The 17 weathered cottages sit behind a fence at the base of a bluff that runs parallel to the ocean at the northern tip of Crystal Cove State Park.
Remnants of a wooden boardwalk lean up against the base of the fence, while iceplant covers nearly all of a dirt path.
It's hard at this moment to envision the beach parties that would draw people from the movie industry to these now-historic rentals for days of playing volleyball and sipping sodas at the beachfront soda fountain. Laura Davick, who spent much time at the cove, remembers being among those who kept horses at a nearby stable for taking rides up and down the coast.
The excursions will eventually go beyond single-day field trips. Students will spend two nights in one of the refurbished cottages and step outside into their classroom — on the beach.
"Some of these students have never been to the coast," Hobbs said.
The goal is to engage students in hands-on projects and encourage students to pursue careers in scientific disciplines, Hobbs added.
"We want to introduce students to what it means to be an environmental scientist," Hobbs said.
Brett Sanders, chairman of UCI's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, called Crystal Cove a prototype for studying how man-made structures interact with the natural environment.
"How do we strike a balance of protecting natural systems and the California quality of life?" Sanders said rhetorically.
The alliance and UCI currently partner on offering students opportunities to gather research from a boat on the ocean, known as the Marine Protected Area Citizen Science Cruise.
Students conduct fish counts with underwater cameras, do plankton tows behind the boat and are also on the lookout for marine mammals, Hobbs said.
The educational component was an important part of the overall vision of Crystal Cove, Davick said.
"When people think about Crystal Cove, they think about [cottage] rentals and the Beachcomber [a restaurant on the property]," Davick said. "Last year, [students in the educational programs] grew by 57%.
"Rentals are the tip of the iceberg."
The alliance expects to raise the estimated remaining $22 million. It has $3 million from an anonymous donation.
Infrastructure work, which could start next year, will occur before restoration of the cottages begins. Once started, restoration of the the remaining 17 cottages is expected to take five years.
For those itching to get a glimpse of the restored cottages and surrounding environs, Davick leads free, two-hour tours from noon to 2 p.m. on the third Sunday of every month, except December.
For more information about the alliance, visit crystalcovealliance.org.
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