The Appearance of ‘Disappearing Path’

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By Robyn Grant | NB Indy

Inspiration Point on the bluff in Corona del Mar between Narcissus and Orchid Streets offers some of the most beautiful and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean along the coast of Southern California.

In 1987, in recognition of the site’s majesty and importance, the Newport Beach Arts Commission and Parks, Beaches & Recreation Department co-sponsored a design competition to commemorate the site. The resulting commission, “Disappearing Path,” became the City’s first Art in Public Places project.

The winners of the competition were the world-class collaborative team of Newton Harrison and Helen Mayer Harrison along with Cunningham Design Inc. and artists Paul Hobson and Marcello Petrocelli.

According to the Harrison Studio website, they “take on work if there is a general agreement that their actual client is the environment itself. The agenda is created by the artists in discourse with the larger community. Thus the Harrisons see themselves simultaneously as guests and co-workers. They stay…until they deem that they have done all that is possible for them to do.”

And this aesthetic is apparent in “Disappearing Path” where these pioneers of the “eco-art movement” used landscape and architectural elements to transform the original dilapidated footpath into a sublime setting recognizing both Newport’s environmental and community roots.

The installation included a sand-colored concrete walkway leading from street level to a broad view plateau, teak benches, stanchions supporting a railing made of horizontal steel cables (inspired by a sailboat lifeline,) strategically placed boulders, and native, erosion-resistant landscaping.

The preliminary cost submitted by the architects was approximately $400,000 and would have provided for additional elements including rehabilitation and lowering of the upper site plateau adjacent to the road and additional seating and fountain enhancements crafted from boulders.

The amount approved by the Newport Beach City Council was approximately $150,000 so the original design was scaled back. Accounts for the actual project cost vary. The money was appropriated from several sources: a City appropriation for Art in Public Places, the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission’s capital improvement fund, and proceeds from the Newport Beach Salute to the Arts (a now defunct annual Arts Commission event).

When the final costs escalated to over $300,000, additional funds came from the Public Works department as part of the plan to restore the badly eroded bluff.

Some of the intrinsic design elements of “Disappearing Path” have, over the years, been replaced or redesigned. The plantings along the bluff matured and today take on an organic composition directed by nature. The teak benches degraded from the sea air and wind and were replaced by composite benches better suited to withstand the environment. The sailboat-like cable railing is worn from the elements and heavy use, but remains functional.

The good news is the splendor of the glorious view remains intact. And recently an effort has emerged to re-evaluate the site and possibly rehabilitate some of the original design so the subtle majesty of “Disappearing Path” can continue to “Inspire.”


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