A wave of building in a prime surfing spot

Special to The Times

Yes, San Clemente existed before President Richard Nixon made it the home of his Western White House. In reality, this lovely beach town has been around since the 1920s, the creation of an entrepreneur who envisioned a Spanish village by the sea. Today, new developments have sprouted around the city's retro core, and the surfing beaches are world-famous.

Beginnings

In the early 1900s, 26-year-old Ole Hanson was traveling on a train from Los Angeles to San Diego when he saw a stretch of oceanfront land that made a strong impression on him. In 1925, Hanson, an entrepreneur (and the former mayor of Seattle) returned to the site and bought a large parcel of land from owner Hamilton Cotton to develop a new city, to be known as San Clemente, the "Spanish Village by the Sea."

Hanson required that all buildings feature white Spanish-style structures with red-tile roofs. Many thought he was crazy to build in the middle of nowhere, but lots were successfully promoted, and the Los Angeles Examiner reported first-day sales of $125,000, unheard of at the time.

Hanson's own magnificent ocean-view family home, Casa Romantica, was designed by famed architect Carl Lindbom in 1927 and is used as a cultural center today.

In 1969, President Richard Nixon purchased a historic Spanish-style mansion designed by Lindbom. Visitors to the Western White House included such luminaries as Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev and Henry Kissinger.


Drawing cardSan Clemente's beauty is right out in the open. Its 15 square miles encompass a landscape of terraced hills, palm-tree-studded beaches and a drop-dead-gorgeous, shimmering blue ocean. At the southernmost edge of Orange County, its five miles of beautiful beaches offer clear water and easy access.


The center of beach activities is Pier Bowl, a wide, sandy beach edged with palm trees that includes a lush grassy strip with benches.

There are shops, cafes and lodging nearby. Fisherman's Restaurant, on the 1,200-foot-long pier, is a popular place to drink, eat and watch the sun set. With strong swells year-round, catching a wave is serious business here; it's a hub of surfing-related industries. Local surfers often win championships.

The city has lots of places to play. There are numerous parks, and the golf courses are all above par. Residents get a discount at the municipal course.

With its many red-roofed buildings, the city's Spanish influence is still visible today. Avenida Del Mar, the heart of the historic village, has a nice mix of small stores and restaurants. Locals take pleasure in the slow pace and the friendly, laid-back vibe.


Insider's viewSan Clemente is getting a new wave of housing developments. Talega, a new master-planned development a few miles inland, has single-family homes, condos and townhomes, with amenities that include a golf course and a nature preserve. The 4,000-unit development is scheduled to be completed in 2008. Prices range from the mid-$800,000s to more than $2 million.

Also on tap is the new Marblehead Coastal project, planned for the beach area just north of downtown, which will have 351 residences, a 52-acre commercial center and more than 100 acres of open space and public parks.

"The north beach area is being transformed" by the project and is becoming the area to watch, said Debbie Ferrari, with Prudential California Realty.


Good news, bad news

Trying to navigate the narrow streets in the downtown area can be confusing. Because of the sloping topography, there are few straight roads, and trying to find a street is akin to making your way through a maze.


Housing stock

San Clemente growth is strong with new home construction. The city planning department says 390 single-family dwellings were built in 2005; 346 were in the Talega complex.

In the established area west of the 5 freeway, the varied housing includes condominiums and older homes as well as beachfront estates and gated communities. Many of the older beach cottages are being remodeled and expanded.

As of early March, there were 254 single-family homes for sale in San Clemente out of 14,664. At the low end is a 995-square-foot, three-bedroom, one-bathroom home listed at $699,000. There is a seven-bedroom, eight-bathroom, 10,728-square-foot ocean-view estate on just under an acre for $7 million.


Report card

San Clemente's scores in the state's annual Academic Performance Index Growth Report for 2005 include these elementary schools: Benedict Truman, 858; Concordia, 840; Las Palmas, 705; Clarence Lobo, 762; Marblehead, 812; and Vista del Mar, 851. The middle-school scores were: Shorecliffs, 784; Vista del Mar, 790; and Bernice Ayer, 813. San Clemente High School scored 772.


Historical values

Residential resales:

Year...Median price 1990...$300,000

1995...$230,000

2000...$401,000

2004...$785,000

2005...$855,000


Sources: DataQuick Information Systems; city of San Clemente; sanclemente.com; the Heritage of San Clemente Center; San Clemente Historical Society; realtor.com; California Department of Education, cde.ca.gov.

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