Almost 50 years ago a water tower was erected in Sunset Beach by the Santa Fe Tank & Pipe Co. At the same time, a teen-ager named George Armstrong was busing tables across the street at Sam's Seafood thinking about what a kick it would be to climb that tower.
About 40 years later, he got his chance.
The tower, owned by the city of Seal Beach, was going to be dismantled. So, Armstrong bought it and became the town hero. Now it's for sale again, for a steep $2.9 million.
When the tower was built, its purpose was to store 75,000 gallons of water. The water was pumped from a natural well in the Bolsa Chica Wetlands and was held for the residents of Sunset and Surfside. But in 1975, there was no longer a need for the water storage facility and it was eventually transformed into a three-story house.
Armstrong, a math professor at Long Beach City College in 1979, was living in Huntington Harbour and already owned a water tower in Huntington Beach. He was urged by residents of Seal Beach to save the tower.
The graffiti-ridden tank was suffering the wear of being so close to the ocean. The redwood tank and Douglas fir framework were being consumed by termites and weakened by ocean spray and moist air.
Armstrong and his son, Dan, designed the house, trying to keep it looking like a water tower. In 1982, he brought in a partner, Dr. Robert O'Dell Jr., an anesthesiologist living in Sunset Beach, during the final stages of the rebuilding.
The tower, at 1 Anderson Ave., is visible from Pacific Coast Highway. It has become a landmark for motorists on PCH and for sailors looking for Anaheim Bay.
The tower is 87 feet high and weighs 40 tons. The inside looks like a luxurious yacht. The entry level is decked in black marble and resembles a restaurant foyer. The likeness has caused some problems.
"(One evening), I was sitting with my girlfriend on the sofa and we were drinking wine and having a very romantic evening," Armstrong said. "Then, here come some people right into the living room. . . . They (apparently) looked around, saw that there was an elevator and decided they would come up. They were embarrassed because it was obvious that this was a private home. They looked around and asked, 'Is this a restaurant?' "
On a clear day, one can see from San Clemente Island to Pacific Palisades to Santa Catalina Island. The walls are covered with pictures and stories about the tower. Every level has some sort of replica of the tower made by friends and local artists.
The first floor houses the living room, the second level the bedrooms and the third level an office and playroom. The third floor also houses a fire pit that can be adjusted into a dining table or a bar.
O'Dell, 42, recalls the first week he moved into the house.
"I had to give up my 14-year-old dog, Beaumont, (because we agreed there would be no pets). My dog once won the Long Beach ugly dog contest. He had really short legs. For a while I had the shortest dog and the tallest house."
Although the house is for sale, O'Dell isn't quite ready to leave.
"I would be interested in looking for a partner. It's a fabulous house to share," he said.