andrea Adelson

After what seems like thousands of requests in seemingly as many years, the boarded-up and abandoned house at the south end of 1000 Steps Beach in south Laguna is officially heading south.

On Monday, workers were preparing the concrete structure, which once bore a “Chateau Relaxo” sign, for demolition with bulldozers and dump trucks readying the hillside as a staging area.

The house has been boarded up for nearly 20 years, according to city officials, becoming a respite for transients and trespassers.  An overnight caretaker became a fixture for several years, said John Montgomery, the city’s director of community development.

The concrete wall to the north of the house will also come tumbling down.  Like the stilts that support the soon-to-be-forgotten boat house, the wall burrows to the bedrock and served as a wind-block as well as an impromptu mural and graffiti wall and place to party long into the night.  A stack of empty beer bottles and still-smoking cinders remained there Tuesday morning.

The notice to demolish is due to a flood of local residents complaining about vitriolic graffiti, excessive noise and safety concerns.  “It was just one issue after another,” said Montgomery.

Legally known as an “attractive nuisance” because it attracted trespassers and as an “eyesore” and “crash house” by neighbors, the house will be gone for good long before the tourist-attracting Memorial Day weekend, said Morris Skendarian, the property’s architectural advisor who submitted the request to demolish the structures to the city earlier this month. Asbestos safety inspection must occur first, he said.

The 1940s-era house is coming down due to a city-issued abatement order on the graffiti wall and the two-story structure as a public nuisance.  The notice was issued in March, listing a final take-down date of June 28.  “It will be down in three weeks,” said Skendarian.2 chateau _MG_3585

Surprised by the news, beach-walker and retired architect Hal Lambert, who lives a stone’s throw from the white-washed structure, said, “I’m so happy.  I think I’ll just sit on the sand over there and go ‘ha, ha, ha.’”

The owner, Gary Groves, a medical doctor living in Reno, Nev., has declined to comment on the project, according to Skendarian.  Groves’s son, Jordan, lives in a house on an adjacent family-owned property but also preferred not to comment on the demolition. Skendarian said the timing is coincidental.  Groves only recently decided he didn’t want to remodel the property, he said, and chose to restore it to original ocean-bluff vegetation and beach habitat when the city ordered its demolition. “If he’s going to abandon it, he has to remove it. That was the convergence of the timing,” Skendarian said.

“It’s high time it came down,” said Eric Jensen, chairman of South Laguna Water and Advisory Committee.  “We’ve wanted that to come down at 1000 Steps for a long time.”

According to South Coast Water District records, the district has requested to use a narrow roadway on the Groves’s property, built by the South Laguna Sanitary District, for years to repair a two-mile main sewer pipeline that runs inside the bluff.  The request was consistently objected to by Grove’s attorneys due to concerns about potential sewage spills and environmental toxins, according to district meeting minutes.

Skendarian said the roadway will be refigured as beach steps but no concessions by the city were made with the property owner. “No quid pro quo of ‘I’ll take the house down if you let me build a 10,000-(square)-foot house on the top’ or ‘If you let me subdivide the property’ or ‘If you let me put in a tower.’ No quid pro quo’s on taking that beach house down,” he said.

“This house had value to it. You have a homeowner who owns an oceanfront house on the sand who is willing to remove it for the public benefit,” Skendarian continued. “He’s had so many offers to buy that concrete house and remodel it. People who lived in that area on Point Place and were asking that the house be torn down also made inquiries to Groves about ‘If you’re willing to sell it, I would like to buy it and remodel it.’  He could have sold it 10 times.  But he didn’t.  He wanted to get rid of it and give the beach back to the public.”

2 chateau_MG_3565Groves agreed to the city’s coastal development permit to demolish, and, because no appeals were filed, the California Coastal Commission did not object, according to John Delarroz, coastal program analyst for the commission. According to the California Public Resource Code, Montgomery said, “the power of the city to abate nuisances is not restricted by any other state law, including coastal development permit requirements.  My understanding is they’re happy that these structures are being removed.”

The house was previously owned by W.I. Cain, according to county records provided by Tom Slattery, a former member of the city-appointed South Laguna Water and Sewer Advisory Committee and the South Laguna Civic Assn.  Cain built the boat house in what is known as Paradise Cove along with a private fishing pier and saltwater pool.  The pool, which crosses property lines into Three Arch Bay and is usually covered by sand, will remain, said Skendarian. “Although it’s not used, it’s kind of a ruins.  It was really a question of ownership and we didn’t want to hang up the project,” he said.

As an architect, Lambert had numerous questions about how the demolition will occur, including how the stilts, which anchor into bedrock, will be removed.  “They’ll probably have to blast them out,” he surmised.

But Skendarian said no blasting will occur.  Workers will demolish the wall and the house down to the bedrock with mechanical equipment like chipping guns and jackhammers and remove the debris by hand.  “It’s a long, labor-intensive project,” he said.

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