Our Laguna: Conservancy hosts speaker on Crystal Cove

Crystal Cove may not be in Laguna Beach, but it is of Laguna Beach, if measured by the Laguna Canyon Conservancy response to a program presented Monday by Laura Davick, Crystal Cove Alliance founder and director of external affairs.

The group applauded the accomplishments of the alliance, as outlined by Davick, and future plans.

Lagunans have been involved in the preservation of the cove since scores of them participated in the successful efforts in the mid-1990s to halt the state plan to develop a luxury resort on the site and to preserve the historic district on Laguna's door step. Davick wants to keep the relationship strong.

"We are trying to reach out to Laguna Beach," she said.

The alliance is working with the Boys & Girls Club, Laguna Art Museum and the Laguna Community Foundation, which has put together a $500,000 endowment fund.

Today, Crystal Cove is considered to be one of, if not the most successful, of the 278 state parks, Davick said.

The park was once a part of the land grant James Irvine and other Northern California ranchers bought from Jose Andres Sepulveda in1864. Irvine later bought out his partners and passed the land to his son, James II.

The Irvine Co. was created from that land deal in 1894, and leased some of the land to Japanese farmers who built homes, barns and a community center, known as the Laguna Beach Language School, which has been preserved in the park.

After the Japanese were interred in World War II, forever losing their hillside farms and homes, the land was leased for farming, equestrian use, cattle grazing, filmmakers and vacationers, according to a park brochure.

Eventually the cove was made into a private community, recognized in 1979 by the National Register of Historic Places.

The community called their Historic District "A Step Back in Time," and a pricey step was taken by the state to acquire it.

"It was the most expensive land ever sold to California for a state park," Davick said.

But the state didn't know what a gem it had.

Crystal Cove had drawn visitors since the 1920s. Some of them stayed, living in the cottages that the state wanted to tear down to build a glitzy resort, to the dismay of the owners, historians and preservationists.

"My mother was a tent camper in the cove in 1937 and my father came in 1940," Davick said. "They met in the tents and acquired Cottage Two."

Davich was just a toddler when the family moved in.

"Toni [Iseman] has said Crystal Cove is part of my DNA. I think she is right," Davick said.

She hated what the state had planned and in 1999 founded the nonprofit Alliance to Rescue Crystal Cove — which it did, aided by local outrage at the state proposal. The name was changed to Crystal Cove Alliance and the mission shifted from rescue to restoration and education in 2003.

The nonprofit no longer limits its activities to Crystal Cove. It extends to more than 2,400 acres of backcountry in Moro Canyon, down to the 3.2 miles of coastline and out to the 1,,00-acre Underwater Park.

Public amenities and cottage restoration has been done in stages.

Twenty-nine of the 46 cottages were restored in the second phase.

"It took 18 months and cost $6.7 million, but I didn't have to rob any banks," Davick said.

Besides the cottage restoration, Phase Two included the Education Commons, the "Beaches" film and media center, the alliance headquarters and a variety of programs.

Cottage 22 has been fitted up as a Marine Field Station in partnership with UC Irvine, to be used by university students and faculty and state park scientists.

Twenty educational programs for students include a "Marine Protected Area Citizen Science Cruise," on which students can grab a digital fishing rod and study marine life without having to bait a hook to catch a fish. The rod is actually a camera.

Three new exhibits included "Crystal Cove — Up Close: Weathered Beautiful;" "Arts in the Park: Plein Air Painting Retrospective;" and "Weird Rocks: An investigation of Beach Geology," enjoyed by 50,000 park visitors.

"Plein air painting classes have been ramped up," Davick said.

Most recently, the alliance announced the hiring of Jackie McDougall as vice president of development, a new position. McDougall was previously employed as chief development officer of the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Visitors can dine at the casual Shake Shack or at the Beachcomber, which will also cater events.

The alliance was the first nonprofit contracted by the state as a park concessionaire, which in turn has brought in Ruby's.

"Ruby's takes a profit, but give us 12% off the top," Davick said.

The food sales generate $8 million a year, rentals $1 million annually.

Phase Three is in the Planning Stage. It includes restoration of the remaining 17 cottages.

"It is arguably the most challenging phase of all the restoration in Crystal Cove," Davick said. "It is estimated to cost $20 million, $7 million of that for infrastructure."

Each of the cottages is estimated to cost $370,000.

If the alliance had all the money for the project, it could be completed in about five months. Davick said the alliance is in process of finalizing a source of funding.

"Other exciting projects and programs are in the works," Davick said.

Among those who enjoyed Davick's talk: Iseman, former Councilwomen Bobbie Minkin and Verna Rollinger, Carol Reynolds, Linda Marshutz, Bette Anderson, Susan McNeal Valasquez and Eleanor Henry.

Also: Alice Harmon, Elsa Brizzi, Joan and Terry Brandt, Ginger and Neal Fitzpatrick, and Tom Osborne, Darrcy Loveland and Duane Bickel, Sande St. John and Connie Burlin.

To learn more about the cove or how to donate, call (949) 376-0900 or join Davick's free, two-hour walking tours, starting at 10 a.m. on the second Saturday of every month. The tour begins at the bluff-top deck of the Overnight Rental Check-in Cottage 35.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call 1 (714) 966-4608 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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