The Heritage Legacy Project for California
The beach cottages of Crystal Cove State Park’s Historic District are one of Southern California’s most iconic destinations. On the historic unceded lands of the Ajacheman and Tongva people, the Park gives visitors a glimpse into simpler times along California’s coast. Today, 33 of the 45 cottages and a historic Japanese language schoolhouse have been restored and turned into a national model for low-cost coastal accommodations and a setting for an idyllic outdoor classroom where underserved youth can study how our coastlines are changing.
Crystal Cove Conservancy was founded in 1999 to save the Historic District and cottages dotting the beach and bluffs in Crystal Cove State Park from being replaced with a planned luxury resort development. Since then, after the development of a public use plan for the Park, we have created a thriving social enterprise model that directs revenue from the overnight rentals and park concessions to support the maintenance of the Historic District, special projects in the park, and The Conservancy’s STEM education programs and important coastal conservation projects.
Today, our outdoor Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education programs have grown to bring more than 10,000 disadvantaged school-aged students from across Southern California to Crystal Cove, immersing them in real-world science learning. Additionally, our support for the State Park’s conservation programs have expanded public access to Crystal Cove’s many natural resources, including nearly 2,400 acres in the backcountry, 400 acres of coastal bluffs, 3.2 miles of shoreline, and a 1,150-acre Marine Protected Area. Due to their idyllic location, historic charm, and low cost, the cottages themselves remain extremely coveted, with a more than 98% occupancy rate year-round.
The Heritage Legacy Project for California will restore the remaining 17 historic seaside cottages in the Crystal Cove Historic District, completing the preservation of this iconic area. When the restoration project is complete, it will double the number of beds available for overnight rentals and provide a sustainable revenue stream to ensure that Crystal Cove is protected and accessible to all Californians for generations to come.
As part of the Irvine Ranch, in the 1910s, Crystal Cove began drawing visitors and early Hollywood filmmakers who used it as a location to make Polynesian-set films. In the 1920s, tent campers became a returning community of summer visitors and, later, began building more substantial residences on the beach and bluffs – today’s Historic District cottages. For three generations, residents enjoyed the historic cottages at The Cove before it was opened to the public as a State Park and outdoor classroom.
In 1979, the land that is now Crystal Cove State Park, then owned by the Irvine Company, was sold to California State Parks and National Register of Historic Places status was secured for the entire Historic District, highlighting, among other qualities, the unique vernacular architecture of the cottages. They sold the land to the State of California, and it was incorporated into a new state park. Today, the Crystal Cove beach cottages are the last remaining intact example of the vernacular architecture style that was prevalent in California’s early 20th century beach communities, allowing visitors to step back into a bygone era.
The Heritage Legacy Project for California will restore the last 17 historic seaside cottages at Crystal Cove. This is a significant undertaking with a total cost of approximately $55M due to the historic nature of the buildings and delicate natural environment where they sit.
Today, 33 of the 45 cottages and the Japanese Schoolhouse have been fully restored. They’ve become a national model for low-cost accommodations, hosting 24,000 visitors each year as well as producing revenue to support The Conservancy’s outdoor STEM education programs. As a result of this sustainable revenue, our education programs have become a statewide model for social enterprise and STEM education. As we continue to restore and open cottages to the public, more people from all backgrounds will have access to one of California’s most coveted retreats while also serving more students in our education programs than ever before.
One of these last 17 cottages, which is designed to operate as a hostel-style dorm, will host overnight coastal engineering programs for underserved high school students from across Southern California. With our partners at University of California, Irvine, we will be educating and inspiring students from inland and underserved communities about the challenges of sea level rise and anticipated coastal changes as they sleep mere feet from the ocean.
The project has been split into two phases: infrastructure and restoration. The infrastructure portion of the project was completed in November 2020 and restoration of the cottages is currently underway. Pre-restoration improvements were completed on time and on budget and included stabilizing the bluff that the last 17 cottages sit on, installing modern infrastructure and utilities, expanding the check-in parking lot, and constructing a new 650-foot long service path and boardwalk which will provide ADA access to the site.
With that work complete, we are now focused on the cottages that live on the North Beach, as we restore them piece by piece. This is a detailed, painstaking process that involves preserving and reusing historic materials and refurbishing the cottages and landscape to its midcentury roots while protecting the delicate habitat that surrounds the cottages.
Once the final 17 cottages are restored, they will create an additional 22 rental units, available for the public to use and enjoy at affordable rates resulting in at least four times more funds available to support education for underserved students and critical conservation and habitat restoration projects in the Park.
Permitting and Environmental Impact
Great care has been taken to ensure that the completion of this project will not damage the fragile landscape at Crystal Cove. Instead, it will enhance the environmental quality and natural beauty of Crystal Cove as a result of the historic restoration of the 17 cottages.
The Heritage Legacy Project for California’s impact on the environment has been fully reviewed and an environmental impact report (EIR) was issued under California CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) requirements. The California Coastal Commission issued the project a Coastal Development Permit following an extensive permitting and review process. In addition, State Parks consulted with local Native American tribal leadership from tribes identified by the Native American Heritage Commission, including the Acjachemen and Tongva. The project was also reviewed and approved by the Newport Beach Fire Department in 2018.
The Conservancy’s primary purpose is to protect this one unchanging place in the sun and ensure its survival for generations to come. All necessary reviews have been undertaken with the most earnest desire to uphold that purpose.
As of October 2023, The Conservancy has secured the estimated $55 million needed to complete this project. With investment from Bank of America, The Conservancy secured the last tranche of $10 million for the $55 million restoration project by securing Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits on the project, a method that incentivizes investment in restoration projects on historically significant structures – providing a means to secure capital for construction and tax relief to the investor.
Requiring a unique collaboration between community, corporations and political leadership, the full funding of the historic restoration project was led by Crystal Cove Conservancy Founder Laura Davick as the chair of the capital campaign, Assembly Member Cottie Petrie-Norris’ efforts in helping The Conservancy secure over $30 million in state funding, as well as Bank of America for investing in the historic project and closing the campaign to fund the project. We could not have done it without the generosity of the Crystal Cove Community.
Thirty-three of the 46 cottages have already been restored through the unique public-private partnership between California State Parks and The Conservancy. Since opening to the public in 2006, 24 units have been available for low-cost overnight rentals serving 24,000 people per year. Three of the cottages are dedicated to disabled guests and require an ADA placard to rent. The existing overnight units are in unprecedented demand, with a 98% year-round occupancy rate. When the restoration of the final 17 cottages is completed, we will double our capacity, from 24,000 to 48,000 overnight stays per year, making it possible for more people to enjoy a retreat in one of these remarkable historic buildings. At the same time, by doubling our overnight capacity, we will more than quadruple the available revenue to support our outdoor STEM education and conservation programs, in addition to providing for all necessary maintenance and supporting special projects in the park. The low rental rate is set as per our contract with the State and only increases with inflation, but still covers all Historic District maintenance costs and provides significant support for our education and conservation programs.
By completing this important restoration, Crystal Cove Conservancy, together with our partners at California State Parks, will realize the vision for this spectacular place – affordable overnight rentals for the families of California and beyond and a sustainable model for supporting important conservation and education programs at Crystal Cove State Park.
For more information on the project please contact:
Director of Advancement, Crystal Cove Conservancy
949-376-6200 x 204 or firstname.lastname@example.org