By Arrow Santos
Recently, the building owner of Historic City Hall, located 101 S. El Camino Real, reached out to us to aid in his search for new uses for his iconic property. He heard that quixotic contrivances were our business specialty within the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce, and we readily welcomed his enlistment for this endeavor.
Located on arguably one of the best lots in downtown, Historic City Hall commands a view of Avenida Del Mar, with the sightline stretching beyond to the ocean and horizon.
Unlike its exhilarating position at the top of town, not much excitement has made its way from the exterior to the interior in many moons. Also, what’s up with everyone saying this location never was City Hall historically?
Built in 1929 for Oscar F. Easley and designed by San Clemente Beach Club architect Virgil Westbrook, the property was known as the “Easley Building” and later the “Oscar Easley Block.”
Easley was San Clemente’s first commissioner of Streets and Sidewalks and was also one of the original councilmembers. He built the city’s streets, and some increasingly elusive local street curbs still bear the concrete imprint “O.F. Easley Contractor.”
Initially, the Bank of San Clemente occupied the first floor, and the second-floor offices were used by Ole Hanson, the Chamber of Commerce, and, eventually, the City Council as its chambers.
To occupy the Easley Building, Ole moved from his original office space on the opposite corner at 104 S. El Camino Real, and City Hall moved from the other corner in the Bartlett building at 100 S. El Camino Real.
City Hall functioned out of what is now “Historic City Hall” for several years, from approximately 1931 to 1937. The property was lost to foreclosure during The Great Depression.
Later, a music store, “House of Music,” occupied the building for a significant period throughout the mid-1900s, complete with giant Vegas-esque storefront signage. After trading ownership several times, the property picked up its “Historic City Hall” branding after 1982.
For the past few decades, it has been used as an office building for various companies. The owner now wants to invigorate this great place with the spirit of San Clemente once again.
We set to work on concocting the perfect solution for this storied hall. We firmly believe in protecting the essence of San Clemente, so we knew approving a modernized development was a nonstarter.
We decided: “Out with the old and in with the fake old that is actually new.” We would demolish the current, nearly 100-year-old property and build an exact replica that would be brand new as of 2023. This would allow for a fresh start while keeping the same exterior image.
We brought this solution to the owner. But he immediately asked why we must tear down and rebuild. What if we just had a new use in the original building and skipped the middle step?
We were shocked, of course, for such a bold suggestion seemed so obvious yet so conceptually bold and intellectually adroit that we marveled, laughed, and celebrated. Yes! We can just keep the original building; we don’t need a new replica building of the previous old building.
Here is your chance to be a part of history forever. We are now accepting lease applications for a lucky restaurant owner for the finest dining in San Clemente, with a view of half the town and the ocean.
We envision something like Nick’s, Rare Society, or Fig @ 313 hosting superb evenings and memorable events. With the flexible business zoning, tasting rooms or breweries could also secure a lease here.
And with the mixed-use opportunities, there could even be a collaboration with retail vendors and dining in a beachside bazaar with food and shopping in the same building, with an indoor atrium and living-history Spanish Colonial features.
Historic City Hall: already a landmark, now a destination. Send your leasing inquiries, usage ideas, or business recommendations to email@example.com.
Arrow Santos is a San Clemente native, professional writer/photographer and marketing director of WynneCRE.