SoCal Explorer Partner Highlight: Casa Romantica

Historic Origins 

For nearly a century, Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens has remained a beloved historic fixture perched on the hill overlooking the beachside city of San Clemente. The original building structure dates to 1927 when the house and grounds served as home to the founder of the city of San Clemente, Ole Hanson.  

Casa Romantica’s story first began in the early 1920s, when the mayor of Seattle, Ole Hanson, fell in love with the San Clemente landscape and its pristine Southern California weather, having hailed from the Pacific Northwest, during his travels. He declared that the quaint town reminded him of a “Spanish village by the sea,” and went on to build a resort-style community in the city now known as San Clemente. He commissioned architect Carl Lindbom to build his Spanish Colonial Revival dream home in 1927.

This Spanish Colonial Revival style building has served the community in a variety of ways over the past 100 years, two of which include hosting San Clemente community events and a retirement home for senior citizens. It was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 and continues to serve as a welcoming cultural institution for the Orange County community. 

A Unique Community Treasure 

The Great Depression ultimately took a toll on the finances of Casa Romantica’s original owner and forced Hanson to forfeit his home to Bank of America in the 1930s. The property passed through a slew of ownership throughout the early 20th century and almost fell into abandonment, before its sale to the Redevelopment Agency of San Clemente in the 1980s. 

The group debated about what to make of the historic site for years until an anonymous donor offered $1 million to the city of San Clemente on the condition that Casa Romantica be renovated and used as an educational cultural arts institution.  

Today, the property is open to the public full-time, hosting weekly events and daily tours of the home and gardens. The marketing and events team is constantly working to expand their on-site programming to include additional cost-free and community-centric entertainment, each year.  

Metrolink connected with Casa Romantica’s Program and Marketing Director, Kylie Travis, about the past and the future of this historic community site. 

A Garden with a View 

“Right now, our gardens are open — and as a nonprofit, we depend on people visiting,” says Travis, who encourages visitors to safely visit the outdoor grounds. “Our site’s history and ability to offer something different, that might not have been experienced before, is what makes us unique.” 

The outdoor grounds of Casa Romantica remain open to the community during COVID-19, and the events team has become increasingly creative to ensure their scheduled programming remains up and running with necessary safety modifications.  

“Throughout this year we’ve remained stronger than ever, trying to pivot and create safe, accessible on-site programming,” says Travis. “Normally we host about 120 arts and culture events a year for the community – with just a staff of nine. Since COVID hit, we’ve gone virtual, hosting virtual performances, and offering ‘pickup activity kits’ and crafts as entertainment for people of all ages – as well as Zoom classes – anything we can still serve our mission safely.”  

Currently, parents can take their child to Casa Romantica’s brand-new weekly activity “kid’s club” every Tuesday. Travis emphasizes this program has been especially appreciated by local remote-working parents whose children need socialization and stimulation. 

So, You Think You Can Dance?  

One of the cost-free, programming Casa Romantica plans to move forward with this summer is a two-week-long dance workshop. Here, students will learn everything from costume design to lighting techniques, the basics of dance choreography, the cultures behind various dances, and more.  

“Our workshops are important for students to gain confidence in their own creative process and therefore can make an impact on the larger community,” says Travis. “It is the heart of our mission to support a child’s passion for the arts. We’re constantly trying to expand and create art programs that are digestible for everyone.” 

Each summer, Casa Romantica also hosts a cost-free music academy. The two-week program features six hours of daily arts and classical music education with lunch and instruments included. Travis recounted one of her most special memories of this experience, and the impact it had on a particular child’s successful musical career. 

“We had one little boy who had never picked up an instrument before our program,” says Travis. “He played the violin and fell in love with it. Now, he’s at the Colburn School in Los Angeles for music.” 

Adventures on the Railway 

Anyone can visit Casa Romantica with a Metrolink trip to the San Clemente Pier station and a short walk up the hill to where Casa Romantica sits overlooking the ocean and the Metrolink tracks.  

As for Travis’ personal train travel experience? She’s an enthusiastic railway fan – having embarked on one of her “first big adventures” in high school via Metrolink, for a “romantic date” with her then-boyfriend for a trip to Oceanside.  

“When I was in high school, my boyfriend and I saved up money to go on a ‘big kid date.’ Since we couldn’t fly or drive out of the state, we took the train down to San Diego! We had saved up all our money for the trip, so by the time we got down there we just grabbed a bite to eat and headed back up – but it felt grown-up.”  

When SoCal Explorers take the train to Casa Romantica and show their loyalty card or same day Metrolink ticket, they will receive $1 off admission.

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