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There were troubled moments when the marina might as easily have become Chace's folly. The most serious crisis came shortly after its opening back in 1962, when wave action swept away dock installations and damaged hundreds of boats. The problem was corrected by construction of a state and federally financed $4.2 million offshore detached breakwater.
The wanderlust one associates with boating and the mobility that makes Los Angeles possible are getting along together splendidly at Marina del Rey. Strictly a rental community—there aren't even any condominiums—its apartment dwellers are a transient lot: older couples whose children have grown or single people in no hurry to build nests. "They're people who want no part of lawns and property taxes," says Bob Leslie, executive director of the Marina del Rey Lessees Association, an organization of 33 of the marina's private developers. "They've got a little of the nomad about them. They're the kind of people who want to be able to close up their apartments at a moment's notice."
Marina del Rey's freewheeling lifestyle is most faithfully reflected in the local chapter of the South Bay Club, a chain of singles-only apartment complexes of the kind so dear to newspaper feature writers, most of whom have proved admirably adept at sniffing out the occasional 85-year-old bachelor to be found living in such places.
There was a more serious front-page story two years ago when somebody spiked the potato chips with LSD at a party at the Marina del Rey complex, resulting in the serious illness of several people. The incident also resulted in an effort to play down the club's swinging-singles image and emphasize instead an activities schedule worthy of a Caribbean cruise, including yoga classes, south-of-the-border nights, karate lessons and an appearance ("in person," advised the sign in the lobby) of Atoris the mentalist.
Not nearly as regimented but certainly as active is the singles' scene in the lounge of the Second Storey/The Basement, another of the marina's restaurants. A younger crowd dances to hard rock in a lower-level room but upstairs it is strictly the mating minuet: the men in shirts twice unbuttoned, the women with sunglasses perched atop the head, everybody wearing suedes and leathers and available looks. Garth Reynolds, the mustachioed part-owner, calls the Second Storey "a superswinger's spot," an assessment that drew no quarrel from Ginny Miller, a curvy, hazel-eyed secretary who occasionally drops by after work in order, as she put it, "to meet quality guys."
Even with everything else going on, there is room for the substantial social contribution of Marina del Rey's seven yacht clubs, each with its own club tie, pewter mugs and good fellowship. The trappings are reminiscent of fraternity row, and the equivalent of the big man on campus is lean, chisel-featured Chuck Hathaway, a respected sailor and president of the 50-year-old California Yacht Club, which moved to the marina in 1963. "Yacht clubs are the seasoning that make boating a gourmet experience," Hathaway says. "They give it purpose." His 600-member club shares the social limelight with the Del Rey Yacht Club, a predominantly Jewish rival, particularly in the matter of which of their ladies' auxiliaries can most often make the women's pages of the Los Angeles Times .
They compete on the water, too, notably in such blue-water sailing events as the California Cup, a round-the-buoys match race hosted by Hathaway's club, or in Del Rey's new 1,125-mile race to Puerto Vallarta. The Round-Catalina offshore powerboat race is run out of Marina del Rey, and there is no end of predicted log races for powerboats.
Even as they go on boating there, a good many of the marina's patrons fear Marina del Rey is in danger of degenerating into a kind of Coney Island. Bumper stickers reading SAVE MARINA DEL REY FOR BOATS flowered a while ago, and the group responsible, a boat owners' association called Pioneer Skippers, has taken legal action to bring the marina under state regulation as a public utility.
The Pioneer Skippers argue that Los Angeles County has in effect abdicated, allowing the marina's private developers to choke the area with concrete and charge needlessly high slip rentals. Another issue is the eviction campaign that a few private anchorage operators, thinking of houseboat communities elsewhere that are little more than floating Appalachias, are waging against the 400 people who live aboard their boats. It is a legitimate worry, although it is hard to think of so magnificent a craft as Tranquility, a 66-foot fiber-glass ketch that architect Jim Van Dyke built himself and now lives aboard with his wife Johanna, as a houseboat.
Whatever the gripe, it finds its way sooner or later to a small and cactusy man named Leo Bialis, the county's top on-the-scene administrator. Regarding the boatowners' grievances, Bialis says: "We try to let the lessees run their businesses as private landlords. But we also try to exercise strong persuasive powers." While scarcely a matter to concern the Pioneer Skippers either way, one occasion when those powers were exercised was the time the county, objecting to wallpaper depicting positions of sexual intimacy, sent workers into the men's room of a marina restaurant on the eve of its grand opening and scraped the paper off.