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San Clemente Journal

One of San Clemente’s Original Architects, Virgil Westbrook

Nov 28, 2023 08:18PM ● By Christine Lampert

Virgil Westbrook, blueprints in hand, during contruction of the community pool in1928.

by Christine Lampert, Architect, AIA, NCARB

imagine San Clemente in the 1920s as a small village and the only buildings are all Spanish style architecture. The entire town of San Clemente once had over 500 buildings that were built in the Spanish Colonial Revival Style. Today there are only around 200 original buildings left. Ole Hanson, who was one of the founders of San Clemente wanted this town to be a “Spanish Village by the Sea”. He succeeded until the Great Depression of 1929 brought most construction to a halt.  

 

The architect who designed many of the commercial and residential buildings in San Clemente was Virgil Westbrook. He came to San Clemente as a well-known architect who already had designed many projects in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. His Spanish Revival Designs were inspirational and magical. He knew how to incorporate the fine and fluid details of Spanish Revival Architecture into his projects and his proportions were perfect.  In addition to his architecture, he was an accomplished artist and he drew sketches of his projects as well as many wildlife sketches from his time spent in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

 San Clemente’s founder, Ole Hansen was a big fan of his work. 
Virgil Westbrook designed his own house at 235 Avenida Miramar which today has been beautifully restored by the current owners.  He owned the house until 1945 when it was sold. Today the house is owned by a young family with the goal of improving the house even more over the next few years. 

The Historic City Hall building is one of his most recognizable commercial buildings. This prominent building is at the top of Avenida Del Mar at 101 S. El Camino Real. The sign on the building says “Old City Hall” even though it was really only used briefly for city functions. The Building has Moroccan influences and is a beautiful addition to downtown. Today it functions as an office building and the spaces are rented out to various businesses. 

Right across the street is the Bartlett Building which Virgil Westbrook also designed. This building has a long history with many uses and today is a successful retail space at the corner with other tenants throughout the building. 

Another Virgil Westbrook design is the Beach Club and swimming pool in the North Beach area. This beautifully proportioned building has served as the city’s Olympic size swimming pool and has a long history of events with some of the most famous swimmers including Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller who were also famous actors of their time.

 St. Clements Church is another of his projects. Ole Hanson offered two empty lots across the street from the Plaza Park to any church that chose to build in the new town. The Episcopal Church took him up on his offer and they hired Virgil Westbrook to design this beautiful building named after St. Clement which today is still functioning as an Episcopal church. 

One of his most prominent homes is 402 Pasadena Court which can be seen from Avenida Victoria as one drives past the pier and up the hill. This house was known as “Vista de las Olas” which means “View of the Waves”, and the waves can be seen clearly from the living room.   
Two sisters, Bertha and Emma Wierk hired Virgil Westbrook in 1926 to design this house for them just above the beach. Built in 1927 this historic house sits just above the pier on over a quarter-acre site.  The amazing gardens are in disrepair today, but they include a cascading tiled water fall that runs down the hill into a fountain.   

Even though “Vista de Las Olas” is the original name of this property, other names have been used over the years including “The Wierk House”, “Sea Cliff” and the “Robison Property”.
There is a new owner who is currently working with the city to design an addition to the property which would turn it into a small hotel and restaurant.

Another Westbrook project is 230 West Marquita which is owned by a family who are hoping to expand this one bathroom house slightly and add a few improvements. The house has been nicely restored over the years. 

Two other houses by Virgil Westbrook include 199 Avenida La Cuesta which is on the hill above town and 115 East Canada. In South West San Clemente is a Westbrook house at 166 W. Avenida Alessandro built in 1928 and one of the few built this far south in town. This house has been beautifully restored and was recently sold to a new owner.  

Two of his most beautiful homes that didn’t survive was the house on Avenida de los Alamos for the first town mayor, Thomas Murphine. His house fell down the cliff 3 days after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. Today, all that remains is the carriage house. The other is the Bartow house that would have been just to the south of the pier, but instead is now a large 1970’s condominium building. The huge mansion was torn down in in 1972 which prompted frustrated citizens to form the San Clemente Historical Society and to lobby the city to preserve historic properties.

There are many more Virgil Westbrook buildings in San Clemente, and over 30 of them are listed in a historic document in the city records. 







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