Mondo Condo on 'the Big Island'

We had the first fireplace ceremony of the season in a villa at Hamilton Cove, which is just around the point from where the Casino stands in the town of Avalon on Catalina Island.

Audrey Ann Marie Boyle and I have been to Ireland together a number of times, and when I asked her if she would like to make the enchanted run to the bewitched island of Catalina, she said yes. When I told my friend Norm Stow that I would be marching with the Beverly High Jocks at their 40th reunion, he asked if I would like to stay at Hamilton Cove for the weekend. He lives at Hamilton Cove, a stair-stepped cluster of condominiums climbing from the sea's edge up a Catalina mountain.

They have been designed by someone who knows how to make full use of every scrap of that marvelous earth and still make the owners feel as if they were on their own island. The buildings are Mediterranean, looking as if they had been assembled of sugar loaves and frosted with hand-carved tiles.

Each condominium is different, facing the ocean and sky or the mountains and sky, and they are built with what seemed like dozens of plans. Each is set back half the width of the one below and the one above so you don't see or hear a neighbor. There are 22 finished, and all are sold and occupied. These are not second homes. They are third and fourth homes. Norm told me that most of the buyers are from Palos Verdes, although a man from Pasadena intends to buy the entire mountaintop across the arroyo and build a place six or seven times as large as any of the rest of them.

The Canadian development company that is building these started by holding a lottery for the first 56. In two hours they were all sold.

The company plans to build 430 units altogether, to be finished in 1992. It has a scatter of moorings in the bay available to the owners. Right now, about 25% of the residents have their own boats. The others fly in to the Airport in the Sky or come over on the Catalina Express or the Catalina Cruise Line.

The condominiums are finished with mahogany woodwork and each front door is handcarved with its own design or medallion. Floors are carpeted or of marble and the interior decorating is by Carole Eichen in pastel ribbon colors. She used to have a shop called Too Mas in Fullerton, all Mexican things. One time Doug bought me a papier-mache lady with round black eyes. She still is employed. When she is before the front door, it means the burglar alarm is on.

There is a clubhouse at Hamilton Cove with a weight room, a stationary bicycle with more dials than the command deck of the Starship Enterprise and a sauna. On the terrace outside are a pool and a Jacuzzi. And always, there is the ocean, just there in front of you.

On Sunday night, Audrey Ann Marie and I had invested in the components of a small pitcher of martinis, which we enjoyed while the first fire of the season flickered in the handsome fireplace and the ocean turned to deep blue, then purple and finally black, with the sky held in place like a theater's panorama with hundreds of stars for tacks.

Over here on the Big Island as the Catalina folk call the mainland, we forget they're up there, we're so busy making yellow and gray muck to hide them.

At the bottom of the arroyo, the Hamilton Cove people are planning on three golf holes, copied after three holes at Augusta. They will sweep up to the tennis courts which are already in place.

When we took a golf cart into town, Avalon reminded both Audrey Ann Marie and me of Positano, with the lights of the houses climbing up both sides of the little town.

While the condominiums are dramatic and beautiful, for me an Avalon house should be a one-story frame cottage built in the '20s, always and forever impregnated with the particular perfume of old and loved beach houses, sand, wet bathing suits and bourbon and coke in jelly glasses. They're still there, but they're now so expensive, people have flossed them up so, that I doubt if you could find a jelly glass used for anything but jelly. Pity.

I'm grateful to Norm Stow for asking me over. Now I know what a third or fourth house looks like. Me, I'm having enough trouble with one.

Next to sleeping in the forward bunk on a cruiser with the ocean gently patting the bow and rocking me to sleep, I'll take Hamilton Cove with the tall doors open onto the private deck and the sea below telling ancient tales of mermaids and treasure, pirates and men of valor.

A picaresque flair is lent to the gate into Hamilton Cove by gatekeeper Lynn Franklin who co-wrote "Beverly Hills Cop." He was a 21-year veteran of the Beverly Hills Police Department and its most decorated officer. He is now a permanent resident of Avalon.

On the way back, we saw a school of dolphins playing all around the boat. School is too structured a word for these smiling animals. Maybe a chorus line of dolphins, frolicking in perfect tempo to the music of the open sea.

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