The War on Rooftops
What is it about roof decks that has our town spun out? We hear all the time how they are ruining Laguna. All four of them. You’d think they were crack houses. One candidate for City Council in 2016 made it an essential part of her campaign to stop their proliferation.
Much of the opposition to the Coast Inn’s recent restoration focused on this dreaded scourge, a rooftop deck with restaurant, bar and swimming pool. Sounds swingin’. Now we’ll have an alternative to the always-too-packed Rooftop at Casa del Camino, the first to pioneer the concept back in 2004. Haters were hating back then, but locals swarmed to it from day one. An outdoor bar with sweeping, panoramic views of Laguna, and no traffic noise? Get outta town! No, get above it.
Now people of all stripes could enjoy the views enjoyed by our mostly rich, retired homeowners. For the cost of a beer. Democracy at its finest. With unobstructed blue belt to greenbelt views. Laguna at its finest. The hotel team turned a tired old property into Laguna’s hottest spot, and revived a landmark property.
Ivan Spiers of Mozambique restaurant followed suit. He poured a fortune into the restoration of the long-shuttered Tortilla Flats, and despite vehement neighborhood opposition, managed to turn it into a multi-level live music venue that showcases our best local artists, and attracts an older fan base of locals as well. Not to mention a fabulous rooftop. What a community asset.
The irrepressible Spiers made magic again with his landlord Sam Goldstein, and opened his second rooftop at Skyloft in the historic Heisler Building, which Goldstein spent a fortune restoring. Bam. Another beautiful place to drink in our downtown vista, complete with greenery from adjacent heritage trees. And another Laguna landmark saved, with no visual harm to the building.
Rooftop establishments are the perfect answer for a city with a year-round Mediterranean climate and no outdoor cafes because of narrow sidewalks and lack of pedestrian space. Even a city as cold as Boulder, Colo., with plenty of pedestrian space, courtesy of their first-in-class outdoor Pearl Street Mall, recognizes that rooftop space compliments historic buildings. According to Colorado.com, “Many of the buildings on the mall date back to the gold mining days of the 1880s and have all been painstakingly restored to their original charm and elegance.” Yes, and they all added rooftop bar and restaurants, too. Is that restoration, or modernization?
I ask that question because it was the foundation of an Indy columnist’s challenge when she spoke against the project at City Council. She claimed that the proposed restoration of the Coast Inn qualified as “modernization” versus “restoration” (as if they are mutually exclusive). Come on. Have you seen that building lately? It’s the most confusing mish-mash of styles, seemingly going through partial renovations every decade until arriving at its present state, a postmodern neo-deco Spanish colonial craftsman. Think I’m joking? The entry on Coast Highway has a gabled roof like Urth Caffe. But the Craftsman reference ends there, with a subtle art deco feature next to it in the form of a glass block wall. The top floor is grey board and batten, but underneath is red brick, hinting at its colonial period. Then take a look down Mountain Street and the structure morphs into concrete white walls and blue awnings that can only be described as “Early South Beach.” I’ve seen strip malls with better continuity.
The last owner wanted to erase the legacy of the building entirely, reduce the hotel rooms down to a few giant suites for his rich friends, and somehow close off Mountain access to the beach to the public so he could enjoy it for himself.
How grateful we should be that locals Marcella and Chris Dornin bought the property and, like Chris Keller, Mark Christy, Ivan Spiers – and soon Greg MacGillivray and Joe Hanauer with Hotel Laguna – are invested enough in this town to create something magnificent. The Dornins also hired local architect Marshall Innis, who did a fine job interpreting its original Spanish veneer without changing the footprint. Now it’s both historic in look and modern in amenities.
As for that other revisionist complaint – that the success of the Coast Inn will create a dearth of parking for the neighbors – it’s just another tired refrain that is terribly out of step with the times.
Laguna could have addressed its increasing traffic woes years ago by building peripheral parking, reasonable bike and pedestrian pathways, and more and better transit. Yet it clings to the belief that more parking equals quality of life, when in fact it harms it. Luckily, millennials know it and are crowd sourcing their transportation needs. And they’ll be the lucky ones in the future to breath the clean air atop the Coast Inn while the rest of us putter around, fouling our streets, looking for parking.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]