Little Gem with History - Page 3

Caressed by hills and a pleasant ocean breeze, little-known Niguel West glories in its modern roots
Little Gem with History
The Frabotta family's attractive atrium covered with wooden slats.
Little Gem with History
Inside their atrium, Todd Frabotta and son Thomas have laughs tossing around a baseball.
Little Gem with History
Frabotta home exterior.
Little Gem with History
Todd's wife Penny relaxes in the living room.

Todd and Penny Frabotta, whose home was on the tour, say about 150 people visited. "It was kind of overwhelming," Todd says. "It was great. It was really fun."

Friends of Architecture will likely sponsor future tours. "It's about preserving the history of the neighborhood, saving the homes that are left, getting good people [living] here who understand the history and architecture," says Randy Hild, who, along with Dirk Venzlaff, is one of the prime movers behind the effort to publicize and thus preserve the homes.

Hild describes Niguel West as "kind of what the Eichler neighborhoods are but without the Eichler name or the Eichler cachet."

Dirk Venzlaff says, "Our intention is to save these homes because they are special. Somebody could easily come in here and tear something down and build something different."

He notes that Niguel West has no neighborhood association and no rules addressing architectural integrity. Still, efforts to spread the word about the worth of the homes seem to be working.

More and more people, including mid-century fans pouncing when one of the homes hits the market, are starting to agree with Scott McKinney's opinion of Niguel West: "This is like a little gem."

He adds, referring to this stretch of Orange County, "Where can you find anything in this area with this style?"

In Orange County, says Tom Stewart, an architect and a leader of Friends of Laguna Architecture, "There's nothing like you see here. These are probably the most modernist houses in the area."

Adding to the appeal, says Cathy Bjorkman, a 22-year resident whose home may be the neighborhood's most architecturally intact, is "the fact that you can get a mid-century [house] that's so close to the beach. We're a mile from the beach."

Cathy's husband, Carl Bjorkman, who runs a greeting card company, says that when the couple first arrived in Niguel West 22 years ago, the neighborhood was a bit "scrappy." Soon people began renovating the homes, "with an emphasis on increased square footage."

Atriums were enclosed, as were the courtyards and outdoor entry areas beneath broad overhangs that add to the homes' distinctive character.

"Over the last five to ten years, you see a little more appreciation to the uniqueness of the houses," he says. "'Oh, this architect had something going on here, the whole outside-inside kind of thing.' That's been kind of neat, to see more of that enthusiasm."

In recent years, says Kelly Laule, a real estate broker whose firm, Better Living SoCal, focuses on mid-century modern in Orange County, "All of the people that have been buying in the neighborhood have been updating and really care about the homes."