Knock 'Em Down

Our 15 favorite places OC developers have missed

Developers have made life better for everyone in Orange County-this is beyond dispute. The toll roads they've bestowed not only allow us access to spectacular vistas but also the ability to revel in them at 70 mph, listening to an Aerosmith CD.Where there was filth and decay, they have swept in and swept away offending buildings (most recently, Corona del Mar's Port Theater, which lacked such basics as cup holders, stadium seating and Bruce Willis) and rotting bits of land (the swampy Seal Beach Wetlands, which were earmarked two weeks ago to become the out-of-bounds rough on a championship golf course in the soon-to-be-started Hellman Ranch project).Where there was chaos, they have brought order; what was once barren, they have made beachfront. They have leveled the high places and filled in the low. They have done this while never looking back, in turn never allowing us to be entombed in the smooth amber of history. So, far be it from us to wag our fingers at them. We hope that what follows will be taken in the spirit it was intended: as suggestions, as support. We realize they are doing the best they can, but a person-even ones so noble-cannot be everywhere at once. And it seemed to us that while developers usually do a bang-up job of identifying deadwood and opportunity, there remain some egregious oversights-we came up with 15 in a matter of minutes-that could be made better, brighter, Orange Countier by them.They range from the spit and squalor of Mission San Juan Capistrano to Newport Beach's rusty fleet of ferries. There are shacks and universities, hills and bays, auditoriums, theaters and train stations, all of them just asking for it. Why they haven't already got it is not for us to judge. We are only here to nudge.We are lucky. Some counties, Ventura for one, prohibit growth. What they mistakenly see as tearing asunder, we recognize as opening up, new beginnings: birth.So, good hunting, fair builder, stuccoing succor, masonry midwife: on with you until that day, hopefully not long, when all that we survey will bear your print. When everything that was old is made anew, when driving 70 mph and listening to our Aerosmith CD we will revel in knowing that where the vistas used to be is now something much more beautiful: home.TRAIN STATION, Santa Ana
We're spending billions on new toll roads, freeway interchanges and surface-street repairs. Rest assured, proud OC motorists: we'll all be alone behind the wheels of gas- (or electricity-) sucking vehicles-that could easily hold three or more other passengers comfortably-for decades to come. So why the heck do we need central OC's train station? Those Amtrak cars are emptier than confession booths on St. Patrick's Day. Face it, there's a word for the few downtrodden souls who have somehow mastered the art of figuring out train schedules: L-O-S-E-R-S. These throwbacks know nothing about the joys of doing doughnuts in doughnut-shop parking lots. Of rubbing one's back against those soothing, wooden-bead, seat-cover thingies. Of simultaneously applying makeup, listening to the radio traffic report, eating a scrambled-egg-filled croissant, balancing a cup of hot coffee in your lap, and getting really intimate with the contents of your nostrils as you inch through the Orange Crush. And how about that train station's architecture? Early California? I baking powder? More like modern Mexico! I'm sorry, but Mexican tile and wooden benches are sooo TJ. Flatten the station's buildings and circular tower, put chrome booths in their place, and pour black asphalt over the length of the tracks to create what OC really needs: another toll road! BACK BAY, Newport Beach
It may seem misguided to cite an area surrounded by multimillion-dollar homes, major thoroughfares, an airport and a Mercedes-Benz dealership complete with a putting green as being overlooked. But development in and around the Back Bay has slowed to a terrifying crawl. It's been nearly a year since any building of note was completed around it. And though additional multimillion-dollar homes are going up on the bay's bluffs, the fact remains that a significant portion of this highly prized and pristine area remains untouched and, in some extreme cases, under water. One need only look to its southern shore to see what we're talking about: one will find hundreds of yards of barren, unkempt land teeming with insects (crabs), vermin (birds) and non-forest-green grass of varying lengths. One can only imagine the fear of those who work in the luxury office buildings and live in the condos that border this no man's land knowing there's only a thin, double-paned-glass line standing between them and chaos. This is all the more tragic given that at one time, this area seemed to be under control, but a certain and dangerous malaise followed. What it has wrought is a dangerous growth in the bird population (birds that have an uncomfortable swagger these days-as if they own the place). Environmentalists say the bay's water area has shrunk some 30 percent since 1972, in large part due to building on site as well as silt buildup from the runoff of development on the Irvine plane. Some might argue that 30 percent is a lot, but is it really enough? After all, that means 70 percent of prime putting-green land has yet to be tapped. What's worse, all this could easily be made right in a win-win situation for builders and bay huggers. Not all the water has to be sucked out. A certain portion should be left to ensure the area retains its bay-ish qualities: a sensible amount of wildlife left to be observed by tourists in rented paddle boats, the profits of which would be funneled into the building and maintenance of community swimming pools. As for concern that any birds will lose out on their food supply, they figure to be more than compensated by the handouts of happy residents bearing garlic-flavored croutons. This can be done, people! It should have been done by now. Did we start a job only to lose the will to finish it? Is that the kind of world we want to leave our children?HARBOR BOULEVARD, Garden Grove
