Luci Dumas Fine Photography
When my girlfriend and her husband moved from the Chesapeake Bay area to San Diego in the early ’80s, they were optimistic that, even though they had a short-leashed budget, they would be able to find a four-bedroom, three-bath, single-family residence with a nice back yard for their golden retriever.
I had my doubts, but was pleasantly surprised when, a few months later, I ran into her at a wooden-car show and she told me they’d bought a nice-sized house that met all their requirements. “It’s kind of in the hood,” she admitted. “But we don’t mind.”
The “hood” was South Park, although she often referred to the area where her house sat as the edge of Golden Hill. Her home was a large, eclectic Spanish-style, but most of the houses around her block were smaller, rundown Craftsman homes with peeling paint and weedy yards. Some had bars on the windows. Many were rentals.
Just down the way, a straggle of shopkeepers were trying to make a go of it, many keeping their doors locked and only opening them if a customer happened to knock.
Last weekend, my girlfriend and I had a lunch date and opted for Eclipse Chocolate Bar & Bistro. It had two pluses: SDH/GL restaurant reviewer Stephen Silverman had given it a Silver Fork Award, and it was within walking distance from her house.
Thirty years have gone by since she and her husband bought their house; and although my friend and I gained a few facial lines, it seems South Park lost its wrinkles in the process of growing up. As we strolled down wide, tree-lined 30th Street, pale yellow blossoms drifted down on us like bits of confetti. We walked by a gourmet food truck and a brightly colored drive-through coffee kiosk, where we stopped to chat with a senior citizen who was busy planting a circle of fuchsia, pink and red impatiens around the base of a palm tree. He said he felt lucky that he could do his part in keeping the streetfront beautiful and that, no, he wasn’t worried someone would steal the little table that looked just like a tree trunk. He’d placed it there for the coffee vendor some time ago and no one had taken it yet.
The Craftsman houses we wandered past probably have bigger mortgages now, but are beautifully restored and have real landscaping. Just beyond a smattering of cute bungalow courts, we peeked into a couple of vintage-style boutique-shop windows. One shop was selling flapper beachwear.
We reached our destination, hungry from the walk. As we sat down to enjoy our three-plate Sweet & Savory Brunch, I commented on the changes in South Park. My girlfriend laughed and said, “Yeah, I guess I can’t call it 'the hood' anymore.”
Eva Ditler, Managing Editor
In the 1960s when I was a kid living in Ontario, Canada, sunny summer weekends were spent “going to the lake.” We’d pack up the old ’54 Chevy with an ice chest of food, lawn chairs, beach blankets, towels, our fiberboard box suitcase, the Coleman stove, the tent and all its paraphernalia, sunscreen, Off bug repellent, magazines, fishing poles, a tackle box. Then, with a little adjusting of stuff here and there, the four of us (mom, dad, me and my know-it-all older sister) would pile in. With a good-luck pat on the dashboard from Dad so that the car would make it to our destination, off we’d go.
Whether we traveled to Golden Lake, Silver Lake, Blue Sea Lake, White Lake or any other lake, my sister and I busied ourselves swimming, diving off the floating dock, building sand castles, filling our pails with tadpoles or fresh berries and reveling in the warmth of the sun. In the mornings, my dad would make French toast on the Coleman stove. In the evenings, we’d roast marshmallows around the campfire.
Those blissful weekends are treasured memories — memories recently jogged from their nesting place when I visited Newport Beach’s Crystal Cove (shown above), a stretch of beach where families just like mine spent similar summertime weekends.
This lagoon-like retreat started off as a set for Hollywood filmmakers during the silent-film era (Treasure Island was filmed there in 1918). To give the illusion of an exotic island locale, palm fronds were placed on huts. When these sets were left behind, families would stay in them. Soon, vacationers began building rustic, eclectic cottages on the shoreline and on the bluff. By the 1930s, families of campers were staying in tents right on the beach — all with the generous permission of property owners James Irvine II and James Irvine III.
Every Saturday at 4 o’clock, campers gathered ’round the flagpole, where a flag depicting a martini glass was raised. A vacationer blew the bugle, and cocktail hour officially began. Adults filled their cocktail glasses, while teens hung out at the general store’s soda fountain. I envision happy families enjoying beach bonfires, luaus, tiki parties and communal fish fries (a little different than our lake forays, where tea and cookies were served at 4 and there was no surf, but still the same basic kind of lazy summer days).
