Thursday, July 24, 2014

Photo Essay: Crystal Cove Cottages, Frozen in Time

When I was invited to go explore some derelict beachside cottages in Orange County, I wasn't sure what to expect.



After all, Crystal Cove is an actively operating state park in Newport Beach.



Its historic district houses both restored cottages from the 1930s and the ones that have fallen into severe disrepair.



Unlike most of my explorations in the desert, there would be people around.



As we stood on top of the bluff leading down to the beach...



...choosing to descend its unstable side rather than risking the exposed dirt road...



...we prepared ourselves for getting caught.



We had to be quick. There were too many other beachgoers there to spy on our mission, and potentially rat us out.



Amazingly, it appears as though people have been more or less respectful of the "Area Closed" signs...



...whose orange hue acted more as a beacon to the delicious abandonment rather than a deterrent.



Trying not to disturb the natural habitat, including the unstable dunes...



...we tiptoed down rickety planks and collapsing catwalks...



...avoiding rusty nails wherever possible.



I was glad to still be under the protection of a tetanus shot from 2008.



Although it's one of the lesser-known beach destinations nowadays, Crystal Cove rose to popularity in 1926 with the opening of the Pacific Coast Highway.



Residents and vacationers alike populated the dozens of bungalows along the beach...



...which were occupied consistently from the 1920s until 2001...



...when California State Parks denied lease renewals in order to repair and renovate some of the cottages that were in dire need.



But they didn't get to all of them.



In 1979, California State Parks had purchased the land from The Irvine Company, the private real estate developer that operated Crystal Cove for decades, and was responsible for halting all new construction in 1939 (as well as closing the Cove to public use in 1962).



Because of those restrictions, Crystal Cove was able to retain its original charm and character...



...a historic landmark of vernacular architecture...



...rendered "frozen in time" without modern developments, additions or renovations.



The surf and the salty, humid air have done their damage to the cottages not yet restored...



...but despite the peeling paint...



...you can still appreciate each bungalow's unique design scheme...



...each with its own color palette...



...features...



...and configuration.



These cottages have inspired Hollywood time and again...



...transporting audiences to Polynesia or some other tropical paradise...



...and providing the setting for the 1988 tearjerker Beaches.



The Crystal Cove Alliance and California State Parks would like to restore all of the original cottages...



...but even if they had all of the necessary money today...



...and started right away...



...it would be at least a five year project.



While 29 of the original cottages on the south end of the historic district have been returned to their original splendor (using salvaged materials whenever possible)...



...the remaining 17 on the northern end are in desperate need of stabilization...



...and protection from the earthslides that are occurring all around them.



The boardwalk, which used to run the length of the entire cluster of cottages, has been devastated.



The sea level is rising.



Trespassers with far worse intentions than mine would easily be able to get in (though fortunately it appears as though they haven't).



But when California is having a hard enough time just keeping their state parks open...



...it's hard to imagine any availability for funding a restoration project of this scale.



But this would actually be the third and final phase of the massive restoration project that occurred in 2006 and 2011.



Registered guests are once again welcome in dozens of those cute cottages.



They can again walk through the pedestrian tunnel built in 1932 to get from the parking area across the PCH...



...to their cottages...



...and back.

When we were finally discovered, we still hadn't explored a handful of the dilapidated dwellings, missing out on maybe four of five of them. But, when someone official-sounding calls out to you, "Hey, that area is closed, you have to leave!", you don't make a fuss, you just leave and move on.

We weren't terribly surprised to hear those words called out to us, anyway. I'd expected it a whole lot sooner.

Then again, they didn't seem terribly surprised to have to call out to us, either.