The Evolution of North Beach
May 01, 2008 10:25PM
● By Don Kindred
by Don Kindred
Turning North Beach into a viable recreation and entertainment center is hardly a new idea. Town founder Ole Hanson saw it as such as early as 1925. Three years later, Hanson began the area’s development with a pool and clubhouse called The Plunge. Of course Ole didn’t just build a community pool, he built the only Olympic-sized swimming pool south of the LA Coliseum, and brought in world class athletes to swim in it, as well as hosting grand community galas to watch them. When he built a baseball field nearby, it wasn’t something for the Little League, it was worthy enough for a famed New York Yankee to call it one of the “finest fields in the nation”, and Ole brought in professionals to play on it. The depression put a halt to the original plans, but the tradition continued in 1937 when the Capitol Company built the San Clemente Casino across from the pool, and they didn’t just build a dance hall, they built the finest dance hall money could buy, equipped with the famed “floating dance floor”, state-of-the-art music and acoustics, even some new thing called air-conditioning. And then 5,000 people came to town for the grand opening.
Today, Shaheen Sadeghi of Lab Holding, LLC, (The Lab) has been charged with continuing that tradition of grandeur and innovation with a plan known as the North Beach Project.
The North Beach Project
Main entry elevation.The Lab, selected by the City after a request for proposals in 2006, has taken a few scattered parcels of city-owned real estate, and a triangular-shaped parking lot, and designed them into a Spanish Village-themed destination retail resort. Centered around a central plaza with an ocean-front terrace overlooking the beach, the 2.63-acre (111,000 sq.ft.) project has evolved thru 10 design changes and been downsized nearly in half to 56,000 sq. ft. of commercial space. Principal design changes had become necessary after discoveries of a 25 ft. set-back needed from the Ole Hanson Beach Club, the height of the underlying water table which made underground parking impractical, difficulty relocating a small sewage treatment facility on Avenida Estacion, and the desire of the community to keep as much parking as possible near the sand. The project seeks to fully utilize the current North Beach offerings: a beach access point, the recreational amenities of the Beach Club and coastal beach trail, the historical surroundings, train station and its gateway location with a low density plan that would capture the essence of San Clemente culture.
The plan is made up of three sites; 1) the Triangle site, which is centered in the current North Beach parking lot; 2) an adjacent El Camino Real lot, which is over the storm drain channel on the beach side of El Camino Real and 3) the 41,000-sq. ft. Marblehead site which lies inland, across El Camino Real.
The Triangle Site.
The creative designs of architect Henry Lenny’s dramatic Spanish Colonial Revival buildings are showcased throughout the project. One characteristic of this type of architecture is what’s called the “ambiguity of indoor and outdoor spaces.” This mixed use, pedestrian-friendly shopping and strolling area is filled with beautiful restaurants, shops and office space, but it’s what is in between the buildings that is more impressive. They are separated by intimate courts, gardens and walkways, a pavilion where the walls open up, and roofs of lattice work and tapestry. with a grape arbor with picnic tables, an outdoor fireplace, fountains and a small intimate stage for acoustic music and readings. One garden area will be strung with hammocks. All of it colored with an elaborate landscape plan that incorporated all the historic palms currently in the lot.
The park in front of the beach club would be extended into a terraced, ocean view cafe, with stairs and a ramp down to beach level where plans call for a boardwalk along Avenida Estacion between the train station and the entrance to the beach trail. A staircase would rise to the second level where the courtyard will be surrounded by shops. Calle Descheca will also serve as a boardwalk that will be able to be closed for fairs or public events.
The El Camino Property
Located on El Camino Real between Kaylani Coffee and Ichibiri’s Japanese Restaurant. The El Camino Real site was once home to Ernesto’s Italian Restaurant and a small hotel. The storms of 1983 overran the storm drain that run under the property and destroyed the buildings. The city purchased the property and improved the storm drain but won’t approve development directly above it. Consequently, this was designed as an elegant entrance to the Triangle site. But there is enough room for commercial space on either side, one restaurant and 15 parking spaces.
