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Overhaul of old Laguna Beach cottage to proceed

Alterations to Laguna Beach’s oldest home will go forward despite the objections of critics including Mayor Toni Iseman, who appealed the approval by the city’s Design Review Board.

A council majority denied Iseman’s appeal earlier this month and voted to support the board and the Heritage Committee, which had approved the plan to rebuild much of the existing house at 154 Pearl St. — the portions added onto the 127-year-old, two-room oceanfront cottage in the decades since it was built. Twenty-one members of the public testified at the 1 ½-hour hearing; 14 opposed the project and seven were in favor.

In her appeal, Iseman said the structure that once was home to architect Tom Harper should be preserved in its entirety. She also stated that the decisionmaking process for reviewing the proposal and perhaps for other historical structures was flawed; objected to the choice of a consultant by the property owner, rather than by city officials, to prepare the historic resource assessment; and argued that an environmental impact report should have been conducted.

The consultant, Margarita Wuellner of PCR Services Corp., had first concluded that the original building and any changes through 1940 were worthy of preservation. However, after more physical analysis, she rolled back the period of historical significance to 1883.

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That diminishes the historical importance of the rest of the building added before 1940, Iseman said.

Laguna Beach resident Charlotte Masarik said at the Dec. 7 meeting that the city was not obligated to give authority to historical evaluation reports.

“We appreciate it not primarily as an example of a style, but because it has survived for so long and remained for so long in the possession of one family, because it is the place where a prominent Laguna Beach architect grew up and because we appreciate its quirky, unconventional looks,” she said of the cottage.

“Its cultural significance should be considered, as well as its architecture.”

The beach cottage built from salvaged wood is listed on the Laguna Beach Historic Register and is rated E for excellent, a distinction usually restricted to homes in good condition — which this home is not, according to structural engineer Neno Grguric.

Grguric said the existing structure needs to be renovated: framing is undersized, walls have no seismic resistance and the lack of concrete foundations could be life-threatening in a moderate or stronger earthquake.

“I think the house is dangerous,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, who sided with Mayor Pro Tem Jane Egly and Councilman Kelly Boyd in support of the project.

Speakers from the audience included architect Anders Lassiter.

“I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I did Casa del Camino and other preservation projects,” Lassiter said. “The process is being attacked, but the council needs to trust its experts and staff — even though sometimes we don’t like what they say.”

The home is owned by Tresor Properties.

barbara.diamond@latimes.com


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