“Only Make Believe,” the Pageant of the Masters presentation this year, included a series of art covers from the 1930s science fiction magazine “Amazing Stories.” That set off a whole link of community history tidbits floating through my mind. It turns out that one of the Laguna Beach and South Laguna community leaders, Joe Skidmore, was not only a developer, an aviator, a donor of part of the Laguna Beach water system, but also a science fiction writer who contributed stories on “The Adventures of Posi and Nega” for “Amazing Stories.”
Looking back at my involvement in the community, I started to think of some amazing stories of my own, not quite science fiction, I would call these development fiction. These include the proposal to develop two condominium towers and a trailer park on the very steep hills above the hospital. Then there was the county plan to build Alta Laguna Boulevard from El Toro Road to Top of the World, through the hills to Arch Beach Heights, then over the mountain and down to Aliso Canyon. How about the idea of a high-rise convention center where Main Beach Park is now? Most science fiction-like was a serious proposal to grade off the top of Aliso Peak and fly in prefabricated houses by helicopter.
No matter how absurd or impossible these ideas sound now, at the time they had true believers, and we had to marshal our forces, present our arguments and analysis urging public commissions to require the developers to reconsider their plans.
Now we have many more considerations built into the development review process. We have Design Review and the Planning Commission. We have staff reports. Yet somehow plans slip by and get on the Design Review agenda, plans that are so amazingly inappropriate it brings back memories of my list of development fiction.
This week’s example involves the general area south of Aliso Canyon where our science fiction writer-developer Joe Skidmore was developing Coast Royal in the late 1920s. Here in the early 1930s internationally known writer and adventurer Richard Halliburton purchased lots below Aliso Peak for what would be his dream house.
Now below Halliburton’s house, at the north end of Ceanothus Drive, we are faced with a proposed project would build houses on three very steep lots.
The first project on the Design Review agenda is for a 6,300 square foot lot with a 20-foot wide roadway to other properties twisting through, leaving only about a third of the lot left on the downhill side. Building a house in this small, steep remainder involves a three story vertical excavation in hard rock. Then the “backyard” with spa is to be across the road from the house on the uphill side. I am feeling the shivers as I imagine stepping out of the spa, running across a steep 20-foot wide roadway to the retaining wall and stairs that will finally lead to the inside of the house. Brrr. Would anyone want this situation even if it could be approved?
Two more lots, larger and not impacted by the roadway, are lined up to be treated with retaining walls, more excavation and houses too large for their britches. Bad enough just in the abstract, but these are below the famed Halliburton House, on a dramatic ridge above Aliso Beach and canyon. The house, finished in 1938, is a highly regarded modern architecture masterpiece, eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The lots in question were part of the Halliburton property, part of the setting for the house. Acknowledgement of this shared setting is missing in the present design of the new houses.
Neighbors were concerned about construction impacts and access, especially after experiencing the extremely noisy and lengthy excavation at the last project by the same developer on the southerly end of Ceanothus Drive.
As I write, I learn that in response to comments, the developer is tabling the project, and perhaps will reconsider his plan.
Perhaps we will have another type of amazing story, one that brings to life the elusive fiction of just the right design for just such a wonderful place.
Landscape architect Ann Christoph formerly served on the City Council.
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