From humble origins, Corona's seaside attraction soars

Abraham Lincoln

For a community built on land that once virtually couldn't be given away, Corona del Mar has done pretty well for itself. The stretch of isolated oceanfront has blossomed into a quiet enclave of about 13,000 people.

Beginnings

In 1904, inspired by rumors that the Pacific Electric Railway would extend through the area (it would have followed the route of what is now Bayside Drive), Los Angeles developer George Hart bought what was then called Rocky Point, a small beachside area of Irvine Ranch.

When the railway company decided to make Balboa Island the end of the line, the newly minted Corona del Mar seemed destined for failure, a lonely spot across the peninsula accessible only by boat.

The city of Newport Beach annexed the small community in 1924. As is the case with many beach communities, the land eventually gained popularity as a summer resort, with people crowding into small cottages that now, for the most part, have been torn down.

Insiders' view

Bill Hendricks, a local historian and the director of the Sherman Library & Gardens, recalls overhearing a woman 40 years ago describe a Corona del Mar cottage to a friend as "the sort of place you wouldn't keep your chickens."

The original lots are 30 feet wide and 120 feet deep, and the residents' association places a limit of three stories on a house. As a result, custom-home builders not lucky enough to stumble upon a double lot "have to use their ingenuity to make sure people aren't looking into their windows all the time," Hendricks said.

SUVs battle (politely -- Corona del Mar residents are a close-knit bunch) for space on the streets. The community's half-mile Corona del Mar State Beach is a pristine stretch of sand and a rocky jetty that draws crowds of insiders and tourists. Smaller cove beaches such as Rocky Front and Little Corona del Mar Beach are local haunts, and Corona del Mar kids explore the tide pools at Crystal Cove.

Good news, bad news

Corona del Mar is a walkers' community. "We walk to lunch, to dinner, everywhere," said resident Troy Mikulka. "Some weekends, we never get in our cars. It's very active."

Beaches are within easy strolling distance, and the community has a number of restaurants and cafes along Pacific Coast Highway, where residents can sit with a cup of coffee and a newspaper.

Streets, although narrow, are pretty, with a variety of housing styles (and the occasional ramshackle cottage) and shady trees. The Sherman Library & Gardens is a 2-acre plant museum and garden shop with a research library devoted to the history of the Pacific Southwest.

But Corona del Mar's peacefulness and privacy might bore those in search of an active night life or fellow adventurers. Also, the community's narrow homes may make it an uncomfortable fit for large families.

Housing stock

Corona del Mar houses are often one of a kind and extravagantly priced. Many houses have ocean views, but land is a rare commodity, and most people have small yards.

A Nantucket-style house with three bedrooms and 3 1/2 bathrooms is on the market for $3.85 million. It is 3,000 square feet and has an elevator, panoramic ocean views and hardwood floors. A four-bedroom, four-bathroom Cape Cod-style house is on the market for $5,195,000. This waterfront property offers easy access to the state beach and has a private guest suite above the garage.

Report card

Corona del Mar students attend Newport Beach's Mesa Unified School District. Harbor View Elementary scored 907 and Abraham Lincoln Elementary 884 out of 1,000 on the 2007 Academic Performance Growth Index. Horace Ensign Intermediate and Corona del Mar High scored 803 and 863, respectively.

Sources: www.beachcalifornia; api.cde.ca.gov; www.slgardens.org.

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