By Scott Marshutz
6:32 PM PST, November 20, 2010
Pyne Castle, Walter Estel Pyne's Normandy Revival creation one mile north of downtown Laguna Beach, is on the market for the first time in 40 years.
An eccentric and frugal entrepreneur, Pyne sold player-pianos through his Santa Ana franchise, but it was the discovery of oil on his agricultural land that gave him the resources to build the 62-room mansion he originally named Broadview Villa on 100 lots.
Constructed from 1927 to 1935, it has a number of French and British characteristics including two steeply pitched turrets, broken hip roofs, pointed as well as soft arched windows and Gothic interior accents.
After Pyne died in 1945, the property changed ownership several times. The most notable transfer occurred when builder Peter Young bought it in 1960 and converted it into rental units. It changed hands two more times before Richard Massen and Roland Greene acquired the property in 1971. During that time, however, sections of the castle have been remodeled to the point where they no longer blend with the style.
"Whoever buys it will have the responsibility to restore it," says Gregg Abel, an established Laguna Beach designer and contractor who has spent time evaluating the structure's condition.
Regardless of its architectural shortcomings, Pyne Castle remains a popular place for renters, some of whom have lived there for decades; one tenant has stayed 33 years. Its proximity to Pacific Coast Highway and Main Beach, plus its setting with views of the ocean and downtown Laguna Beach, keep it fully occupied year after year.
One of those renters in the late 1960s was a young filmmaker named Greg MacGillivray.
"We included some of the castle's exterior and grounds in 'Five Summer Stories' that came out in 1972 and conducted a number of interviews there," said MacGillivray, who now makes large-format IMAX movies.
Of the 12 units (plus four non-permitted units), there's a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom plans, and one three-bedroom, three-bathroom penthouse that's currently staged and used to show potential buyers.
After the castle went on the market in July, the Laguna Beach planning office wrote a memo about its potential uses. Although a high-density residential (R-3) zoning change was approved by the City Council, the California Coastal Commission has not signed off on the change, said Carolyn Martin, the city's principal planner.
MacGillivray believes that some type of public-private partnership should be considered. "It would be wonderful to somehow integrate it into the community so the public could experience its charm without damaging the neighborhood," he said.
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