Attendees of the benefit dinner and concert the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens organized Thursday night, May 11, in San Juan Capistrano were treated to fine food and a riveting musical performance as part of the nonprofit’s initial efforts to return to normalcy.
Renowned singer Alicia Olatuja and her band played reimagined versions of songs composed by women during the cultural organization’s first hosted event hosted since the landslide struck the historic property on April 27, damaging its Ocean Terrace.
Since then, the San Clemente-based organization has turned to the public for support in the face of financial uncertainty, with the benefit dinner at the Franciscan Gardens in the neighboring San Juan serving as an opportunity to rally its supporters.
Executive Director Amy Behrens spoke Thursday night to an audience filled with regular contributors to the center’s programming, as did others from the Casa Romantica Board of Trustees.
She thanked the City of San Clemente for its partnership and work in remedying the situation as quickly as possible and mentioned the “outpouring of support” Casa Romantica has already received from the community. Behrens reiterated that they look to reopen parts of the property by the end of May and to organize Memorial Day events as well.
“(Board President Ruth DeNault) said to me last week, ‘This is not a disaster, this is a problem to be solved,’” Behrens recalled. “With your help, we can solve this. We’re going to need your help, we’re going to need our whole community’s help, not just tonight … but in the months ahead and likely in the years ahead.”
DeNault assured the audience that the landmark estate itself—town founder Ole Hanson’s former home—is in good shape.
Treasurer David Westendorf, who underwrote the event along with his wife, Carolyn, said he has enjoyed being a part of such a unique organization since around 2003 and spoke bluntly about the landslide that will have a serious effect on the organization moving forward.
“I think that we’ve been presented with a really unique challenge, (considering) the fact that we’ve been doing so well and all of a sudden we’ve been kicked in the shins a little bit,” Westendorf said. “We will come back.”
He also encouraged people to speak with their friends, family and neighbors about contributing to Casa Romantica’s resurgence.
Because of the cultural center’s closure, stopping numerous weddings and other events from happening on-site, Casa Romantica has had to refund more than $180,000, according to event emcee Vincent Zapian.
“This has been a double whammy,” Zapian said, referring to the steady loss of money and inability to bring in revenue with events.
Audience members participated in a live auction Thursday and also pledged gifts of $250, $500, and $1,000, heeding the call to raise $250,000 by the end of June and assist the organization in getting back on its feet.
Scott Borst, who has contributed to Casa Romantica along with his wife for 10 years, attended the event and spoke to the San Clemente Times of his children’s long-time participation in music camps and other children’s programming.
“The house is an icon of San Clemente and it’s been there for many years,” Borst said. “I think it’s a place to go just to appreciate where we live and the arts and culture stuff. It’s good for us to expose our kids to that.”
According to the city, emergency work began on Friday, May 12, to temporarily stabilize the impacted slope. The project will include placing some soil excavated from a large buildup on the north end of the landslide at the vertical face near the Casa Romantica building.
“Soil will also be removed from the condominium building to relieve any pressure,” the city said in a press release. “This work is a temporary stabilization effort and more permanent work will be needed to secure the Casa Romantica building, as well as the entire slope in the future. Design of a permanent solution has already begun.”