September 14, 2018

Exploring the Historic Bembridge House & Casa Romantica Estates

I am a history buff and anytime I can travel back in time, I take it.  The DayTripper Tour on September 13th offered such an opportunity.  I led the tour up to the Bembridge House in Long Beach and to Casa Romantica in San Clemente. With trusty Ernesto behind the wheel, we picked up our passengers at 4 locations in San Diego County and then headed north with a completely full coach.  I was very happy to have a sold out tour of like-minded passengers, all eager to see these two historic homes.  During the drive, I gave a narration about our first stop – the 1906 Queen Anne Victorian known as the Bembridge House, a real source of pride within the Long Beach community and a nationally recognized treasure listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Our group of 51 passengers were divided into 4 smaller groups and escorted through the historic home, carriage house (originally for Shetland ponies), garden and aviary by docents Joan (dressed in appropriate period costume), Iris, Michelle and Chris (sporting a cool, straw hat).  The property is in pristine condition, both inside and out, displaying many of the time period’s architectural elements – a wonderfully shady wraparound front porch, second-story balcony, steep gable roof, turret tower containing the upstairs master bedroom and a quintessential front garden surrounded by a simple but elegant fence. The inside was rich with hand-carved dark wood crown-mouldings and door frames, beautiful stained glass windows and a tiled fireplace with an interesting story behind it.  Many of the furnishings are original to the home, including a grandfather clock and Dorothy Bembridge’s Steinway piano, which she used to teach music classes and host small concerts in her home. There are a couple of intriguing stories in this home’s past but we’ll save those for when you take this tour the next time around.

As we were leaving, we posed on the steps and front porch of the proud lady, for a quick group photo, including a couple of our docents. Despite her age of 112 years, the Bembridge Home has only ever been owned by two families and, now, by Long Beach Heritage who are protecting and maintaining her dignity. From there, Ernesto drove us all to lunch, some choosing to be on their own at the popular South Coast Plaza with multiple food options.  Others joined me at a large table at the nearby Claim Jumper, where we traded favorite travel stories. Ernesto then picked us all up and we turned south for San Clemente and our next ‘back in time’ home.  On the way, I gave a narration about the history and stories behind Casa Romantica, a 1927 Spanish style mansion sitting on the cliff overlooking the Pacific, the historic San Clemente pier and, on clear days, Catalina Island on the horizon.

We were greeted by Kathy and her staff of knowledgeable docents who divided us into three smaller groups and escorted us around the property, inside and out. This home, at the time, was state-of-the-art featuring 8000 square feet of living space for Ole Hanson, his wife and their 10 children.  The famous keyhole-shaped front door led to 7 bedrooms and bathrooms opening onto a common courtyard. The unique beehive-shaped outdoor fireplace still overlooks the sea.  The long dining room table is one of the rare original pieces.  Many of our passengers, including myself, were interested to see vintage items contained in some of the glass cases that reminded us of our own families’ collections.

The beautiful gardens include some plantings that Mr. Hanson, himself, brought to the property including a gorgeous coral tree near the front door that he imported from Africa, as well as a yucca plant dating back to 1927.  After our tours, we all had time to browse through their Art Gallery, Discovery Gallery, which depicts the local history, and their gift shop where many of our passengers were lined up to pay for their remembrances.  Today, with its breathtaking views and open spaces, carefully preserved, ninety-one year-old Casa Romantica hosts jazz and classical concerts, art shows, weddings and is a cultural centerpiece for San Clemente. As we made our way home, the coach was full of excited chatter from one of my best groups about all that we had seen on our day of time travel back to the early 20th century, but really just an easy ride up the freeway.  This was another sold-out DayTripper Tour and one of my favorites.  Please join me on another tour sometime soon!

Steve Weber
DayTripper Tour Manager

Tour: Bembridge House & Casa Romantica
Date: September 13, 2018


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