In the late 1930s, the Irvines invited cottage tenants to either move their cottages elsewhere or lease their cottages from the Irvine Company. Most opted to lease. In 1962, tenting on the beach was outlawed due to overcrowding; and in 1979, the cove was sold to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. In 2001, the cottage occupants (or coveites, as they were called) were evicted by the state.
Today, thanks to the Crystal Cove Alliance, a nonprofit organization formed in 1999 to preserve the cove, this stretch of beach looks pretty much the same as it did back in its heyday. Of the 46 cottages built between the 1920s and 1950s, 22 cottages have been restored. Thirteen are charming overnight rentals. Eight are used for visitor services, including a store and the check-in office; and one is a marine research lab. The CCA is busy raising the funds necessary (a hefty 20 million bucks, give or take a few dollars) to restore the remaining 24 cottages.
Eva Ditler, Managing Editor
For months, I’ve been stepping on chunks of gray master bath flooring grout. The grout started making a jump for freedom only a few weeks after my husband’s “friend” laid the tile. When I asked him about it, he wondered out loud if I might have stepped on the flooring before it was completely dry — “even though I warned you about that very thing,” he said, accusingly.
I didn’t think I had, but I wasn’t too alarmed, because at first there was just a tick of grout making innocent appearances here and there — little bits that I easily could hand pick and toss with a flick of the wrist into the bathroom trash.
But then, the great escape began. The little grout bits became large nuggets, and I worried that my tile squares were going to make a run for it too. When I finally mustered up enough courage to ask my husband’s friend to regrout, he’d left town.
I often make the mistake of using nonprofessionals when it comes to general household fix-its. The guy who painted the exterior of my house turned out to be an ex-con with cancer who couldn’t finish the job. The just-on-the-cusp-of-adulthood teens who painted rooms in the house (and got paid by the hour) spent more time changing TV channels than changing wall colors. And the drug addict who swore that if he spread some white goop on the roof it would fix all leaks for 10 years only charged me a grand.
I don’t know if I’m horribly gullible, if I feel sorry for people who need money or if I’m just cheap — or all three. But last week, when I noticed that the tile in the bathroom was coming loose and one tile square was cracking, I finally made the decision to call professionals.
It turns out, my husband’s friend was supposed to put a subfloor in and not just tile over the concrete. Who knew? Well, I guess the professionals did. Plus, the professionals will lay the tile for less money than I already paid for the job.
You know what I think? I think I’m tired of the old stained linoleum in my kitchen and I’m going to have the professionals lay tile there too.
Eva Ditler, Managing Editor
When I imagine a Southern sugar plantation homestead, my mind automatically envisions an antebellum mansion with decorative pilasters, gables, broad verandahs and tall, thick columns. That’s why I was a bit taken aback when I visited the French Creole residence known as The Laura Plantation House in Louisiana. It didn’t look anything like Gone With the Wind’s Tara.
First of all, the stately columns I expected to see were, on this house, anorexic. Instead of a tall, regal structure, what stood before me was a squat, on-the-wide-side country home.
But don’t let that description fool you. I wasn’t disappointed. Although simpler in style, this house had knock-your-socks-off color. That’s because the Creoles wanted to make certain that no one mistook them for Anglo-Saxons. Rather than copy the lily whiteness of their predictable neighbors’ plantation homes, they whooped up their residences with vibrant paints. The Laura Plantation House is happy yellow with a sky blue and rusty burgundy trim combination and what looked to me like a bright pink medallion over the entrance.
The tour guide explained that the front of the home was divided by gender with the left-hand rooms used as a gentlemen’s parlor and bedroom and the two right-hand rooms reserved for the ladies. The back of the house was used as a communal parlor and for dining.
Interiors were brightly colored, but sparsely furnished. A grand central staircase with a curved baluster is nonexistent, but just because the architecture isn’t fancy doesn’t mean the floor plan isn’t intelligent.
The house relies on cross-ventilation to handle the sultry heat of Louisiana summers. With no hallways, the two rows of five rooms open directly into each other; and each room has exterior double French doors, as well as other interior openings.
When the tour guide took us to the raised basement, she showed us structural frames with Roman numeral markings that builders used to match beams and joints. She said constructing the house was like putting together a Tinkertoy project: “Everything is precut, premeasured, notched and pegged.”
Brighter still were the women who ran this estate. Four generations of women owned The Laura Plantation and managed its daily operations. So, in a way, the Creoles were progressive for the time. But then, of course, there were the slaves who lived in the back shanties. I toured those pitiful one-room shacks too, but that’s another story.
Eva Ditler, Managing Editor