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Shaping up Newport's city hall

November 13, 2005|By PETER BUFFA

There's a new one. Did you see it? A new design for Newport Beach City Hall.

When they ran the first design up the flagpole to see if anyone saluted, people just, well, stood there. The reactions ranged from "I'm sorry, what is it?" to "ugly industrial warehouse," which is not a good range.

Almost everyone agrees that the city needs a new hall to call its own, desperately. But the questions of what it should look like, what it will cost and how do you pay for it, rank right up there with why can't you tickle yourself and, if you have a dozen eggs, can you go through the 10-items-or-less line?

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I'll leave the pay-for-it part to the City Council, which is scheduled to deliberate, cogitate and ruminate on the proposal Nov. 22.

But as far as the design for a new city hall goes, I am pleased to announce that I got it. I'm on it. I'm all over this thing.

It came to me in the middle of the night, as things often do. It was an epiphany, a revelation, a vision, a moment of clarity, which is something I hardly ever have.

What should the new city hall look like?

I have two words for you: John Steinbeck. Pay attention. This could get complicated.

When I saw the first design, "ugly industrial warehouse" is not what came to mind. What did immediately came to mind was "Cannery Row," Steinbeck's laugh-out-loud novella about a very odd cast of characters who are trying to get by along the long row of sardine canneries on the Monterey Peninsula -- there's Doc, the soft-hearted marine biologist; Lee Chong, the grocer-philosopher; and Dora, the overly generous madame of Cannery Row.

What does any of this have to do with a new city hall for Newport Beach? I told you this might get complicated; now it has.

Besides being one of the greatest American writers who ever lived, Steinbeck could write like the Dickens about the human condition. If you can read "Of Mice and Men" and "The Grapes of Wrath" and not be moved, you need to have your mover checked at your earliest possible convenience.

In "The Grapes of Wrath," Steinbeck describes a long highway that carried an endless river of down-but-not-out people, who had been displaced by the Great Depression, from the Midwest to the promised land of California. The highway was called U.S. Route 66, and Steinbeck gave it the nickname that would sear that road and everything it stood for into the American consciousness forever -- "The Mother Road."

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