Thirteen restored cottages overlooking the ocean at Crystal Cove State Park will be ready for overnight accommodations in June. But in a flurry of first-day ticket sales Wednesday, they were booked through October.
The race for reservations at the seaside park just north of Laguna Beach began at 8 a.m., online and by telephone. By 8:46 a.m., there were 16,000 people competing for an overnight stay.
"There hasn't been this much interest in a state park facility opening in 10 years," said Roy Stearns, a state parks spokesman in Sacramento.
Public interest in the cottages has been high for months, even though only 13 of 46 cottages from the 1920s and 1930s will be ready for overnight stays June 26. The average rental for a family of four will be $165 a night, state officials said.
Nestled between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach off Coast Highway, the cottages are part of the park's historic district and will be managed by the Crystal Cove Alliance, which is also helping with the remaining renovation.
Alliance President Laura Davick was stunned by the interest in the cove and the thousands of calls to ReserveAmerica, which handles such reservations for the state park system.
"It went through the roof," she said. "We got calls from people who couldn't get through, and we just told them to keep trying."
There were many inquiries from the media and state officials, she said.
"Magazines called and asked why we didn't have special press days. But we had made a decision that no press, no state officials ‹ really, no one ‹ would get preferential treatment."
No favors were being handed out, concurred Stearns, the state park spokesman. "I had to even tell one of our deputy directors that the only way anybody was going to get reservations was to wait for 8 a.m. and do it like everybody else," he said with a laugh.
The state bought the 3.5-mile stretch of coastline from the Irvine Co. in 1979 and opened it as a park the next year. Its vintage cottages are considered the last example of a Southern California beach colony from the 1920s.
But the project was slowed by a long-running dispute with the nearly 300 tenants at the nearby El Morro Village mobile home community at the park's southern end, who fought the state's efforts to evict them. It closed for good March 1.
The state has spent $8.6 million so far to renovate 22 of its 46 cottages. Only 13 will open June 26.
Revenue from the rentals and a cafe will be used to help maintain the historic district and its cottages, Davick said. In addition, the alliance has set a fundraising goal of at least $15 million to complete restoration of all the units.
Aficionados will recall the old dirt road that led to the cottages and the turnout next to Los Trancos Creek. Overnighters would park, walk down along the eucalyptus trees and be greeted by a postcard panorama of the Pacific.
A new road, restrooms and bridges now greet visitors. The once-dilapidated cottages have new roofs, decking and paint.
"The cottages are beautiful," said heiress Joan Irvine Smith, who is closely associated with the alliance. "I can't tell you the number of influential people who've called me wanting to get on a special list for the cottages."
California's parklands are playgrounds for nearly 80 million visitors a year. With only 15,000 overnight sites, demand has strained supply, especially for coastal campgrounds, said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation.
"Truth of the matter is there hasn't been a new overnight accommodation on the coast in years," Goldstein said. "But there is also demand because this is a wonderful, unique setting at a stunning, stunning piece of beach."
Those still seeking to spend the night at Crystal Cove should circle May 1 on their calendars, Davick said. With most cottages booked through October, those wishing to rent in November can try then.
[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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