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Newport’s iconic Crab Cooker to close and rebuild because of 3-year-old foundation damage
By HILLARY DAVIS
NOV 17, 2017 | 2:40 PM, LA Times
Irreparable damage to the foundation of Newport Beach's Crab Cooker restaurant means the longtime seafood establishment must be demolished and rebuilt, according to city and restaurant officials.
The damage happened more than three years ago as the result of underground construction mishaps at the neighboring Vue Newport condominium development. The Crab Cooker, at 2200 Newport Blvd., didn't close at the time because the damage wasn't extensive enough to warrant immediate closure or emergency repairs, said Newport Beach Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis.
The iconic 79-year-old structure — actually two connected buildings — isn't unsafe as it stands, and the damage was confined to back rooms away from customers, said Marice DePasquale, a government relations consultant who is helping the business owners with the city's permitting process. But it makes more financial sense to tear it down and rebuild on the same site than try to bring it up to code, she said.
"It's regrettable when an old building like this has to go, but it looks like there's no way to preserve it," city Zoning Administrator Patrick Alford said Thursday before granting permits to redevelop the site.
DePasquale said she expects the closure to begin in the first half of 2018 and last about a year.
The Crab Cooker is a Balboa Peninsula landmark, with its fire engine-hued outer walls, green- and white-striped awnings and large neon flounder sign — the one telling people, "Don't look up here.”
DePasquale said some "wonderful, charming, anecdotal" elements will be saved, such as the awnings, the 19th-century outdoor lighting sconces, the panels on the facade depicting clipper ships at full sail, the front door, handcarved by founder Bob Roubian, and, if the city agrees to it, the fish sign.
Jim Wasko, Roubian's son-in-law, runs the restaurant with his children, Jimmy, 30, and Jessie, 24. He said he's sad about saying goodbye to the original building but will try to keep a presence on Newport's main tourist drag while the new home is being built.
"The good news is … we'll have something with a real good, strong foundation now that'll last my lifetime and theirs," he said, referring to his children. "We're not going anywhere.”
The structure at the corner of Newport Boulevard and 22nd Street was built in 1938 and has been occupied by the Crab Cooker since 1951. Before that it was a Bank of America (the vault is now the restaurant's refrigerator).
Former President Richard Nixon would stand in line for the Crab Cooker's coastal comfort food: all manner of shellfish, salmon and whitefish — served on unpretentious paper plates — and thick red clam chowder.
Plans submitted to the city show that little about the rebuilt restaurant will be different. It will be a single building roughly the same size, about five feet taller to accommodate current code and Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements. It also will get a small dining patio out back, a trash enclosure out of the public right of way and a slightly larger storage area. It will still be red.
Though renderings don't show it, the interior will keep its current aesthetic, Wasko said. That means the shark hanging in the dining room will be back.
"The overall feel, when you look at it, you'll go, 'That's the Crab Cooker again,'" Wasko said.
The construction company that caused the damage, Wieland-Davco, tried to repair the cracked, sagging foundation not long after the damage occurred in 2014, according to documents submitted to the city. The company backed off within a few weeks as the repair methods worsened the foundation's condition.
DePasquale said the Crab Cooker team spent a year and a half trying to salvage the nostalgic structure but eventually accepted its fate. The new design has been in the works for about a year.
Wasko said he isn't sure whether he'll throw a closing party, "but we're certainly gonna have a reopening party."