Revitalization efforts aim to make North Beach an entertainment hub again

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By Shawn Raymundo

For a while, Sara Peterson, owner of Zebra House Coffee, had heard of a food hall development in North Beach. She had envisioned the location to grow her business and thought the idea of ​​a local food court was a good one.

There was a problem. There was no owner or official representative to talk to about the concept.

“We couldn’t figure out who to talk to, and there really was no owner,” Peterson recalls. “So we forgot about it.”

Then, as fate would have it, she got a call from Mohammad Muhtaseb, a partner of Landmark Food Halls, the owner and operator of the Miramar Food Hall currently under construction in North Beach.

“He asked us to have a proprietary booth… we’re really excited,” Peterson explained. “When he held out his hand to me, I said ‘oh my God I can’t believe the circle has come full circle’, I said ‘yes, let’s do it. By the way, what’s the plan? “

The plan is to have 15 food vendors who are local in San Clemente or based in Orange County occupy the space at the Miramar Food Hall. Currently, Muhtaseb said San Clemente schedule this week all but two of the stands were rented.

“There is a need for modern, high hospitality in San Clemente which is always popular and local, and we believe a diverse 15 vendor dining hall that will be activated five to six times a week with live music. live, shows, exhibits, and a plethora of other experiential events will be a key driver of North Beach’s growth and success, ”Muhtaseb said in an email.

Like Muhtaseb, Peterson sprung from the concept, explaining that the project – the restoration and repurposing of the historic San Clemente Bowling Center into the food court – will be a blessing for North Beach and those who already enjoy the area.

“It’s going to create a real hub between Landers (Liquor Bar) and the brewery that’s in the surf ghetto,” said Peterson, referring to the Los Molinos Beer Company. “With all the outdoor activities going on there, this dining hall is really going to bring it all together. It will be a place, an attraction. I’m really excited to be a part of it.

This enthusiasm has been shared by city officials and stakeholders like the San Clemente Historical Society since December 2019, when restaurateur James Markham purchased the bowling alley and adjacent Miramar Theater for nearly $ 8 million.

With construction currently underway to bring the two historic properties back to life as the Miramar Event Center and Food Hall, there is a strong expectation that the project will help revitalize the newly designated North Beach Historic District to once again become a hub for entertainment and recreation – just as the city’s founder, Ole Hanson, imagined in the 1920s.

For a while, however, the Great Depression prevented Hanson’s plans from coming to fruition. It wasn’t until the second half of the 1930s, when San Clemente’s economy began to rebound, that the new development helped bring the dream back to life, starting with the local dance hall, Casino San Clemente. and the San Clemente Theater.

Described in marketing materials as “man’s mighty contribution to beauty,” the theater was built for $ 75,000 – about $ 1.4 million in today’s dollars – and could seat about 680 people. On opening night in 1938, guests paid 35 cents to take advantage of dual functionality, Crazy about music and Goodbye Broadway.

Over the decades the historic building has changed owners several times, was renamed in 1970 as the Miramar Theater and even caught fire in 2005. Since the 1990s it has remained inactive, as the owners revolving door came up with various projects for theater and bowling, none of which ever gained popularity.

That was until 2017, when the city and the California Coastal Commission approved the rights for the 61-acre property that would lay the groundwork for current development.

Using these rights, Markham and Muhtaseb worked on the rehabilitation of the two buildings. With the restoration of the Bowling Center as a dining hall, the closed cinema will become an event center operated by Wedgewood Weddings.

“We are very excited to create an absolutely beautiful place for people to celebrate the most important moments of their lives in North Beach, operated by a nationally recognized operator that dates back to San Clemente,” Muhtaseb said of Wedgewood.

Jonathan Lightfoot, the city’s economic development officer, estimates the food hall will be open by next summer, followed closely by the renovated theater.

The old bowling alley, Lightfoot noted, is “the part of the property that is likely to open first”, although it is also “the part that had a lot more work to do”.

After exploratory investigations revealed the site to be unsafe due to dry rot and mold, construction crews dismantled the bowling alley last summer with the intention that much of its physical materials would be preserved and reincorporated into the new food court building.

“The bowling alley lacked the structural stability necessary to survive the rehabilitation work,” Lightfoot explained at a Historical Society meeting this month. “Unfortunately, we had to make a call to see which elements are significant.”

The site has since been excavated as crews are currently building the food hall basement, where vendors will have kitchen space for cooking and preparing food. Soon, said Lightfoot, the frame will rise, making the bones of the old building visible again.

Echoing Muhtaseb, Lightfoot said that when the project is complete, the vendor spaces will be used by small businesses that have local ties to the community and the county, such as Zebra House. Already about to move in, he added, is a Nashville hot chicken restaurant and pizzeria.

Getting North Beach back on its feet has been a process to say the least, Lightfoot noted. Highlighting previous plans to rehabilitate other key historic structures – the casino, the Ole Hanson Beach Club and the former Aquarium Cafe (now Landers) – he said a lot of time and money had been spent to the region.

The city and stakeholders have already started to see some of these investments pay off, as North Beach was designated as a Historic District last January, concluding a multi-year campaign for the area to be recognized on the National Places Register. historical.

Later, the city is considering completing the Miramar project, as well as opening the much-anticipated Beach Hut Deli to continue to stimulate economic activity in North Beach.

Dining options paired with entertainment activities such as the Casino’s jazz nights, Lightfoot said, are what the city is looking for for residents and visitors alike.

“We are waiting for this to happen more. Just look for a good connection and locally available events for the community, ”he said.

However, he acknowledged, “once the domino falls, we think there will be a lot of residual impacts from this area. For example, when you look at the parking lot.

According to Lightfoot, the city has not seen parking in the North Beach area exceed capacity by 50%, even during peak season hours. But one of the conditions for Coast Commission approval in 2017 was for the developer of Miramar to conduct biannual parking studies.

“Once they open, they have to report on parking capacity every two years,” Lightfoot said. “They will have to send data back to the Coast Commission showing what the capacity looks like, because part of their (CCC’s) mission is to make sure beach parking is available.”

This will be the reason for the city thereafter, he said, to install additional parking. One area that the city has already highlighted is the dirt field between Landers and the new delicatessen. Another potential lot includes city-owned land on the other side of El Camion Real, just below Pico Park.

Lightfoot also expressed confidence at the Historical Society meeting that the city would consider integrating the streetcar system, as well as examining other options “that make North Beach easier to access.”

In addition to parking, the city, he said, will also monitor potential improvements in pedestrian access and pathways between sites as activity increases.

“North Beach is not a better pedestrian environment so this will be something we will need to consider for future capital improvement projects,” he said.

When the North Beach projects are completed, Lightfoot said there is hope the revitalized area will synergize with the coastal community of Marblehead and the San Clemente Pier activities.

“We look forward not only to there being businesses that come back to life, but also that this is an area for residents to walk to,” Lightfoot said, adding that “the neighborhood historic was recognized as an entertainment district – a dance pavilion, a park area, things to be a focal point, the Beach Club, things that are only a public benefit and training value. are delighted that this region is coming back to life.

Shawn raymundo
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a BA in Global Studies. Prior to joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as a government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the US territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.

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