Government agencies are supposed to spend money to make life better for the well-to-do. They pay the taxes, after all. Three cheers for Santa Ana, therefore, which spent $17.8 million of federal-housing money to build a city jail. And three more cheers for Garden Grove's Redevelopment Agency (RDA), which is using some of the millions it borrowed to force its poor trailer-trash residents out of town. Garden Grove's RDA will bulldoze more than a mile of Harbor Boulevard to build seven hotels and a tourist destination called Riverwalk. The old farts living at the Oasis Mobile Home Park? Forced out. That place is now a field. The hotel maids and busboys living in the 96 Sage Park Apartments? Their eviction comes in a few months. After that, all the folks living paycheck to paycheck at the Travel Country RV Park and the Fire Station Motel will be forced out. So will residents of Acacia Apartments. The real gem of this project is the financing: the city borrowed money to bulldoze the homes of the poor to develop a tourist destination to generate tax money to pay back the loans it took on to bulldoze the land in the first place. That kind of high-flying financing is more beautiful than the most beautiful landscape.TRESTLES, San Clemente
We all know Camp Pendleton is moving some of its Marine junior officers onto the San Mateo bluffs overlooking Trestles Beach. But what mystifies us is why they're stopping there. Didn't the jarheads take the shores of Tripoli, not just one crummy bluff? Look, the junior officers moving into San Mateo with their young wives and kids need entertainment. And if you're talking about the U. fucking S. Marine Corps, pilgrim, you've got to think big. These brave souls put their butts in harm's way all over the globe so you and yours can sit in your little planned communities, sipping pink-lemonade Snapple and inhaling big whiffs of freedom blowing out of your cranked-up-to-7 air conditioners. The least we can do is plop a big ol' honking theme park over the supposedly world-famous Trestles Beach (what, did someone take a vote? No one polled us!). Of course, construction can't start until the Army Corps of Engineers or the Sea Bees or whoever is responsible for that crap drops a breakwater offshore to kill those pesky waves. Trestles must become no more threatening than a Motel 6 swimming pool. Once that's done, developers can put in our idea of the perfect amusement area: Unabated Progress Land. We're talking miniature offshore oil-rig rides, scalable electricity towers (no razor-sharp barbs to discourage the kiddies!), and even a scaled-down San Onofre reactor core that can be used as a piping-hot wishing well. Add a few hot-dog stands, cotton-candy machines-maybe even a rental dock so you can take a leisurely paddleboat ride out to those oil rigs, and you've got one helluva Marine Land.THE ORANGE CIRCLE, Orange
It's mystifying that developers have missed the Orange Circle. The orbicular shopping district, whose surrounding neighborhood encompasses the largest area ever recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, just oozes character. Which makes it disgusting. And the city of Orange's recent proposal to reduce the Central Plaza's trademark traffic circle to one lane, making the area more pedestrian-friendly? Not a good sign. Just think: a couple of years from now, loitering antique seekers (and what are antique stores, anyway, but long-running garage sales that cut into the production and consumption of new stuff?) will come from miles around to sip coffee in some cute outdoor cafe in the newly restored, extra-quaint Orange Circle. They'll say hello to total strangers passing on the street, and they'll spend their money in those stinking Sanford & Son antique shops. This is character, not progress, an embarrassing reminder of the county's shameful small-town, agrarian past. If the Circle is allowed to thrive, it will become a heinous aberration, an unwelcome relative among the sports complexes, outlet malls and megaplexes that are the jewels in OC's commercial crown. The Circle must be square. Given that the area is protected by the feds, however, there are really only two options. The first idea is to infiltrate the Circle and rot it from the inside out-rent an empty shop and open up a DAPY or a Bath & Body Works. That'll give those junk dealers what for. The other option: just wait. The decaying old buildings circling the Circle are bound to tumble down like cardhouses when the Big One hits. This will make way for an earthquake-safe Planet Hollywood, with an orbicular parking lot to better serve our shining, prefabricated future rather than our humiliating agricultural past.CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY, Orange
