Corona del Mar Today: Hundreds remember ukulele player Bill Tapia at OASIS memorial party

About 250 people gathered at the OASIS Senior Center last week to remember famed ukulele player Bill Tapia in a celebration of his life that had originally been planned as his 104th birthday party.

"This is his kind of party," said John McDonald of San Clemente, who took lessons and played with Tapia. "He was always the first one to start playing at a party, and the last to stop. He just loved to sit down and jam with people."

Tapia died in his Westminster home on Dec. 2. Born on Jan. 1, 1908, in Honolulu, he received his first ukulele at age 7 and began his career three years later, entertaining World War I troops at USO shows. He once gave ukulele lessons to Clark Gable and Shirley Temple and played with Elvis Presley, as well as played backup for musicians including Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong. He was inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame in 2004.

For the past five years, he played with the OASIS center's ukulele strummers group, which meets on Mondays at the center at Fifth and Marguerite avenues.

"He always got a great reception when he'd arrive," said Isabel Jack of Irvine, who has played with the OASIS group for about three years. "Everyone would cheer and clap when he arrived. He seemed to love us all."

Neighbors, caregivers, professional musicians and amateur strummers crowded the Evelyn Hart Event Center for the four-hour party, which featured the Bamboo Room band from San Onofre playing songs by Patsy Cline as well as jazz standards and Hawaiian and French songs. Many attendees brought their ukuleles and played along, and singers and hula dancers performed. At center stage was Tapia's signature red ukulele, draped in leis, also red — his signature color.

"My son was Bill's student for seven years," said Keith Miller of Capistrano Beach. "He'd yell at him: 'Boy! How long you practice last week?'" Miller said. "'Not long enough!' Bill was 93 when I met him, and when he was 100 he said, 'I don't know if I can teach him anything more.' But he taught my son more than music. He taught him about being a good person."


Homeowner, neighbors clash over building project

A battle between a homeowner's right to build a family house and Corona del Mar residents' desire to prevent the mansionization of their community — and to protect views — will play out at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday will hear an appeal of an earlier Planning Commission decision that denied a couple permission to merge two Ocean Boulevard lots and build a home that neighbors say will obliterate views and violate a decades-old agreement. Neighbors also have collected hundreds of signatures from residents who say they don't want merged lots and oversized houses, particularly at 2808 and 2812 Ocean Blvd.

The lot merger would "cause havoc on a block of lots that are delicately and totally intertwined," writes Melinda Luthin, a lawyer representing neighbors who live on Ocean Lane.

The city's zoning administrator in September approved the merger of the lots. But neighbors appealed that decision, saying it would lead to the construction of a home that would violate a 1951 agreement that limits to one story the height of three Ocean Boulevard lots.

The Planning Commission in October voted 6 to 1 to reverse the lot merger, saying that the home that would be built on the lots was out of character for the neighborhood.

Since then, the homeowners, John and Julie Guida, have worked with Coralee Newman of Government Solutions Inc. Newman said she has met with neighbors twice, and the latest plans for the home are "significantly" less intrusive.

"The back roof deck is gone," Newman said. "The elevator is gone. The stairs up to the roof are gone. It's improved."

In a Jan. 12 letter sent to Mayor Nancy Gardner and other City Council members, Newman reiterated her clients' efforts to work with neighbors and said that their proposed home meets city guidelines.

"The lots as merged will be consistent with the surrounding pattern of development and will not create an excessively large lot that is not compatible with the surrounding development," she wrote. "Corona del Mar consists of lots of varying shapes and sizes … The merger of the two lots will not create an excessively large lot in comparison to many of the existing lots in the surrounding area."

Two neighbors who live on Ocean Lane directly behind the lots have said that the 1951 agreement limits three Ocean Boulevard lots to one story, thus protecting their ocean views. In exchange, the agreement granted the alley access to garages for the front-row homes.

Newman, in her letter to council, states, "The Guidas believe that their proposed home meets the terms of the Grant Deed, and is in fact a one-story home."

The problem is that the agreement does not define what is considered a story, Newman said.

"There is no definition in the city of what a height is for a one-story," she said.

The proposed home would be 14 feet tall, well within the city's height limits.

The controversy has been difficult for the two Ocean Lane homeowners, who attended and testified at the Planning Commission hearing last fall. They say the battle has harmed their health, and that losing their ocean views would be devastating.

"My family and I wish this nightmare was over," said Lucinda Campbell, whose parents live on Ocean Lane.

Twitter: @coronadelmartdy

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