by Barbara Force Johannes
As one would expect, whenever our Historical Society volunteers meet the public we receive questions about historic buildings in Dana Point. This was especially true for our volunteers at our outreach boothduring the Festival of Whales on March 7th and 8th. Santa Clara Avenue neighbors wanted to know what was being done about the Blue Lantern Gazebo at the Ken Sampson Overlook. Many people asked about the historic Woodruff Real Estate Building on Pacific Coast Highway at Del Prado, between the Streets of the Blue Lantern and Ruby Lantern. Terry Rogers, of San Clemente, and others wanted to know what was being done about the terrible condition of the Seaside Inn on PCH in Capistrano Beach. So, in the spirit of preservation, here is some of what we know about three endangered historic structures of our treasured heritage.
This postcard (above) of the Swallows Motel in Capistrano Beach, c. 1940, is featured in the January 2016 Dana Point Historic Resources Inventory Update by Architectural Resource Group. The reverse side of the postcard reads: On U.S. 101 (8 miles So. of Laguna Beach – halfway between L. A. and San Diego) 30 New attractively furnished units, all with tile bath, radios and private garage. Each unit overlooking the Broad Pacific. Fishing pier directly in front. Greyhound bus stop and restaurants nearby. Guests have access to beach and plunge. Phone: Dana Point 796. Restored in 1978 as the Capistrano Country Bay Inn, it continued to advertise in the Los Angeles Times in 1988 “ . . . as a bed-and-breakfast establishment originally built in the 1930s on the Doheny estate.” The Swallows Motel (now the Seaside Inn) is the last of the local motor inns built in Dana Point midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, around the time of World War II. The earlier 1930 Dana Villa Motel, located across from the Richfield Tower, and the 1945 Plantation Motel on PCH have been demolished. The 1946-47 Dana Point Hotel on Del Prado Avenue (now Jack’s Restaurant) is approved to be demolished in the near future. Former Country Bay Inn employee Terry Rogers is especially concerned because his mother, Gloria Rogers of Beach Road Realty, “saved the Swallows Inn back in the 1970s when it was in worse shape than it is now.” Rogers said Gloria persuaded Merv Phelan, who lived on Beach Road, to purchase the inn and finance the renovation that Gloria managed from her realty office in the motel. A 1988 advertisement stated: Each room at the County Bay Inn has been redecorated with antique furnishings and collectibles. Ocean views, fireplaces and patios highlight the rooms. And each room has a wet bar, color TV and direct-dial phone. Most have a refrigerator and guests receive champagne and candy. Gloria invited author Norman Simpson of Country Inns and Back Roads to visit and the Capistrano County Bay Inn was approved for his guide. Guests had a continental breakfast of croissants, jams, juices and coffee or tea served in the rooms. Terry knows this because he worked there. Pierre’s intimate French restaurant was also on the site. Pop band members who played at the Miramar Theater (c. 1978-84) stayed there along with San Onofre engineers, who received mid-week rates. Some well-known actors and musicians had extended stays there including June Lockhart, Dean Stockwell and Jerry Lee Lewis. When guests arrived by train they were met by one of Merv Phelan’s antique cars, which he kept in the inn’s garages. The Country Bay Inn was later sold and the new owners changed the name to Capistrano Seaside Inn.
In recent years the Seaside Inn has received poor reviews, even listed as one of Yelp’s 10 worst motels in the U. S. The City of Dana Point red-tagged the Seaside Inn on September 1, 2016. The Dana Point Times reported that Mark Adams of the California Receivership Group (CRG) was appointed to take possession of the historic building sometime in April 2018 because of their experience restoring historic hotels. CRG secured the property, built a retaining wall behind the property and worked on rehabilitation construction plans.
The Sunshine Group LLC owner(s) filed for bankruptcy in 2019, according to Ashley Ludwig of the Laguna Niguel-Dana Point Patch, on February 21, 2020. The photo taken on May 13, 2020 (above) shows the Seaside Inn boarded and the fence restored after vandals ripped off boards and damaged the fence. Toni Nelson of Capo Cares has led the effort on behalf of Capistrano Beach in advocating for a restored Seaside Inn. The Historical Society supports the City of Dana Point and CRG’s efforts along with Terry Roger’s belief that the Capistrano Seaside Inn can be restored as it was in 1978 when it was the Capistrano Country Bay Inn.