Bluebird Canyon Rebuilt

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The restored Flamingo Road in Bluebird Canyon thrives as a sanctuary where wildlife and humans coexist. 

By Sally Eastwood | Illustration by Ken Harris | Photos by Jody Tiongco

Bluebird Canyon

It’s been almost eight years since the 2005 Bluebird Canyon landslide, which destroyed 12 homes and damaged many more. The secluded Flamingo Road bore the brunt of the damage: The street had to be completely rebuilt after it literally broke into chunks.

“Only three houses in the cul-de-sac survived,” resident Gary Waldron recalls. “Fifty feet from our property line, there was a 30-foot drop off.”

The Vanderveen family was in the midst of a major renovation that was almost complete. Everything ground to a halt, and it was years before the family eventually moved in, but that hasn’t dampened the love for their chosen home. “We have the canyon view, the ocean view and hawks circling overhead,” Sarah Vanderveen says.

Today, most of the affected hillside remains bare, but following the $35 million restoration, a devoted group of individuals and families returned to this haven where people and wildlife can coexist. Here, three Flamingo Road residents share what they love and why they stayed.

Modern Makeover

After moving from the Seattle area, the Vanderveen family bought their 1979 home in late 2002.

“It had quite the ‘Miami Vice’ 1980s vibe with blinding white stucco,” Sarah says. “Great features, but completely outdated.”

What started as a cosmetic update eventually turned into a complete renovation. As work progressed and the house was framed, the 2005 landslide stopped everything in its tracks. Ironically, the land the house sat on was stable, but the road to get to it was impassable.

The family was renting a small townhouse in Laguna at the time, somewhat cramped and desperate to move. They eventually found a larger rental house, where they stayed for three years before they were finally able to move into their new home on Flamingo Road. Now, the house is light and modern, yet also cozy, with a neutral color palette and lots of texture.

“We wanted something contemporary but with a relaxed, beachy feel,” says Sarah, sitting on one of two cream slip-covered sofas grouped around the fireplace in the living room. Sliding glass doors from the open plan living/dining/kitchen area disappear into pocket walls, creating a seamless indoor-outdoor environment. The dark-stained Brazilian ipe wood floors flow from the living area onto the deck, expanding the space even further.

The master bedroom and office occupy the top floor, with another two bedrooms and bathrooms below. Sarah’s favorite spot in the house is a three-sided reading nook with library shelves, stuffed with books and ornaments, as well as a welcoming armchair.

An exterior courtyard area with a soothing water wall lies adjacent to the kitchen, perfect for alfresco dining and a safe spot for Topanga the cat to curl up and snooze. Steps away, you’re back to the living room, drawn to the amazing deck.

“Everything’s oriented to see the ocean and the canyon,” Sarah says. “It’s all about the view.”

Bluebird Canyon

Renovated Retreat

Gary Waldron and his wife Carol “Sunny” Foster live at the end of the Flamingo Road cul-de-sac, perched above their neighbors. The home is open and perfectly designed for two—but it didn’t always look this way.

“I guess you would call it ’60s hippie: paisley DayGlo wallpaper and all,” Sunny says.

In addition to paisley, there was AstroTurf surrounding the pool deck; thankfully, neither material lasted very long. After a brief cosmetic update when they moved in, the couple embarked on a complete renovation in 2000, which resulted in today’s interpretation of a California modern house.

A favorite spot in the home is the office, entered via the living room and sharing the same high-beamed ceiling. It was purposely designed for both Gary and Sunny, incorporating two distinct desk areas with views of Bluebird Canyon through a wall of windows. “I spend almost all my time either in here, or in the TV room when I’m home,” Sunny says.

The morning of the landslide, Gary was standing in the living room, about to leave for the office, when the earth literally moved. Although their house was safe, Gary immediately sprang into action by calling 911 and helping neighbors evacuate. Following the slide, the Waldrons lived through another three years of construction as the hillside was restored.

Despite all that, the couple loves their home, which is well-suited to the Southern California climate. “The house has very large eaves and overhangs,” Gary says. “In the summer, we’re protected from the heat, and in the winter, the sun is low enough to provide light and warmth.”  In addition, there’s a solar water heater on the roof that provides all the hot water for the pool and photovoltaic panels that render electric bills minimal.

“There’s a great camaraderie up here,” Gary says. “We went through a lot together.”

Bluebird Canyon

Tuscan 2.0

Steve Howard’s residence stands almost alone, overlooking the hillside that was once dotted with houses. He was in the process of a remodel on his original home when it fell 75 feet down the hill on the day of the landslide. It was six long years before he was finally able to return to his home.

“I was the first one to come back up here,” Steve recalls. Choosing to rebuild the home was a decision he went back and forth on. “I was lucky enough to be living in one of the mobile homes on Laguna Canyon Road, which helped me to save money for the construction,” he says. “But I wasn’t sure about being in that situation for a long time.”  However, once Flamingo Road was reinstated—a crucial fire access road for Bluebird Canyon—Steve made the decision to return to the location and build a larger home that would stand the test of time. “Laguna Beach is special—like a smaller version of La Jolla or Santa Barbara—and the neighbors up here are great,” he adds.

Steve’s new house is a Mediterranean-style  masterpiece, with cut-stone walls and a clay tiled roof. Cascading down the hillside, it makes the most of the sweeping canyon and Pacific Ocean views. A pool and hot tub on the patio, both designed by Steve, create a special setting to drink in the beautiful surroundings.

Inside, the palette is neutral with pops of color throughout. The open and airy great room is a favorite gathering spot to also take in the views and relax.

“I appreciate the neighborhood and look forward to weekends much more now, having been through what we did,” Steve explains.

The tranquility of Bluebird Canyon today gives no indication of the turbulent day of the landslide and the years of reconstruction that followed. Steve, like the other Flamingo Road residents, is grateful for the peace and quiet. “I want to be home more, now that I have a home,” he says. LBM

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