Little Gem with History

Caressed by hills and a pleasant ocean breeze, little-known Niguel West glories in its modern roots
Little Gem with History
Niguel West locals Cathy and Carl Bjorkman with daughter Gracie
(center) hang out in their front yard.
Little Gem with History
The Horizon House was the first home that went up in the master-planned community.
Little Gem with History

It was a startling sight for a private pilot buzzing over the Southland Coast in the spring of 1964. A flying saucer had touched down in the rugged hills of the old Rancho Niguel, a sheep ranch just a mile from the Pacific.

A dip of the wings, a drop in elevation, and the pilot might have spotted a roadside sign—'visit the Horizon House.' The house, all concrete and glass and circular, with a floating, scalloped concrete roof, was open to the public every day from 9 to 5. Thousands of people trooped through.

Built "to show you could make beautiful things with pre-cast concrete," in the words of its structural engineer, Hanns Baumann, the Horizon House was simultaneously a promotion for the concrete industry, an idea house suggesting the future of home building, a house for sale—and the first house in the new master-planned community of Laguna Niguel.

The town's founders, architect and historian Ted Wells says, used the word "utopian community" to describe the place, which was conceived in the late 1950s in the office of Boston investors Cabot, Cabot and Forbes.

"It was the first time [in the United States] an entire community was master planned, an entire city," Wells says, going beyond such earlier utopian towns as Radburn, New Jersey in that all Laguna Niguel would be under the control of a single developer.

Famed architect and planner Victor Gruen laid out the town with curved streets attentive to hillsides and views, providing greenbelts, preserving ridge tops, and calling for a civic center and cultural center. Much of the vision would be achieved, much not.

By the mid-1960s other homes began popping up around "the round house," as some called it. These new homes were of wood, not concrete, but they were post-and-beam, open planned, with walls of glass—and with atriums like you'd find in an Eichler home.

The Horizon House was the first built in the present-day city of Laguna Niguel, and the surrounding homes, Niguel West, was the first subdivision.

Teachers, professors, a merchant of menswear, the owner of a popular bar in Long Beach all bought "spacious, custom-quality homes," homes that were "caressed by pleasant ocean breezes."