“Every Day in Crystal Cove is a Celebration of Life”
Stella Hiatt Celebrates 79 Years of Crystal Cove History, and its Future
Crystal Cove connects to the one world ocean that covers more than seventy percent of the earth, and for many happy mornings, Stella Hiatt began her day in that ocean. Her first swim at Crystal Cove was as a teenager celebrating spring break in 1938, and her most recent swim was in 2014 celebrating her 90th birthday. This month marks Stella’s 93rd birthday, and she’s not ruling out a morning swim in the cove she calls “the most special place in the world.”
After her first visit, Stella said, “I wanted to come back.” Over the years, she came back to the Cove as a camper at El Morro, and then later as the owner of Cottage #42 with her husband. Their tiny cottage was originally a weekly rental in early days, and they added a bathroom and bedroom, and a hot tub inherited from another cottage. Stella recalls carrying the hot tub in pieces “slat by slat down the beach,” and reassembling it outside her cottage. They added an outdoor bar, and it became a place for neighbors to gather. Everyone called it “Stella’s Place.”
Stella was the one who came up with the iconic phrase that “Every night was Saturday night, and Saturday night was New Year’s Eve” at Crystal Cove. Looking back at the close community that formed here, she says now that “no one wanted to leave,” and would rather go “cottage to cottage” to get a missing ingredient for dinner or needed part for a repair rather than miss even a single moment of being here. Stella says now of those days, “We felt we had so much.”
One of Stella’s favorite traditions emerged from those years. Every morning she joined her friend Cinda Combs of Cottage #6 in an ocean swim. No matter what the weather, she and Cinda walked from their cottages out into the morning surf. Stella says that her husband “thought they were crazy,” but he supported the tradition by handing them mugs of hot coffee when they returned. It wasn’t a long swim — just a hundred feet to the buoy — but Stella loved beginning her Cove days in the ocean.
The built world — and Orange County — have both changed a lot since 1938, but not Crystal Cove. It remains similar to the place Stella first discovered as a schoolgirl when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. Around that time, the California coast was dotted with little beach colonies, but today Crystal Cove is the single remaining example of that kind of hand-built vernacular architecture that recalls a different time when people of ordinary means could have extraordinary access to the ocean.
Fortunately, history and access are being preserved at Crystal Cove. The restored historic cottages and conserved natural paradise combine to make the Cove a place like no other on the California coast, or anywhere.
Stella’s Place is now part of the Education Commons dedicated to sharing and protecting the living Cove history that Stella helped create, and the living ocean that she still loves. 79 years after her first visit, and on the eve of a milestone birthday, Stella still says it best: “Every day in Crystal Cove is a celebration of life.”
The 17 historic North Beach cottages remaining to be restored are designated exclusively for overnight lodging. Stella — a founding board member for the Alliance to Rescue Crystal Cove — has donated $50,000 to this final phase, and invites everyone to join her with their tax-deductible support.