Wayne Eggleston, a San Clemente resident since 1984, has worn many hats since coming to town.
In his professional career, he worked in real estate. He’s also been a public servant—an elected official on the City Council and an appointee on the city’s Planning Commission. And he’s also been a volunteer, working with various community organizations.
As the now 77-year-old tells it, his arrival in the city decades ago can’t be attributed to precise planning. Instead, it was pure luck.
A Bay Area real estate asset manager in the 1980s, Eggleston drove through San Clemente one day, stopped, and fell in love with the small-town atmosphere, the architecture, and the culture of people helping people.
He started looking for a job in Orange County that would allow him to live in what was a vastly different and quieter city. He got the opportunity he wanted.
“(I) quite spontaneously got an offer for a real estate investment company in Orange County, and I took the position and moved down and bought a house,” recalled Eggleston, adding: “I’ve been here ever since.”
The issues of the mid-1980s and 1990s centered mostly on development, as well as taxation for street maintenance and whether to place a water treatment plant on the oceanside of Interstate 5 or inland.
Eggleston added that former President Richard Nixon made a cameo in the city by wanting to put a library in town. The Planning Commission dragged its feet before approving it, he said, and the council approved the idea as well, but not fast enough.
“Nixon got impatient, and (he) also did not want to deal with the Coastal Commission, so that’s when he decided to put the library at his birthplace in Yorba Linda,” Eggleston said. “But one must remember that, at that time, it would not only have been the Nixon Library, but 1,600 units of mixed-use housing, which would have been overwhelming, to say the least.”
In 1987, the city also saw a proposal that would’ve seen a massive redevelopment of the Pier Bowl, to where buildings would’ve completely enveloped Casa Romantica and existed where the current parking lots near the Municipal Pier are today.
Eggleston recalled the day the developer brought his presentation to the city’s Community Center.
“There were three- or four-hundred people in the room, and in the middle of the Community Center room, (under) a silk white sheet, he had a scale model of his vision of the Pier Bowl,” remembered Eggleston. “He took the white sheet off of the model, to the gasps of all the people in the room. He left town the next day.”
Despite all the theatrics that came with living in San Clemente, Eggleston didn’t run for City Council until 1998, when he was prompted by a development proposal that would have dramatically changed the meaning of a city landmark.
Before 415 Avenida Granada was home to the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens, the property hosted a wedding business that heavily restricted public access to the space.
Eggleston became friends with the woman who operated the business and eventually convinced her to let residents see the building for the first time in years.
“We expected maybe 100 people or a couple hundred people or so, but on that Saturday morning, we opened the doors, and there were nearly 1,000 people out in the parking lot waiting to get in,” he said. “We knew at that time that Casa Romantica had a much more productive future than just a wedding business.”
In the late ’90s, the city bought Casa Romantica and expressed the desire to turn it into a Mexican restaurant.
As a member of the San Clemente Historical Society, Eggleston and the group protested the plan at numerous council meetings, with him coining the term “Taco Romantica” for the proposal.
“That led me, really, to win my first election,” he said. “It was on a single issue, and that was to have the Casa Romantica become a cultural center.”
During the election cycle, he found a donor who helped him start a space of numerous exhibits that helped call attention to the historic building’s “plight,” and contributed $1.5 million to starting the cultural center.
Throughout his 12-year career on the council, including his stints as mayor in 2005 and 2006, Eggleston acknowledged that he voted on the losing side of most decisions, especially regarding development.
Those results came from a dream of retaining the character of his town that guided his participation on the Planning Commission for four years, two of which saw him serve on the Design Review Subcommittee.
“I kept going, because I brought to the council perspective of keeping San Clemente the ‘Spanish Village by the Sea,’ ” said Eggleston. “My motto is that San Clemente always needs saving, from out-of-town architects and developers who wish to make San Clemente another Huntington Beach.”
His commitment to the community continued with his efforts to create Park Semper Fi, with the support of the city, the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce, and the San Clemente Exchange Club.
While never an active member of the United States military, Eggleston recognized the city’s connection to nearby Camp Pendleton and to the military overall.
He took to heart memories from a trip to Washington, D.C., during which he saw several monuments honoring the military. Coupling that experience with the understanding that the city had a vacant space near the pier, he set out to develop the park. To aid in those efforts, he received support financially and in-time commitments from other partners in town.
Eggleston said the most incredible memory he associates with the city was the day Park Semper Fi was dedicated in 2005.
“We closed the lower parking lot down at that time and set up chairs and had an L-cat (ship) from Camp Pendleton come in and land on our shores, along with numerous Marine Corps equipment that was lining the street,” he recalled.
“We had the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps as our guest speaker, and it was an incredible day,” he continued. “There must have been over 4,000 people that attended that ceremony.”
That memory is further bolstered by the pledge of a legacy gift, according to Eggleston, that will ensure the park will exist and be maintained for generations to come.
“It’s really there for all Marines, past, present, and future,” he said. “It’s a symbol in San Clemente, of our patriotism for this country and for our military.”
Another memory of San Clemente that’s important to Eggleston are previous parades down Avenida Del Mar, with the full Marine Band, 1,000 uniformed Marines, and other community organizations present.
As executive director of the Heritage of San Clemente Foundation, member of the Historical Society, and associate member of the South Coast Chapter of the Marine Corps League, Eggleston’s self-described stubbornness and willingness to never give up have kept him involved in the community.
He mentioned his activity as part of the city’s “rich history” of nonprofit organizations that either support servicemembers or serve those struggling financially, such as Family Assistance Ministries.
“We will always have that, because San Clemente has very special people, people that have been very engaged in this community,” Eggleston said. “Hopefully, we will have elected officials who have a history here before they run for City Council and that have the same vision that this community has always had for many years.”