While you're tearing down Orange's Historic Plaza District, don't overlook neighboring Chapman University. The architecture of Memorial Hall alone harkens back to the days of Plato, when what we need are more buildings like the multi-million dollar Argyros Forum. Sure, Argyros Forum is an ugly structure of glass and stone, but it's modern, it's hip, and it's a chance for trustees and socialites to get their names on everything (an outdoor patio bears the Schnapps' proud name). Think of the money to be razed, er, raised! The stark beauty of the buildings that were once called Orange High School is too distracting. Speaking of those creaky eyesores, you really should level Wilkinson Hall. It was moved once before (most likely because it obstructed the view of administrators inside Memorial Hall); why not just get rid of it altogether? And did you notice those trees? Fire hazards! And consider this: If you put in a new, state-of-the-art, modern-architecture retail quadrant, who'll want to be outside?QUAIL HILL, Irvine
Drive south on the 405 freeway from West Los Angeles. Along your route through this imposing sea of sprawl, the first nature break you encounter is Quail Hill-a dome-shaped wild-grass-covered rock outcropping that borders University Drive in Irvine. In the 1980s, Quail Hill was designated by a pro-development City Council as the future site of their City Hall-complete with plans for the obligatory paving over of paradise to put up a parking lot. But Irvine voters rebelled against the asphalt silliness. A coalition led by soon-to-be Mayor Larry Agran saved Quail Hill-an environmental landmark and winter home for Canada geese-from rampaging bulldozers and misguided politicians. That was almost a decade ago, and today, Quail Hill has this legacy: in order to be a successful South County politician, homage to open space and wildlife habitat is de rigeuer in your campaign mailings. It's enough to make Orange County real-estate tycoons like Donald Bren and George Argyros feel a deep darning-needle prick in their seventh chakra every time they pass this grassy slope. What to do? Any development on this site would require the okay of Irvine voters. Fat chance of that. May we suggest constructing a marker to commemorate the site? A special marker, say the size of . . . Edison International Field's scoreboard. Greeting the navigators of the 405, it can pulsate and shimmer: WELCOME TO SOUTH ORANGE COUNTY. BUY A HOME HERE. ENJOY WONDERFUL OPEN SPACE. LIKE THIS. A giant illuminated, rocking hand could point down to Quail Hill. Who could complain about that? FOURTH STREET, Santa Ana
On the night of May 28, 1906, white Orange Countians working with the Santa Ana City Council's approval torched Santa Ana's Chinatown at Third and Bush-just south of Fourth Street. Santa Ana officials are still at it, devising a variety of "redevelopment" projects whose effect seems to be to drive out the poor who, in Santa Ana, tend to be Latino. A stubborn problem is Fourth Street. In the old days, Anglo families crowded the sidewalks every weekend and shopped all day. Families still do that, but, well, they're Latino. Store signs are in Spanish. It'd be a marketing coup if we could lure white shoppers and storeowners back to Fourth Street. Which is why we're suggesting that city officials take the path of least resistance: cover the street with a roof, place doors at either end, and imagineer the place into Fiesta Land. The timing couldn't be more perfect: when the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse opens next year, Republican trial lawyers and the corporate raiders they defend will create an instant Anglo market. The city won't have any legal hassles evicting Latino shoppers and shop owners; they'll become "cast members." Fourth Street's restaurants may be too authentically Mexican for Fiesta Land, but the old Woolworth building could be retrofitted into a Taco Bell megaplex for the lower classes, and the Rancho de Mendoza restaurant could be converted into an El Torito Grill for the well-heeled. The old Yost Theater-now named the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God-has got to go. It holds eight services a week in Spanish and just one in English. That's not fair to English speakers (or practical, given the assassination of bilingual education), but it may work as performance art. Keeping 1906 in mind, let's make Phase Two of this project an Asian-American food court. We'll call it Fortune Cookie Land.FOX THEATER, Fullerton
Built in 1925, the Fox Theater is a classic single-screen cinema. The Moorish-style structure-once a cultural center-was the site of movie premieres that drew such Hollywood legends as Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Mary Pickford. But that was then. In 1987, with the advent of multiplexes, the Fox went legs-up, marquee-dark, out-of-business. Seven years later, after several unsuccessful development proposals, an act of God (or arson) added injury to insult when a fire of "suspicious origins" broke out on the old theater's stage. It caused only minimal damage. But was it an omen? A sign from theater-developer heaven that the future here was in demolition and show business? Some locals want to restore the Fox to its original single-screen grandeur. But why fight the power? Why not listen to the prophetic fire? Aliso Viejo has 20 screens. The Irvine