Little Gem with History - Page 2

Caressed by hills and a pleasant ocean breeze, little-known Niguel West glories in its modern roots
Little Gem with History
Little Gem with History
At home with Dirk and Sarah Venzlaff, whose eye-catching, art-filled living room (top) features a designer's touch.
Little Gem with History
Little Gem with History
Architect George Bissel's designs for Niguel West are distinctive and varied, with two-story homes occasionally interspersed with single-level, flat-roofed ones.

For the architect of the homes, George Bissell, Jr. of Newport Beach, better known for commercial work with his firm, Bissell Architects, "it was an exciting project, because he was able to push the design that was very popular at that time, and do something that was forward reaching," says Wells, who had interviewed Bissell before his death in 2010. "But he was able to do it at a higher quality than was being done in modernist-style development housing at that time."

A special neighborhood indeed, one with a dramatic birth and one that, five years after completion, faced and fought off imminent death. But it doesn't take long for history to be forgotten. Even, or especially, recent history.

Niguel West, with 73 modern homes, has yet to hit most mid-century modern fans' roadmap.

When Dirk and Sarah Venzlaff, mid-century devotees, discovered the place and arrived in 2010, they didn't know the history of the neighborhood.

"We didn't realize we were driving by the Horizon House every day," Dirk says. "It's kind of hard to see."

Scott and Nichole McKinney, who so love mid-century modern that they got married in an Alexander home in Palm Springs, searched for Eichlers and Cliff May homes in Orange County before discovering Niguel West.

"Honey," Nichole told Scott, "I didn't even know this neighborhood existed, this little pocket."
And when the current owners of the Horizon House, Einar Johnson and Pat Gough, checked it out a decade ago, they knew nothing about its history. Nor did anyone else, it appears, and no one seemed to care.

There were no competing bids.

But history is being rediscovered at Niguel West, thanks to a handful of residents who have started digging it up and opening the history, and their homes, to the wider world.

Johnson and Gough opened the Horizon House for a tour sponsored by the Laguna Friends of Architecture. Wells suggested the house be toured, and spoke during the event. A later tour sponsored by that group let people visit five other homes in the neighborhood.