Once Elegant L. B. Club May Be Restored

Times Staff Writer

The historic Pacific Coast Club, vacant and on the verge of demolition for years, would be 70% restored under a plan unveiled this week as owners sought support from both the community and the city.

If all goes smoothly, the 60-year-old club, once the elegant gathering place of this city's elite, would be restored by 1989 with its distinctive castle-like facade and main rooms intact, said owner Robert Bellevue, president of Bellevue Corp. of Burlingame, which took possession of the building in September.

However, its eight-story turreted tower would be replaced with one of about 16 stories, level with the eaves of the adjacent Villa Riviera apartments and the maximum height allowed under the state-approved Local Coastal Plan, Bellevue said.

Residential Tower

The new tower, which is needed to make the project feasible, would house either hotel suites, condominiums or apartments, or an upscale care facility for senior citizens, he said. Its architectural style will probably be the same, although other designs--including one which incorporates features of the Villa Riviera--have also been presented to community groups.

The tower would be built at beach level, which is contrary to the Coastal Plan. The board of directors of the homeowners group at the Villa Riviera has already complained that it would block ocean views.

A portion of the cavernous main rooms would be turned into a restaurant and banquet facility. Use of the remaining space would be based on recommendations by community groups. For example, a museum or headquarters for arts groups might be established there, Bellevue said.

Administrators of a Minnesota pension fund have agreed to finance construction if studies completed in two or three weeks confirm the viability of the project, he said. It would cost "significantly more" than $15 million, the estimate of a previous developer, he said.

The club, on the beachfront at 830 E. Ocean Blvd., is designated as a city landmark and one of only three Long Beach structures on the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Register of Historic Places. The Los Cerritos and Los Alamitos ranchos are the other two.

"It will be longer and harder to restore it than to just blow the thing up and start from scratch, but I really like the building and would hate to see it destroyed," added Bellevue, 29, who said he has rehabilitated four historic buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area and has two more such projects under way.

Former Owner Bankrupt

Bellevue Corp., an investor of pension-fund money, gained title to the club after a former owner went bankrupt and could not repay a $2.5-million debt. Bellevue Corp. is owned by Robert Bellevue's father, Jack, and the younger Bellevue has set up the separate Cificap Corp. to reconstruct the club.

"We've got the financial backing and we're spending the money necessary to take our best shot," Bellevue said. He has hired the architectural firm of Ellerbe Associates of Minneapolis, which has a national reputation for historic-building restoration, and has lined up financing through the Minneapolis Employees Retirement Fund, Bellevue said.

City's Support Sought

Bellevue's representatives--armed with a scale model and artist's renderings--have already met with community groups and the city's planning director to drum up support.

"Any plan for this property will probably require flexibility on the part of the city," said Bellevue's attorney, Charles Greenberg of Long Beach.

The project will require changes in the Local Coastal Plan, and its success before the state's Coastal Commission will probably be determined by the amount of support it receives from the City Council and the local community, Greenberg said.

Rita Woodbury, chairwoman of the city Cultural Heritage Committee, said she is enthusiastic about the plan.

Significant Building

"The Pacific Coast Club is probably the most significant of the remaining buildings by both its history and its architecture," Woodbury said. "It is probably most prominent in people's minds when they think about old Long Beach."

Woodbury attended a recent Bellevue-sponsored meeting with about 20 other representatives of preservationist and arts groups. While there were concerns about demolishing the tower, Woodbury said, no one opposed the project.

"We have to look at preservation where it makes sense," she said. "The tower is not usable in its current configuration. . . . and if the body of the club, the main rooms can be saved, that is a wonderful alternative when you consider the only other is total demolition."

Restoration Encouraged

City Planning Director Robert Paternoster, who has seen many development proposals for the site come and go, said it is city policy to encourage restoration of the Pacific Coast Club because of its historic significance.

"But, frankly, I see problems with any proposal for that site," Paternoster said.

Because the 1.55-acre site is so small, parking is a problem and access from Ocean Boulevard is greatly restricted, he said. Also, coastal regulations force construction of a tall building on the back of the lot so it will not cast shadows across Ocean Boulevard. And, by city ordinance, two parking spaces are required for each residence.

The Local Coastal Plan encourages restoration, however, by allowing construction of a parking facility on the beach below the club if it is refurbished, Paternoster said.

Parking Garage Planned

Bellevue, in fact, proposes a one- or two-story parking garage on an existing parking lot. He will also request city permission for traffic access across the parking lot from Shoreline Drive, behind the Villa Riviera. Constructing the tower at beach level, however, runs contrary to the coastal plan and could be a key stumbling block when it comes before the City Council and Coastal Commission.

Greenberg said use of the club's beach-level property is necessary if two-thirds of it is to be restored.

He said ocean views of some Villa Riviera residents would be blocked if the old club were torn down and an entirely new facility constructed on the bluff, which is Bellevue's other option. Greenberg added that Villa Riviera residents would also benefit from the current proposal because they could use the club's parking garage.

Directors of the homeowners group at the Villa Riviera, just west of the club, voted unanimously over the weekend to oppose the project because of the proposed beach-level tower, said Keith Kleider, a board member.

"They're going to build beyond the bluff much farther than anybody else has been allowed, which would totally wipe out our panoramic view looking down the coast. You buy on the ocean for the view and don't expect somebody to build on the beach in front of you. With this, all you would see is a wall of apartments," Kleider said.

The Pacific Coast Club, a private men's club for decades, has been vacant for 16 years and was condemned by the city two years ago after roof tiles began falling onto neighboring property. Demolition was halted by a bankruptcy judge in 1984. But a child slipped through a security fence and fell to his death in an elevator shaft last year, creating more pressure to raze the building or rebuild it.

The 140,546-square-foot building does not meet earthquake standards and would have to be structurally reinforced if retained.

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