Playing the Market in Unreal Estate

A small enclave of eight custom houses materialized in Newport Beach on Friday morning--inside Fashion Island.

Yet the size and location of the structures are secondary to their purpose--after being on display for a month, the children's playhouses will be auctioned to help the homeless.

Volunteers for Project Playhouse hoisted the houses, each about 10 feet wide and 9 feet tall, into place early Friday in the Bloomingdale's courtyard.

The playhouses--in fanciful designs of teapot, yacht, California mission, children's theatrical stage, country cottage, medieval manor, country general store and tropical cafe--are on view through the Oct. 17 auction.

Proceeds will benefit HomeAid, the nonprofit adjunct of the Building Industry Assn. that constructs and renovates homeless shelters.

In six years, Project Playhouse has raised $790,000, with the highest-price a house selling for $27,500.

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