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Casa Romantica stands strong one year after a devasting landslide

A landslide damaged the historic Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens in San Clemente last April.
A landslide damaged the historic Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens in San Clemente last April.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
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Casa Romantica, a cherished historical landmark in San Clemente, still bears the scars of a landslide that tumbled the bluff it sits atop a year ago.

A back patio that suffered significant damage remains off-limits to visitors — as does the breathtaking ocean views it offers. The whitewashed mansion’s main salon, an important site for weddings and cultural events, is still yellow-tagged until further notice.

Construction crews working on stabilizing the crumbled cliff also had to plow over much of an outside amphitheater to make way for heavy machinery.

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A landslide beneath the historic Casa Romantica in San Clemente underscores the threat of coastal instability exacerbated by last winter’s powerful storms.

May 16, 2023

But Casa Romantica is back on the mend and recently marked a year since the devastating landslide with a spring soiree on April 27 commemorating its “resilience and progress.”

“We didn’t focus on what we’ve lost,” said Kylie Travis, co-executive director of Casa Romantica’s nonprofit. “We put together the event so that no matter where people went on site, they would have more information about what we have accomplished.”

Since the landslide, the cultural center has carried on with six garden renovations, 150 pieces of visual art exhibited and over 70 cultural events.

Argentinian mixed-media artist Carlos Grasso’s tapestry exhibit “South American Colors” is currently on display through June 9.

Ballet classes, film screenings, theater and concerts round out the rest of the events heading into summer.

But the cultural center’s comeback wasn’t always so assured.

Casa Romantica's main salon remains closed as a portrait of the landslide is perched outside its doors.
(Gabriel San Román)

Casa Romantica shuttered for about a month after the landslide. It partially reopened on Memorial Day weekend when, just days later, another landslide rumbled below the 2.5-acre estate.

By then, a wave of cancellations cost the cultural center much needed wedding and event ticket revenue.

Travis and Jacqui Groseth took over as co-executive directors last summer amid such challenges.

“Our main goal at the time was to promote stability, both within the organization and to the community,” Travis said. “We wanted to let our team know that we’re in this together, we have a plan and that we’re going to make it through this.”

Over the past year, she estimates that Casa Romantica has lost about $500,000 in private event and ticket revenue. But with winter rainstorms finally subsiding and sunny summer weather on the way, Travis is spending more time excitedly planning for future events to come.

With a new dredge site, federal and local officials are hoping the restart can produce beach-quality sand to combat coastal erosion. Questions over increased project costs remain.

April 25, 2024

All the while, construction crews continue to make progress on stabilizing the battered bluff since San Clemente City Council approved $8.5 million in repairs last summer.

“We are approximately two-thirds complete,” said Shawn Ryan, a senior civil engineer for San Clemente. “We are making good progress with the current weather.”

Three rows of tiebacks, which are drilled horizontally and secured with grade beams, are visible from the exposed hillside.

Dirt is being shoveled around to clear the way for a fourth and final tieback row, which, once completed, will allow crews to regrade the slope.

Tarp covers the damaged slope at Casa Romantica ahead of a recent rainstorm.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

That should clear the way for Casa Romantica’s main salon to reopen, a day that Travis is waiting for as it would allow more weddings and events to be booked at the venue.

Ryan said that could happen as early as this fall, though inclement weather could still play a factor.

Meanwhile, San Clemente continues to work with the California Coastal Commission on approving plans for reopening the ocean terrace. A final determination hasn’t yet been made.

Until then, Travis is grateful for a board, staff and volunteers who have helped Casa Romantica come this far.

“It’s a long haul,” she said. “We have made a comeback, we’ve made a lot of progress, but we still do need support from the community.”

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