With demolition scheduled to occur within weeks, about 200 people gathered Tuesday night for the last party at the site of the future AERIE condominium complex.
"I'm excited," said Richard Julian, the owner of the property at the corner of Carnation Avenue and Ocean Boulevard. "I hope it turns out to be worth all the effort."
Julian and his wife, Karen, first spotted the property and its views 12 years ago and knew they wanted to live there. Ultimately they envisioned a luxury condominium complex in the style of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, overlooking the Newport Harbor, jetties and the Pacific Ocean.
"We wanted it to look like it was growing out of the bluff," Rick Julian said.
Neighbors, however, complained that the project would be too big, too ugly and would destroy coastal bluffs. The Julians fought for nearly three years to get the project through the Newport Beach Planning Commission and City Council, then finally received Coastal Commission approval in June 2011.
Along the way, the project was reduced in size by one unit to seven units, with a 17% reduction in square feet and a 61% reduction in bluff excavation. The project will be 51,124 square feet and involve excavation of 9,810 cubic yards of coastal bluff.
"It was a matter of time," said Brion Jeannette, AERIE's architect, who attended the party. "It took a little bit longer than we expected, but we're really glad to be here now."
In the end, he said, some neighbors who had opposed the project sent the Julians letters of congratulations.
One vocal opponent moved from the area, he said.
Demolition should take place in three weeks, along with asbestos abatement and other work. Construction won't begin until after Labor Day, as part of an agreement with the city to avoid adding to summertime beach traffic. The project will take 26 months to complete.
Wednesday's gathering was called a groundbreaking party, and the Julians held engraved shovels while they welcomed the crowd, although they never actually used the shovels to break ground.
Guests included Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce President Steve Rosansky, City Council candidate Michael Toerge, former Orange County Register columnist and attorney Frank Mickadeit, family and friends of the Julians, neighbors and former residents of the 14-unit apartment complex.
Ellen Trujillo of Corona del Mar, who wore an "Apt. 1" name tag," lived in the apartment complex for 26 years.
"It needs to be torn down," she said. "It's old and it's run down. But it was a fabulous location. It seems so tiny now, but it was the best."
Corona del Mar resident Kent Moore lived in Apartment 3 from 1970 to 1983.
"It was the greatest party place in the whole area," he said. "We were either on the beach or up here, having a party. It was the greatest bachelor pad. That view when you walked in and saw through the bay windows — that had a lot of effect, if you get my meaning."
AERIE will have 360-degree views, a private beach, boat docks, a shared "Sand Dollar Lounge" with a teppan grill, wok and pizza oven, a pool, private health club, elevators, wine cellars and green construction, according to a handout.
Julian said three of the units are available. Paul Julian, the Julians' son, said the properties are not yet being marketed so no sale price is available, but the units currently are valued at an average of $3,000 per square foot.
Plans to pretty up intersection