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First Team Estate’s Bill Cote Represents Irvine Family in “Big Blue Pool House” Sale

September 19, 2011

Irvine family heirs pare historic homes


CORONA DEL MAR – Mimi Juarez remembers when Corona del Mar was a Norman Rockwell town, with kids wandering off to the beach for surf and sun.

And a focal point for her neighborhood on those lazy summer days was the waterfront party house owned by Kate Wheeler – an Irvine family heir and great-granddaughter of Irvine Ranch co-founder James Irvine.

Painted a bright “Bermuda” blue with a bright white roof – just like the sprawling Wheeler family homestead on the bluff above it – the party house served for decades as an unpretentious base for family and neighborhood gatherings.

“For years and years and years, you just crossed the road and you were in the fun house for dancing and barbecues and stuff,” recalled Juarez, 82. “I thought the house would always stay in the family.”

For 80 years, it did. But now, the Big Blue Pool House, as the property is known, is up for sale with an asking price of $14.95 million.

Luxury-home agent Bill Cote, who is representing the family, said that once the home sells, it likely will be torn down to make way for a new mansion.

“It’s the last connection to old Newport Beach and old Corona del Mar,” said Cote, an agent with First Team Real Estate who claims $1 billion in sales over the past 40 years. “There’s nothing this old that’s on the water that has a history. It has a wonderful family history.”

The 19,000-square-foot property is one of at least five prime Corona del Mar parcels that had been held in the Irvine family until recent years, with a combined value of $70 million to $100 million.

Now, it appears that just one of those original five properties will remain in the family. Two were sold – one of them years ago. A flurry of recent deed filings cleared the way for the sale of two others.

Staying in the family – at least for now – is a home known as the Big Blue House, the former Wheeler homestead on the bluff just above the pool house.

The house served as a landmark for boaters re-entering Newport Harbor since it was built in 1936 because of the distinctive white pyramid-shaped roof atop one wing of the home.

Located at 401 Avocado, the property went up for sale for $38 million in late 2009. Later, the price was reduced to $29.95 million.

It never sold, but under an intra-family swap recorded in June, the eldest Wheeler daughter – Nita Irvine Wheeler Connelly – ended up with the family homestead at 401 Avocado.

Three other Wheeler heirs got the Big Blue Pool house. The pool house is now being sold because the three heirs live outside Southern California, Cote said.

Family members also sold a vacant grassy lot next to the pool house for $11.5 million two years ago. Cote said that many of the family’s children and grandchildren got married on that lawn, but now it’s been torn up to make way for a new mansion that a neighbor is building.

In addition, a home on the bluff next to the former Wheeler homestead just went up for sale for $23.7 million.

A fifth property – with a 20,000-square-foot home built by the late Myford Irvine – sold after his death in 1959, then later resold in 2008 for a record off-the-water price of $27.1 million.

A winding path down the hillside connected the Big Blue House on the bluff to the pool house down on the water.

The lower property was the family party house for 80 years, with a cavernous indoor pool room attached to a small bedroom, kitchen and living room. The place, which also has parking for about 20 cars, was the center of the family’s social life, Cote said.

“They had rock parties, they had pool parties. It was party central,” he said. “They swam here, they boated here. They sailed out of here.”

Juarez, the former neighbor who moved away in the 1960s, said her son got invited to teen parties there about once a month.

“That was THE place then,” said Juarez, who helped chaperone one of the parties. “Golly, gee! That was the best period of my life.”

Newport Beach history buffs say that while the pool house isn’t officially registered as a landmark, it will be missed if someone buys it and tears it down.

“We better start taking pictures. That’s all going to be history,” said Balboa Beacon publisher and unofficial historian Gay Wassall-Kelly. “It has the Irvine name associated with it, and it always will.”

© Copyright 2011 Freedom Communications. All Rights Reserved.
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