State park officials offer a preview of cottage restoration in response to critics who say the project is moving too slowly.
Officials celebrated Crystal Cove's 25th anniversary as a state park Saturday by inviting the public in for sneak previews of a long debated project to restore historic beach cottages that some critics say has been moving too slowly.
"I hope that if there were any concerns about the project that [the critics] joined us today and actually got up close and looked at some of the successes we've had," said the park's superintendent, Ken Kramer, who helped conduct tours.
On the other hand, he said, visitors should have realistic expectations.
"If you're coming down here to see an exact snapshot of what it looked like five or 10 years ago," Kramer said, "you're just not going to see that. We're going through a major restoration. We're a full construction zone."
The event -- which organizers described as a celebration -- included a morning mountain-bike ride, tide-pool walk and daylong art sale.
For many, however, the highlight was the guided walking tour of the Crystal Cove Historic District on Coast Highway between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach.
As pelicans cruised overhead in V-formation, more than 120 visitors on the 90-minute tour shuffled along a dirt road past cottages still being worked on and inside a few already renovated.
A crisp ocean breeze cut through the crowd, causing people to huddle together as some strained to hear the guides' voices over the steady rumble of the rolling surf.
"This is so much better than just tearing them down and building something modern," said Victoria Ransford, 57, of Orange. "I love it here."
The state bought the 3.5-mile stretch of coast from the Irvine Co. in 1979 and opened it as a state park the following year. Its vintage cottages are considered the last example of an undeveloped Southern California beach colony as it looked in the 1920s.
Now the park is undergoing an $8.6-million renovation with 22 of its 46 cottages expected to open for public use in the fall at rental rates of $80 to $150 per night. Beds in three dorm-style cottages will cost $20 to $30 per night, parks officials say.
But the project has been drawn into a long-standing controversy between the state and tenants at the nearby El Morro Village mobile home park.
As officials move forward with plans to convert the trailer park to public use as a campground, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine) has introduced two bills to halt the tenants' evictions, pointing to delays in reopening Crystal Cove's historic cottages as evidence that the state parks department can't handle another project.
"I think it's got a ways to go," Greg LaRock, 39, a Newport Beach artist, said Saturday from behind his easel, casting an eye toward several unfinished cottages draped in plastic sheeting.
He paused before continuing. "But I think," he said finally, "it's going to be fantastic once it's finished."
As guides led groups through two of the newly renovated cottages atop the bluff, several people asked whether there was a waiting list for overnight stays.
"He said there isn't any list," said Ransford, the visitor from Orange, "but we'll get out here somehow."
Back when the property was owned by the Irvine Co., some families -- many of them employees' families -- had rented cottages for generations, gradually adding on to the structures.
Over several decades, state and company officials have said, what began as beachside tents and lean-tos made with pieces of wood grew into a village of cozy cottages nestled in the bluffs. The cottages have been mostly vacant since 2001.
"It was a good time and not too many people were around," said Iryss McDonnell, 81, who as a teenager spent weekends at Crystal Cove. Her grandfather, George Loggins, built cottage No. 37 in 1938.
On Saturday, she said the cottage looked the same from the outside.
Inside, however, McDonnell recalled her grandfather adding his own peculiar designs.
"He cut a hole in the floor so his Manx cat could get out. So there's a little trap door in there," she said with a chuckle. "I don't know if it's been discovered or not."
Park officials expect the renovations to be completed around Labor Day.
By the end of summer, they said, a concessionaire will probably have been hired to begin taking reservations for the fall.
[Clips from original newspaper articles appear here for educational purposes and purposes of comment, rather than commercial purposes. They are reprinted under the fair use doctrine of international copyright law. Copyright Los Angeles Times]
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