Spectrum has 21. It's time for the Fox Fullerton 5,000. Using Japanese pod hotels as a prototype, Edwards Cinemas could originate the Personal Pod Cinema. Tear down the Fox box, and build a modern tower of pods to the sky. A 24-story shaft of Edwards' signature purple neon could beckon the public. Once inside, theatergoers would be treated to their own private theater space, complete with Edwards-brand hideous red carpeting and push-button intravenous concessions. Your own small yet comfortable tube-shaped private screening room would provide a perfectly sterile environment. No more hassles with the talkers. No more bothersome audience reactions. No more high hats, high hair or crying babies. Your personal pod would contour to your body and purr like a Niagara cyclo-massage lounge chair. Thermostat and volume controls would be standard features. And what's more, Edwards could claim the Fox Fullerton 5,000 as the biggest theater in the world. Developers, listen up: tear down the Fox. Build your big-screen tower of Babel now. PLUMMER AUDITORIUM, Fullerton
With its cathedral design and Spanish Colonial styling, this downtown Fullerton landmark stands obstinately in the path of the more righteous, cold-steel-and-glass architecture of today. The auditorium came to being in the 1930s, thanks to Franklin Roosevelt's Work Projects Administration, so besides being antiquated, it's a sad reminder of the 32nd president's socialist leanings. No wonder FDR would go on to lock arms with Stalin! Named after Louis Plummer, then the director of Fullerton Community College, the auditorium hosts civic-light-opera performances for catatonic bluehairs. The musty air, superfluous balconies and sightline-obliterating seating must appeal to them. We'll take freon, stadium seating and no chance of anyone re-creating that nasty John Wilkes Booth incident anytime. Besides, everyone knows it's only a matter of time before these old coots and live theater leave the planet, anyway. It's the dawn of a new century; let's raze the Plummer and put up something this county can never have enough of: another Wal-Mart.THE RICHARD NIXON BIRTHPLACE, Yorba Linda
Why developers haven't scrapped this little clapboard shack is a mystery. Sure, President Richard Nixon was born there, dreamed of becoming a railroad engineer there, learned to play the clarinet there and first talked politics there. But this is hardly the time for OC's best strip-mall builders to get sentimental. The creaky little white house with the quaint fireplace and gabled window sits on primo Yorba Linda land just crying out for a smoothie stand, doughnut store, video-rental palace or perhaps an all-night breakfast joint. Imagine how many times Henry Kissinger must have come out of the Nixon Library after a hard day's prevaricating, craving yummy chicken and waffles. Or, better yet, put in something the young folks in Yorba Linda (we're talking about anyone under 40) can enjoy-a dance club, a topless bar, maybe even a bowling alley. How hard could this be? Nixon said his father (who "wasn't trained as an architect") built the house out of a catalogue kit. And the house is, what, 80 years old? We figure one good shove near the front door this morning, and the developer can start leasing the land this afternoon.THE HEADLANDS, Dana Point
Few scenarios are more intolerable than local citizens blocking progress in their neighborhoods. Progress, as you know, means building high-density commercial developments, whether they are needed or not. And perhaps no place in Orange County is more progressive than Dana Point: just 5 percent of the town's soil remains undeveloped. (In comparison, open space in Laguna Beach totals a nerve-racking 30 percent.) To further reduce the amount of wasted open space, we must urgently build on one of the county's last remaining development-free coastal areas: the historic 122-acre Headlands. Sadly, hikers now walk the site's centuries-old nature trails unable to buy a Slurpee or a souvenir T-shirt. More than 150 years ago, Boston Sailor Richard Henry Dana called the steep jagged bluffs (which overlook what is today Dana Point Harbor) "the most romantic" coastal location in Southern California. We can't think of a better way to capitalize on this romance thing than by cramming office buildings, retail shops and about 400 or 500 houses on the property. Project opponents-routinely tagged as hippie environmentalists by the daily papers, though most are (shhh!) mainstream Republicans-whine that the development would put an additional 5,000-plus cars on PCH each day. (Hey, another reason to build more toll roads!) If the owners of the property had had a smidgen of Irvine Co. business sense among them, the Headlands would be ripe for federal redevelopment funds by now. The weak-gened, trust-fund wing of the notorious Chandler family-masters of the Los Angeles Times-owns the land, however. For more than a decade, they've been submitting fruitless concrete-pouring plans for the Headlands. Unforgivable! If the Chandlers can't get their act together and build something on the site soon, it may be advisable to contact the county's most unapologetically proactive developer: Newport Beach's Argyros. Argyros would ensure that teams of bulldozers plowed the Headlands into submission-if for nothing more than to construct flight-path beacons for his proposed international airport at El Toro.THE MISSION, San Juan Capistrano
