A beach house at 5454 Ocean Blvd. went on the market Thursday for $4.5 million. It is, arguably, the coolest home in Long Beach, but you can argue all you want. I’m going ahead and calling it.
Were it not for the small and somewhat irritating matter of the price tag, I’d be sitting in the living room right now, carefully nursing a Bombay tonic and staring out the window to see if the sun is going to go down yet again.
In fact, if you don’t buy this house, I swear to God, I will. There’s gotta be some way to quickly raise $4.5 million.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the eternal real estate mantra, “location, location, location.” This house, which you’ve surely seen and wondered about, checks off all three. It sits virtually alone on the ocean side of Ocean, surrounded by pines and ice plant, with only a couple of neighbors a ways down to its southeast, but the neighbors’ homes aren’t as remarkable as the Heath House, which has stood alone and virtually unaltered since it was built in 1939 for the oilman Ronald Wayland Heath, his wife Olivia and their two children, Ron and Shelley. It has been in the family for its entire 82 years.
The five-bedroom (four, actually, because the one at the back of the second floor with a view of Alamitos Bay is going to be my office), three-bath house is as isolated as any home in the city, sitting on the beach with the nearest neighbor a stiff 8-iron shot away. It has clear views of both the ocean (always filled with colorful kite-surfers) or the bay from every window in the house.
It has been well cared for over the decades, though much of the woodwork and cabinetry inside is pretty much the same as it’s always been. This is a true beach house, the way you want a beach house to look, with big windows, cozy dining niches, odd little cabinets and drawers scattered about and none of that schmaltzy faux-Tuscany architecture that too often mars the neighborhoods of Naples and the Peninsula proper a short way down the coast.
The bedrooms in the 2,730-square-foot house are on the smallish side, and if you’re going to do any tinkering at all on the property, it’s likely going to involve considerably enlarging the master bedroom into something more…masterful.
The house sits along a stretch of Ocean that once featured a row of beach cottages, though most were destroyed in the storm of 1939, devastatingly known as the Lash of St. Francis, the only tropical storm to make landfall in California in the 20th century.
How did the Heath House survive the storm? The same way it plans on surviving catastrophic sea level rise in the coming decades: It is built on a pier.
The pier was more visible in the home’s early days, but it’s still there, lurking beneath the structure and just daring a storm of lashing waves to take another stab at it.
Another bit from the house’s history: When it was built, the sea regularly came up to, and beneath, the house and R.W. Heath’s deed specified that he owned the property down to the mean tide line. Years later, the city brought in sand to broaden the beach by several yards, giving R.W. a mess of new property. The city wasn’t going to let Heath have all that new land, however, and the two parties struck a deal in which Heath relented and gave the city all of the new beach in exchange for a vow from the city to never build anything in front of his house. And that would include the bike path which, as a result of the agreement, ends (or begins) right at the home’s property line.
Nowadays, with the sea tamed by the breakwater and a bit of a distance from the house, the place is remarkably quiet inside. It really takes a load of willpower to not just curl up on the window seat and take a long nap.
Realtor Ben Fisher landed the listing to the house, which is a coup in itself. “This place is always going to be No. 1 in my portfolio,” he said as we circled one another warily in a battle to buy the house. “I just love hanging out here.”
“The only problem I’m having right now is coming up with the money,” I told Ben. “But if all I had was $4.5 million, I’d buy this place.”
“I would too,” he said, making him my most immediate competitor for the property.
The Heath House property includes a two-car garage, which isn’t insignificant given its sometimes crowded location. And built adjacent to the garage is a little guest house with a bedroom, a kitchenette and a sitting room with a fireplace. A courtyard with a hot tub separates the guest house from the main house.
“You’re lucky to see the property,” Fisher reminded me. “No one except the family and their friends have seen this place since the 1930s.”
R.W. Heath died in 1986 at the family’s winter home in Palm Springs. And when his widow died in the early 1990s, daughter Shelley moved to the house where she lived until her death earlier this year. And her two sons have put it up for sale for the first time in the home’s history.
I’m also lucky to see the property because I’m one of the few non-millionaires who will be allowed to gawk at it from the inside. Fisher isn’t planning on throwing any open houses, because it would be a zoo due to the number of people who have always wanted to know about this sort of eternally mysterious house. I’m among them. I told Fisher I’ve wondered about this house since I needed water wings to play in the bay.
“I’ve wondered, too,” said Fisher. “And everyone I’ve talked to has said the same thing.”
There is a slight chance I could get you in to wander around the place. But it’s gonna cost you. And I think you know what that dollar figure is.
Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.
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