Deeded to the city through a development agreement with the Marblehead Coastal project, the site lies off of Avenida Pico approximately 450 ft. from El Camino Real.The storm channel runs in front of the site and Pico Community Park is under construction behind it.
The Lab’s concept is to build an ocean-view restaurant and public plaza that will be at grade with the park level and serve as an extension of it. An extensive garden on the top floor will disguise a structure that will serve all of North Beach.
Other North Beach projects and issues.
While alternative modes of transportation will be available in North Beach, i.e.; the train, bicycle parking, walkers from the beach trail, and a trolly drop off area, parking will always be a problem. The city is currently under contract for two separate studies on parking and traffic. The city’s concern is to make sure that parking for residents is sufficient for the future, considering three other projects in the immediate vicinity. Steve’s Delsons’ residential-commercial plans have been submitted for the Casino site, the multi-use Gallery Project on the other side of El Camino Real, which seems to be stalled, and Marc Spazziris’ as yet unknown plans for the Miramar Theatre. The parking and traffic studies are scheduled to be presented to the council on fall 0f 2008 .
It might take a couple years, but North Beach won’t stay as it is. Although those of us who felt we had it to ourselves for all those years might wish it so. The quality and creativity of the plans submitted and the commitment by the city to make sure its done right will make North Beach a point of pride for San Clemente.b
North Beach History.
Ole Hanson Beach Club
Olympic-sized pool and clubhouse were completed in 1928, it became the tryout site for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Champion Swimmers who offered exhibitions there included Johnny Weismuller, Dutch Smith, Duke Kahanamoku and Buster Crabbe.
A regulation baseball field was built in the same time period. The field was once complimented by New York Yankee outfielder Bob Meusel as one of the best diamonds in the country.
The Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast league used it for Spring Training.
In 1937 a division of the Bank of America, called the Capitol Company invested in two new buildings to spur home and property sales in the all but abandoned city. The population had dwindled to an anemic 250. One of the buildings was the Miramar movie theatre (then called The San Clemente Theatre) and the other was Casino San Clemente.
San Clemente Casino July 31, 1937
“Where the song of the Surf blends with the cool breezes of the sea.”
The opening night attracted some 5,000 people, from all over Southern California (San Clemente’s total population was only 250). Revelers followed the searchlights down to its domed roof, and state of the art sound system and floating dance floor, to waltz with the orchestra.
Entrance fee: 40 cents.
Listeners must have visualized dancers fox-trotting under rotating mirrored globes, but in later years, Bobbie Ennis, the band's vocalist, recalled a different kind of scene. At 5pm, the band was in bathing suits playing to a near empty room for the live radio broadcast. And only four hours later, they were back in formal attire playing for, and times with, a very lively, excited, celebrity studded crowd. Judy Garland who had just finished her motion picture ‘The Wizard of Oz’, often came down from Hollywood and would share the microphone with Bobbie. Judy's good friend, Mickey Rooney, would often sit in at Ken Coffey’s drums.
The building served other purposes before 1976 ,when Ernie & Pearl Verre opened the venue as California’s first dinner theatre, Sebastian’s/West Dinner Playhouse and brought back an older Mickey Rooney to star in a comedy. Dorothy Lamour, Vivian Leigh, Cesar Romero, Pat O’Brien and many others graced its intimate stage.
The San Clemente Theatre
Now known as the Miramar Theatre, the opulent movie house opened in 1938 with the movie ‘Mad About Music’, starring Deanna Durbin. Seats were placed farther apart than was normal for the day. Admission was 35 cents.
In 1888, 1,500 Chinese Migrant Workers helped to carve back the coastal Bluffs along the San Clemente Coast to allow lay track for the railroad.
The first train station opened in 1928 and closed in 1938. The current Metrolink Station at North Beach opened in 1995.