What’s the Status of the Stuft Shirt?

The interior of the Stuft Shirt, now A’maree’s, 2241 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach, CA

The interior of the Stuft Shirt, now A’maree’s, 2241 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach, CA

One of Orange County’s most endangered historic places is the prominent modernist structure on the waterfront of the Lido Channel in Newport Harbor variously known over the years as the Stuft Shirt/ Cano’s/ Windows on the Bay/ (and most recently) A’maree’s.  In early 2018, Preserve Orange County learned from local Newport Beach groups, Still Protecting Our Newport (SPON) and the Coalition to Protect Mariners’ Mile, that a major project, known as Newport Village, was proposed to redevelop approximately 10 acres along both sides of Pacific Coast Highway in the area—from Newport Boulevard to Dover Drive—generally known as Mariners Mile.  The project is one of mixed-use that would bring greater density and additional housing to a neighborhood known in recent decades for restaurants and boatyards.  This redevelopment proposal raises the question of the future of the iconic structure, located in the midst of the project area and prominently visible to both boaters on Newport Bay and motorists on Coast Highway.

The building, which now houses A’maree’s following a prize-winning adaptive reuse in 2011, dates from 1961 and was designed by the architecture firm of Ladd & Kelsey and engineered by Richard Bradshaw.  The firm is known for several Southern California landmarks, notably the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, and their work was recently the subject of an exhibit at the Palos Verdes Art Center. Ladd & Kelsey is important to Orange County too. Although their original office was in Pasadena, they were eventually established in Newport Beach. Around the time that the Stuft Shirt/A’maree’s was being conceived, they were designing the post-and-beam homes of Monarch Bay for the Laguna Niguel Corporation.

The building has been eloquently described by well-known architectural historian and Preserve Orange County Chair, Alan Hess:

“[T]he building’s buoyant arches expand its thin shell concrete structure while poetically echoing the sailboats on Newport Bay….[The] design also draws on its delightful site by offering visitors an elevated panoramic view of the harbor, and evoking the airy, sunny, sparking character of sailing on Newport Bay….Ladd & Kelsey captured the essence of Newport and Southern California life.”  (Go to Endangered Places Section of the website for more detail.)

Eastern elevation, facing Pacific (West) Coast Highway and large surface parking lot.

Eastern elevation, facing Pacific (West) Coast Highway and large surface parking lot.

As a result of discussions initiated by Preserve Orange County, the developers of Newport Village, Newport Beach city staff, and Mayor Diane Dixon are aware that the structure is historic and eligible for the California Register of Historical Resources. Unfortunately, the City of Newport Beach does not provide any protection or incentives for the conservation of local historic places. The last survey of historic resources was conducted in 1992 and the property tax rebate program known as Mills Act is not available to owners of historic properties. However, the city’s Community Development department has committed to Preserve Orange County that it will conduct a historical assessment of the entire project site as part of the environmental review process.  

The primary concern at this point is assuring the integrity of the structure and preserving the wonderful sightlines from the Bay and Coast Highway consistent with compliance with updated parking and zoning requirements. In late 2018, the developers informed Preserve Orange County that the current plan does not envision demolition or direct alteration of the building. However, an elevated parking structure is being considered immediately adjacent to the building where there is now only a surface parking lot and might obscure a significant portion of the street facing façade.

The design of Newport Village, which had evolved to “Scheme 7” by the end of 2018 and was circulated to Newport Beach city departments for comment in that form, can be expected to continue to evolve.  Preserve Orange County will continue to actively monitor the project and report to the preservation community in Orange County and elsewhere in California.  

by Bill Kroener

Krista Nicholds