Beach Club project attempts to thread the needle of preservation and continued use
By Jim Shilander
Until the opening of Vista Hermosa Sports Park and Aquatic Center last year, the Ole Hanson Beach Club was the one spot, besides the Pacific, where the people of San Clemente could swim. Since it opened to the public in 1928, the beach club has served as a gateway to the city at North Beach and as an active recreational space for residents of all ages. In 1981, the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, in 2013, the city will be looking to give new life to the facility, through both necessary maintenance, and potentially, changes that some fear would fundamentally change the site’s historic nature.
Beaches, Parks & Recreation Director Sharon Heider said the current project began as the city looked to do something about water damage to one of the restrooms on the first floor of the building. Leakage has long been an issue at the facility, particularly from its two outdoor decks, and Heider said the city has made multiple attempts over the life of the facility to find a permanent solution.
“I looked at it and said ‘This just isn’t the face we want to show the public,'” Heider said. “As we got further into it, it became ‘Oh my Gosh, we’ve got some trouble here and some trouble there.’ Finally we decided we had to tell City Council we need to take a look at the entire building.”
The original scope of the project, Heider said, was to be approximately $1.5 million, which would focus on “stabilization” of the facility.
“Just fix the water leaks, make sure the building’s stable and make sure we keep our jewel here for the next 80 to 100 years,” Heider said. Soon after, the council increased the budget to $2.5 million to include potential maintenance for the pools, as well as possibly enlarging the kitchen facilities, to accommodate more weddings and other events that might eventually be held at the facility. When Architectural Resources Group, the firm tasked with examining the facility, began doing “destructive testing” to investigate the state of the overall structure of the building last year, the city closed the facility to the public.
At the same time, new code requirements came into place for aquatic facilities, which the current pool does not meet. Those unmet requirements would have necessitated closing the pool anyway until it was brought up to standards, Heider said.
“It really makes sense to try and fix them now, when we’ve got these bigger things going on,” Heider said.
In January, following structural testing, ARG presented findings to the council that indicated $3.7 million worth of work could be done to upgrade the facility, going beyond the original $2.5 million budgeted. That potentially included a new roof, upgrades to the pools and other options. The council, however, also asked for additional information on potssiblyreconfiguring the first floor to provide, in the words of resident Ricardo Nicol, “a sense of arrival.”
Last week, when the council received a new version of the proposed floor plan, that welcoming atmosphere was even more clearly defined. The council voted 4-0 (with Lori Donchak abstaining) to ask ARG to create a double-door at both the entrance and exit into the pool area, which they hoped would provide a greater appreciation of both the interior and exterior of the building, Councilman Tim Brown said, especially as it was used for special events.
“We hope that they’ll walk inside and say, ‘This is the Ole Hanson Beach Club.’ It’s about being able to have the same beauty on the interior as we have on the exterior,” Brown said.
The council also voted to try and stay close to the $2.5 million figure. ARG also included the costs of some additional work, such as roof replacement ($100,000) and work on the pools ($100,000), which the council could also choose to work on as part of the larger project, on a sort of “à la carte” basis. The council could choose to allocate funds for some of that additional work from a $1.2 million budget for Beaches, Parks & Recreation capital improvements.
“The most important thing is to pick something within the money that’s budgeted,” Brown said. But that necessitated both improving the functionality of the building and preserving it as much as possible, he said. Brown said he especially favored plans for a new roof, since it could last up to 50 years.
Councilman Jim Evert said it was also important to consider the impact that the facility would have to help redevelopment in North Beach.
“It’s critical,” Evert said. “It’s a historic icon. I think we have to get it right. We have to get it back up and online.”
The Beach Club, he said, was part of a troika of important historical attractions in North Beach, along with the Casino San Clemente (already restored and in use as an event facility) and the Miramar Theater, that could attract people to the neighborhood. Since the Beach Club brought people there on a daily basis, he said, it was of particular importance.
“It’s clearly an attractive draw there in the center of North Beach, Evert said. “Those three buildings we’ve got to get them back to how they used to look.”
The proposal to change the shape of the interior of the Beach Club, however, has drawn concerns from members of the San Clemente Historical Society, who say the site has already been altered a great deal through the years.
President Larry Culbertson noted that a number of the historical features of the exterior of the building, such as buttresses at the foot of the turret and stucco grill, were removed or covered over in past projects, as was the original entrance, which included two separate doors, which were both stuccoed over in favor of a single door between the original ones.
“What we want to see is the stucco grill back, as many of the original features as possible,” Culbertson said. “When the project first started, it was primarily about rehabilitation, about fixing termite damage and damage from water leaking. That had to be done in any case.”
Altering the interior much more, Culbertson said, continued to move further from the original intent of Ole Hanson and architect Virgil Westbrook. The original first floor, he noted, only consisted of two large locker rooms divided by gender but now included office space, a clubroom and the present kitchen. Culbertson said he could accept some of the proposed changes, such as the relocation of the kitchen, as reasonable adaptive re-use of the facility (such as at the Casa Romantica), but said the council’s current proposal went too far.
“It was not intended as a grand entry sort of place,” Culbertson said. “It was a pool house… Don’t use the excuse that it’s already been modified to modify it further.”
Vice President Mike Cotter went further, saying he was concerned that putting double doors on both sides of the first floor might put the sites place in the registry in danger. The city, he said, had an obligation to preserve the facility as a piece of living history.
“The city has been the single owner since it was built,” Cotter said. “It’s important that the city set an example for other property owners. Not only is the building still in use, it’s in use as originally intended.”
The modifications made before the historic designation should be considered as well, Cotter said.
“Just because it’s no longer original doesn’t mean it’s not historic,” Cotter said. Hearkening back, Cotter said it was a shame the city couldn’t have preserved the original structure more fully, as it would provide an interesting contrast to the state-of-the-art Vista Hermosa facility. “It doesn’t have to be modern,” Cotter said. “We’ve got another modern facility across town.”
Christopher Smith of ARG said he doubted the changes would lead to losing a place on the registry. An anachronistic change to the exterior, such as the addition of an outer elevator, may have caused an issue, he said. The second floor, he said, remained largely untouched in the plans, and would look as it has for most of the building’s history.
“It’s just a wonderful facility,” Smith said. “As an architect, it’s rare to get to work on a public facility like this.”
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