Little Gem with History - Page 5

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
Two other unique models found at Niguel West.

Other distinctive touches seen in the homes are floating fireplace ledges, louvered windows, concrete stairways that can be tough on bare feet, and soffits with indirect lighting. "What's awesome is, at night they're all lit up. It's so cool," Sarah Venzlaff says.

In some homes, the 'master-controlled lighting' still works, allowing people to turn on lights and fans anywhere in the house from a single control panel.

Some homes back up to a steep hillside. Coyotes, raccoons, and deer are common, and bobcats are seen.

Over the years Niguel West has had a colorful history. Ernie and Bobbie Gee, residents since the mid-1970s, recall young neighbors growing marijuana in the hills and a group of gangsters living across the street. Some still believe the thugs buried piles of stolen cash nearby.

Best-selling author Harold Robbins spent one summer in the neighborhood, according to original owners Jean and Jim Hinkson, who befriended him.

The most famous resident, though, was Christine Jorgensen, whose sex-change operation a decade earlier brought her world fame. She attracted many other transgender and gay people to the neighborhood, the Gees say.

"Christine Jorgensen was very nice," Jean Hinkson recalls. "She came to every [neighborhood] meeting, and that's why we had a great turnout." People wanted to see her, Hinkson explains.

Less famous, but far more important for the neighborhood, was H. Percival Chase, a man who deserves a neighborhood statue in bronze.

Laguna Niguel's founders may have bragged about their forward-thinking planning. But they hadn't taken into account the state Division of Highways, which announced plans in 1970—only six years after the homes were built—to rip them down for a freeway between the coast and Interstate 5.

All 73 houses would have to go. "There was going to be an on-ramp through our master bedroom," Jean Hinkson says.

It was "the worst possible route the Pacific Coast Freeway could take," Chase announced.
"He went to Sacramento and fought for us, and won," Jean says, adding that Chase didn't ask neighbors to contribute a cent to the fight.

Bronze statue or no, it's clear that Niguel West is becoming conscious of its history, and that the consciousness is paying off.

"It's not a fluke that these homes happen to be a certain style. There's a history behind it," Sepi McDonnell says. "Learning about what the history of the 'round house' was and of the neighborhood, and trying to preserve that, is really important."


• The 73 homes at Niguel West can be found off Crown Valley Parkway in Laguna Niguel on National Park Drive, Isle Royal Drive, Grand Canyon Drive, Mount Rainier Drive, and Mammoth Cave Drive. The Horizon House, hard to see because of plantings, is at the corner of National Park and Mount Rainier.

Photography: Tim Rue, Dave Weinstein; and courtesy Dirk Venzlaff, Einar Johnson