Cottages dismantled, but pieces will live on

When passing Big Bend in Laguna Beach, locals may notice a change in scenery.

The historic Third Street cottages that once graced the canyon's curve are being dismantled to make way for a new community trailhead and wildlife corridor, headed by the Laguna Canyon Foundation.

The public trails are open to all — hikers, bikers and equestrians.

For the past four years, the city has attempted to relocate the cottages, but Councilman Kelly Boyd said in June that it was time for removal and said it was possible the cottages would rot if they were relocated.

The foundation approached the city about two years ago about the 3.7-acre property, President Derek Ostensen said.

The foundation has raised funds with third parties over the last year, cutting the cost to the city.

"We value the cottages, and their historic meaning to our community, and it would be our preference to keep the cottages if they could find a new home," he said. "Unfortunately, it did not pan out."

The Orange County Transit Authority is one of the parties donating to the project though their environmental mitigation program.

The dirt lot will be transformed to a natural public park and a corridor between surrounding wilderness parks, allowing wildlife to come and go, Ostensen said.

"(Wildlife) depend on movement between large open space preserves in order to mate with a broader genetic pool," he said.

If they're hemmed in, he said, "they'll interbreed and the ecosystem can collapse on itself."

The area will also serve as a gateway to downtown.

After two weeks more of dismantling, irrigation will be laid. Ostensen estimates the project will be completed in a year and a half to two years.

Instead of demolishing the cottages with a wrecking ball, the foundation chose a more considerate and eco-friendly approach by dismantling the cottages piece by piece, allowing the lumber and materials to be salvaged.

Local Gregg Abel, of Gregg Abel Design and Construction, decided to donate funds to the project, since it is very costly to deconstruct. Enlisted to help is the Orange County Conservation Corps, which provides job training to at-risk youth, to work on the project.

Abel also is collecting redwood from the project to use on a home he's constructing for his children.

Artists Betty Haight and Stephanie Cunningham have also utilized the wood, incorporating the scraps into their artwork.

The collaborators go by Cunningham-Haight at their Festival of Arts booth and use wood for the framing of their pieces, which were featured in a Sandra Bullock film, "The Proposal."

Ostensen mentioned that many other local families have visited the site to salvage materials for their own homes.

"It's a neat way for the cottages to live on even though they couldn't find a new home," Ostensen said.

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