The fact that this glorified rock pile has been able to dam up progress in the South County-for what is it now, 222 years?-is more than a little hard to, well, swallow. And speaking of those little birds, did you know they make their nests out of mud and saliva? Somehow, that unsanitary little tidbit never gets emphasized in fourth-grade history class. Consequently, an infestation of mice-with-wings has become the sentimental centerpiece of a legend as half-baked as the mission's crumbling adobe bricks-which, come to think of it, are made out of pretty much the same gunk as the swallows' nests. Bleh! That's not to deny Mission San Juan Capistrano's significance as an Orange County historical touchstone. But history has its place-it's called the past. When the mission was founded in 1776, it was a combination Home Depot and Crystal Cathedral. Father Junipero Serra? We like to think of him as the 18th century's Paul Crouch. But these days, the mission is just an extremely outdated strip mall. Meanwhile, the latest pie graphs on the city of San Juan Capistrano's very own Web site reveal that the town is the heart of disposable income. More than half of the households within five miles of downtown earn more than $100,000 per year, and a big chunk of those approach a half-million annually. But creating something meaningful-that is, hugely profitable-out of something that's been so far over the rainbow for so long is going to take lots of careful consideration and the best of our imagination. In other words: Pottery Barn! It works on so many levels. It's the perfect historic tie-in with Mission San Juan Capistrano's long association with the production of candles and soap, the tanning of hides, the weaving of tapestries, the making of furniture, and the exploitation of cheap, almost-slave labor. Plus, well, it's just so cool. Practically speaking, we'd hollow out the inside of the mission, retrofitting and slapping a coat of paint on the outer shell-a contemporary pastel would be nice, although we could live with Southwestern shades as a concession to a feel that's more autentico-and ordering up some shiny new bells. This isn't our only idea, of course. The stately old mission looks like it could easily be convertible into a multiplex cinema-stadium seats, please-a Souplantation, a skateboard park or, hell, a Home Depot. But we're adamant on one point. Any redevelopment project has got to start with birdcalls and BB guns.WHITING RANCH, Lake Forest
Naturalists might point to the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park as a remarkable compromise between nature and sprawl. But compromise is weakness. Surrounded by two major shopping centers and a swirl of tract homes, the 1,500-acre park includes two large canyons (Borrego and Serrano) and Red Rock, a smaller canyon whose distinctive red-rock walls suggest an alternative use: trash can. For what is a canyon, really, but a hole in nature? And what does nature abhor more than a vacuum? Nothing. Recognizing these facts, county officials have already shown ingenuity in using the county's canyons as huge Dumpsters in Irvine (Coyote Canyon Landfill) and in Brea (Olinda-Alpha Landfill). Once-useless holes are now full of trash-our trash-and didn't the Lord promise to make the rough places flat? Red Rock Canyon, especially, cries out for an alternative use. First, Red Rock is almost inaccessible to doughy pedestrians, who must trudge two miles-on foot! in the sun!-to reach the place. Second, the red sandstone cliffs are 20 million years old, and that's old, whether you're talking first wives, wine or landscaping. Finally, there's Red Rock's nickname, "The Little Grand Canyon." Do we want to be known for anything little? Let's call it what it is-"The Big Trash Can"-paint the whole thing blue, and add this legend in 100-foot letters: "Pitch In!"HARBOR FERRY, Newport Beach
The ferry crossing between Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula is mere moments of pleasure. But in that instant, the Newport Harbor Ferry produces all sorts of unsavory insights: being cheap, it promotes democracy (even bums can afford the ferry fare!); being efficient, it promotes mass transportation (and the dangerous idea that cars may be a socially produced "need" rather than an organic need); being privately owned, it suggests that "mass transit" may not always require government; and being beautiful-in a rusting, stinky, Newport Harbor kind of way-it promotes the observation that simple pleasures really are the best. May we suggest: the Orange County New Chunnel. The original Chunnel links the United Kingdom (at Dover) with continental Europe (at the French port of Calais) at a cost of several billion dollars; our dramatic underwater tunnel will link new eight-lane superstreets with banked turns and laser transponders. Presto! No waiting! Drivers entering the tunnel at either location will find themselves on the opposite end within seconds. Other advantages: the estimated cost is $260 million in private-sector contracts, plus spinoff enterprises, including decontamination of toxic silt from dredging and Chunnel-wall advertising.Contributors to this article include Nathan Callahan, Matt Coker, Jon Hall, Mr. Hankey, Steve Lowery, Patrice Wirth Marsters, Tim Meltreger, R. Scott Moxley, Anthony Pignataro, Will Swaim and Dave Wielenga.

 
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