By Tom Marshall
On Dec. 5 at 6 p.m., the San Clemente Historical Society will host a free public event at the Community Center about the city’s most prominent private residence. The Goldschmidt House is the only current residence in San Clemente listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It has quite a storied past. Located on a hilltop along Avenida La Cuesta, just east of Interstate 5, it is a magnificent example of the Spanish Colonial architecture for which our town is famous.
Originally named Casa Tres Vistas, the home was built in 1928 as a summer retreat for the family of wealthy Los Angeles liquor wholesaler and winemaker Adlai Goldschmidt, who was a friend and sometimes business partner of San Clemente’s founding fathers Ole Hanson and Hamilton Cotton.
It was designed by noted architect Paul R. Williams, the so-called “architect to the stars.” Williams went on to build homes for Hollywood’s elite, including Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Lucille Ball. Williams was also the first African American architect in California, having graduated from USC.
Built the same year as San Clemente’s founding, the 4,800-square-foot home was only the 14th structure permit issued by the new city. The permit lists many luxury details generally not common at the time, such as a carved coffered ceiling, a two-sided fireplace and a secret wet bar (hidden from prying eyes of authorities during Prohibition.) Williams even sited the house so that at summer solstice, the sun sets over the ocean smack dab in the middle of the front window.
The home has passed through several families over the years. Former Historical Society president Jim Kempton and his wife, Jen, spent 10 years restoring it to its former glory. An elderly lady had lived there alone for years with nine cats and three dogs.
“It was pretty much a total mess,” Kempton said during a recent Oral History interview. “It was a long, long journey just to make it livable.”
The rooms in the house are quite large, especially for that era. Kempton recalls hosting parties in the living room with a grand piano, string quartet and seating for 50 people. Wishing to downsize, he sold the house in 1997 to Lee and Dena Van Slyke, both former presidents of the Historical Society.
“I took one look and knew I had to have it,” said Dena Van Slyke.
In the real estate business herself, Dena and Lee got the home listed on the National Registry in 2004. She even bought an antique yellow Model A Ford to round out the 1920s vibe of the house.
The Van Slykes lived there for 22 years before selling it last year to Dr. Don Wentzel and wife Catherine Hall. Lee’s advice to the new owners: “A house this old doesn’t need just an occasional upgrade, it needs continual maintenance. But it’s a labor of love.”
Tom Marshall is a member of the San Clemente Historical Society and a retired journalist.