Our Laguna: Now's your chance to capture the castle

Pyne Castle in North Laguna, once considered for President Richard Nixon's Western White House, is on the market for the first time in four decades.

Built by millionaire — in the days when that meant real money — Walter E. Pyne, and originally called Broadview Villa, Pyne Castle is considered the foremost example of Norman-style architecture in Laguna. Construction began in 1927 after oil was discovered on land owned by Pyne in Olive.

While the exterior of the building has remained relatively unchanged, the interior was cut up into 12 rentals in the 1960s that ranged from studios to the three-bedroom, three-bath penthouse, and four non-conforming units. It has been rumored that the castle actually had been divided in half by Pyne to separate his quarters from his mother's.

The castle was rezoned from R-1, single family, to R-3 in December of 2009 when the City Council approved changes to the city's land use element, amending the city's Local Coastal Program, which requires certification by the California Coastal Commission.

"The commission has requested a year's extension [to hear] the application," said city Principal Planner Carolyn Martin.

Under the R-3 designation, potential uses for Pyne Castle include converting it to a bed and breakfast.

"That's what I would do," said Gregg Abel, an architectural designer and contractor, who has scoped the building for potential buyers.

Converting it to a bed and breakfast would require a conditional use permit and additional parking, Martin said.

Space for parking is not a problem, Abel said. The property is on more than 3 ½ acres.

And if Pyne Castle were to be put on the city's Historical Register, parking requirements could be reduced.

"It is E- [for excellent] rated on the inventory." Martin said. "But it is not on the register."

Any changes to the exterior should be done with sensitivity to the original, Abel said.

"The building is old, but it is in good condition," he said.

Abel thinks the building's gray exterior could use a bit of color.

However, Norman revival architecture, which shares some of the elements in Tudor and Provincial styles, is identifiable by use of gray stucco siding, narrow windows and clipped gables and less use of half-timbering, according to Karen Wright Turnbull, author of "The Cottages and Castles of Laguna Beach."

Alterations to the exterior would be reviewed by the city's Heritage Committee.

"We get any work to be done on properties on the inventory," committee member Mollie Bing said.

But the committee can only make recommendation, not decisions.

Bing said her decisions are based on a review of the original building and how and when it was changed and what an applicant wants to do.

"I just love that building," committee member Bonnie Hano said. "I wish they would register it."

Turnbull, who assisted in the compilation of the historical inventory identified Pyne Castle as the foremost Norman-style estate in Laguna.

"As Laguna's No. 1 castle, this structure has always held a certain fascination of locals," Turnbull wrote. "In years past before the hillside was so built up Pyne Castle could be seen from the [North Coast] highway, perched on the hilltop as noble as any European castle. Today you have to drive on Hillcrest to see it."

Presidential bodyguards deemed the castle in densely built-up North Laguna as unprotectable, and the Nixons moved to La Casa Pacifica, an oceanfront estate in San Clemente, where armed patrols could be stationed on the beach.

But the Press Corps stayed in Laguna, meeting for daily briefings at the Surf & Sand, which for years kept the Press Room sign on an outbuilding where they congregated.

Pyne Castle was most recently owned by Richard Massen and his partner, Roland Greene, both deceased. They bought the property in 1971, after the interior had been divided into rental units.

A young filmmaker named Greg MacGillivray was among the early tenants, Abel said. The castle exterior was used in "Five Summer Stories."

It is on the market for $11.4 million, reduced from $15 million.

Prudential Realtors Rick Balzar and Shauna Covington are co-listers. For more information, call Balzer at (949) 793-2075 and Covington at (949) 395-8786.

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Art book sale

Laguna Art Museum Librarian Carole Reynolds announced that new and gently used books will be sold during First Thursday's Art Walk.

For more information about book sales, call Reynolds at (949) 494-8971.

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Tooting Laguna's horn

The Laguna Beach Community Band performed its first holiday concert at the Winter Fantasy opening Day Saturday.

Those who hadn't heard the band perform recently were in for BIG surprise. Once just a handful of musicians, the all-volunteer band now numbers more than 60, with a big sound.

Next up: An hourlong performance from 5 to 6 p.m. on Hospitality Night on Dec. 3 on Forest Avenue across from Laguna Presbyterian Church.

The annual Holiday Concert is scheduled for 3 p.m. Dec. 12 at Laguna Beach High School's Artists Theatre — one of the few local performance groups that can get a date for the venue — once billed as a community asset.

Admission is $5. Parking is free.

Credit for the creation of the band goes to flautist Theresa Marino, former Arts Commissioner and retired music teacher Carol Reynolds and conductor Bill Nichols. Beginning as an eight-member Recreation Department class, the band is now listed in the Irvine Valley College Emeritus Program run by Dave Anderson and funded by grants and donations.

Under the direction of Ed Peterson and Pete Fournier and Nichols, the band and its smaller ensembles now perform more than 20 concerts a year.

The band is always looking for good musicians. Rehearsals are from 6 to 8 p.m. for the whole band, and from 8 to 9 p.m. for subsets.

All are available for private functions.

For more information, call (940) 395-3043.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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