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Climate and Environment

San Clemente's Casa Romantica Reopens After Landslide — But Gardens Remain Off Limits

A photo of a large Spanish Colonial home with a landslide in front of it sits on a stand in front of a garden filled with flowers and palm trees.
Casa Romantica staff hope people will still book their courtyard for wedding receptions. Executive director Amy Behrens says they are working with churches and other nearby venues to relocate wedding ceremonies.
(Jill Replogle
LAist )
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The Casa Romantica Cultural Center in San Clemente has reopened — a month after a landslide destroyed part of the historic landmark's oceanview terrace and forced the center to cancel all events.

Train service on Amtrak and Metro, which was also shut down after the landslide, was cleared to resume Friday afternoon. The first Amtrak train is expected to roll through Friday evening.

Part of the nearly 100-year-old Spanish Colonial building is still yellow-tagged and what's left of the back terrace and gardens are closed to the public. But the main courtyard and some rooms in the building will be open to the public throughout Memorial Day weekend.

"I missed it a lot," said Lucia Bonnaud, a frequent volunteer at the cultural center, which is owned by the city and operated by a nonprofit organization.

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"It's like the focal point of San Clemente," Bonnaud said.

Repair work is ongoing

On Thursday, heavy equipment rolled back and forth across what used to be the stage of the center's outdoor amphitheater. The stage had to be demolished so that vehicles could get to the cliffside spot where emergency work is taking place to compact and stabilize the soil.

A tiled patio looks out over the ocean. The tile is taped off and cracked beyond the tape.
Casa Romantica's terrace overlooking the ocean was a popular and lucrative venue for weddings and other special events.
(Jill Replogle
LAist )

In mid-April, Casa Romantica staff noticed cracks in the center's oceanview terrace, which sits atop a bluff overlooking the San Clemente Pier. Ten days later, the terrace partially slid down the hillside along with sections of the center's native plant gardens.

The loss of the terrace is a big blow to the nonprofit's finances — rental income from weddings and other events helps subsidize its cultural programming, including art shows, concerts and field trips where students learn about Southern California history.

"We were hoping to have wedding ceremonies in our amphitheater," said Amy Behrens, executive director of Casa Romantica, surveying the work.

One year, three major slides in San Clemente

Looking down a train track with waves crashing into boulders on the right hand side, a slope with palm trees and houses on top on the left side, and an excavator about to pick up a boulder next to the tracks in the distance.
Work to shore up erode areas along the tracks earlier this year in San Clemente State Beach.
(Jill Replogle
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The bluff slide at Casa Romantica comes while work is still being finalized at the site of a landslide just a few miles south, the one which halted passenger train service through San Clemente last September. Passenger service was fully resumed in April and then halted again — less than two weeks later — after the slide behind Casa Romantica.

Service on Metro and Amtrak was cleared to resume on Friday afternoon, with regular service planned throughout Memorial Day weekend.

Another slide occurred nearby in March, when rain-saturated soil gave way, causing several multi-family homes along the bluff in San Clemente to be red-tagged.

The current work to shore up the slope behind Casa Romantica is a temporary fix that will help stabilize the bluff. Work to restore the ocean terrace and demonstration gardens will take much longer, and the final bill could stretch into the millions, Behrens said.

In the meantime, the nonprofit is fundraising to restore the reserves that have been depleted over the past month as Behrens issued refunds for scheduled weddings, anniversaries and corporate events.

"We've worked so hard to build our reserves after COVID-19, we finally got to a really stable place and basically that entire reserve that we had built up … was wiped out," she said.

Behrens said they're about halfway through their goal of raising $250,000 by June 30.

How to visit

  • Location: Casa Romantica is located a 415 Avenida Granada in San Clemente
  • Reopening Friday: Celebration will include coffee, donuts and live music starting at 10:15 a.m., followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m.
  • Hours: It's open Memorial Day weekend, Friday-Monday from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
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