Resetting the Era at a Historic Inn


Neighbors seized a chance to quiz the architect behind the latest proposed restoration of the historic Coast Inn, gathering last week in the defunct gay haven, the Boom Boom Room nightclub.

More than a score of neighbors raised numerous objections about expected impacts, from street blocking daily trash pick-up to ocean-blocking roof turrets to a swimming pool 30 feet from living spaces in nearby multi-million dollar ocean-front homes. The estimated $10 million project is scheduled for its first public hearing before the city’s Planning Commission Wednesday, Dec. 14.

Their biggest concern, though, centered on inadequate parking at 1401 S. Coast Highway, which stands at 17 existing spaces behind the now-closed liquor store across the way that figures in the project. No more is required under city regulations that grant property owners incentives to restore historic buildings by forgiving parking that is required for new construction, architect Marshall Ininns explained.

Plans submitted Nov. 6 by DIG Coast Inn LLC call for a 24-room hotel and lobby bar, which would occupy the dance floor of the former nightclub. They also include reconfiguring the liquor store into a deli, conference room and spa-gym with a pool, as well as two new dining spots, a 192-person rooftop deck and 87-seat ocean-front restaurant. Assuming full occupancy of the rooms and public spaces and 55 employees, as many as 460 people could crowd the hotel at once.

“They’re going to be coming into my neighborhood,” predicted Don Sheridan, who lives a few blocks from the hotel and also objected to the proposal’s view-obscuring rooftop turrets.

“It’s a traffic nightmare,” said Terry Meurer, who lives on one-way Gaviota Drive, which parallels Coast Highway between Mountain and Cress Streets. “I didn’t buy into this,” she said, asking Ininns about the results of noise and traffic studies.

Gay activist Fred Karger asked about the developer’s commitment to preserve the Garden of Peace and Love, where human remains have been buried informally on city property adjacent to the hotel that serves as a beach access point. Ininns said details hadn’t been worked out, but that a lobby wall has been designated for historic information, including the Boom’s role in the town’s gay community.

Only local resident Carolyn Smith Burris spoke up in support of the project, which included rooftop turrets when originally built by her grandfather, Pappy Smith, in 1927. “For the outside to look like it did then is such a plus,” said Smith, whose family sold the property in 1978.

It has since undergone changes in its architecture and ownership, including a stint by Forbes-list billionaire Steven Udvar Hazy. His renovation plans for a smaller boutique hotel languished, though Hazy did build an ocean-front home behind the liquor store that stands to see substantial impact under the current owner’s proposed plan.

Hazy’s wife, Christine, attended the meeting. Asked what she thought of the plan, she responded only with an arched eyebrow.

: Architect Marshall Ininns explains the project to residents who lives in the area last Saturday, Dec. 3.
: Architect Marshall Ininns explains the project to residents who lives in the area last Saturday, Dec. 3.

Ininns represents owner-developer Chris Dornin, who divides his time between Laguna Beach and Las Vegas, where his wife, Marcella, manages restaurants. He bought the property in 2014 and did not attend the meeting.

“Nothing’s fixed in this,” said Ininns, who urged residents to invite him to their homes so he could absorb their objections from their perspective. “It’s not going to get approved in the first meeting,” he said.

The Coast Inn obtained a 75 percent parking credit from the city’s Heritage Commission in December 2015, Ininns said. “This is the code we live by and it’s there for the city to help preserve historic buildings,” he said, citing similar parking reductions granted owners of Casa del Camino hotel, Urth Caffe and Heisler Building, home to a Tommy Bahama store and Skyloft restaurant, all historic structures renovated in recent years. “It’s the price you pay to maintain a historical building,” he said.

To obtain that parking reduction, the developer had to commit to historically accurate rehabilitation of three structures: the four-level hotel, the 5,200 square foot mid-century modern 1955 Chris Abel designed convenience store and a relocated 346-square-foot cottage used to house Olympic athletes in 1932. “We sat down with a historian, looking at postcards. We put the thing back together,” Ininns said.

A rendering of the proposal includes the rooftop turrets, part of the original 1927 design.
A rendering of the proposal includes the rooftop turrets, part of the original 1927 design.

Previous redesigns of the hotel by other local architects, Morris Skenderian and Horst Noppenberger, did not succeed for varying reasons. Ininns recognizes his plans will undergo equal scrutiny. Yet, he thinks his efforts at reviving the historic aesthetic will help his client, “to swing that ship around, possibly getting the project approved.”


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