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Wayne no longer towering presence?

Duke's Place, named for the actor, is set for renovations and a name change. His legacy is fading in other ways too.

October 25, 2013|By Emily Foxhall | This post has been clarified, as noted below.

In Newport Beach, where John Wayne was once so present, tiny bits of his legacy may be slipping away.

The tennis club Wayne built for his wife has been renamed, and his house on the water has been razed and rebuilt. His boat, the Wild Goose, is still in town but no longer in the family's hands.

Now, his namesake bar at the Balboa Bay Resort will soon bear a new name.

Plans are underway for the restaurant and lounge, called Duke's Place, to be renamed, reimagined and redesigned. The dramatic change comes as part of an overall update to the property by its new owner, the Eagle Four Partners, which acquired it in 2012.

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The project will begin in spring, pending necessary approval, said Dieter Hissin, general manager of the Balboa Bay Resort. The resort is the public side of the establishment, while the Balboa Bay Club, where Wayne once frolicked, remains members-only.

Among changes to the space will be the construction of a new kitchen and a reworked outdoor seating area. Other ideas being considered include the addition of community tables and an enlarged bar.

Balboa Bay Resort was founded in 1948 as Balboa Bay Club. Wayne was one of several celebrity guests to spend time there and he served on the board of governors.

Duke's Place opened in his honor, with photos and paintings of him adorning the walls, in May 2003, when the new resort opened to the public, Hissin said.

The images featured, as Hissin described, "not so much John Wayne the cowboy, but more John Wayne the mariner."

The resort will see more changes, including a "soft renovation" of the First Cabin Restaurant, which will reopen in November as 1221 Prime and feature new steak and seafood options.

A coffee and snack "grab 'n' go" will also be built, with an expanded retail area, Hissin said in a presentation at the Newport Beach City Council meeting this week.

Already this year, the Balboa Bay Club completed a new members' restaurant, called the Members Grill. The guard shack by East Coast Highway has been removed and will be replaced. The establishment's sign has also been rebranded with the "Balboa Bay Resort" name and logo.

As plans for the Duke's Place continue to develop, John Wayne probably won't be the restaurant's overriding theme, Hissin said. Perhaps only a framed picture of Wayne will remain.

And as for the new name? "We're open to suggestions," Hissin told City Council members.

The lobby and welcome areas are also expected to undergo renovations in 2014.

Hissin said that even if the name disappears, the relationship between the Balboa Bay Club and the Wayne family will endure. The club had a chili cookoff in honor of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, and Wayne's son, Ethan, is on the board of governors.

And there's still a chance for the average pilgrim to get a drink at the old bar.

[For the record, 5:16 p.m. Oct. 28: An earlier version of this story was not clear about the fate of the tennis club. It was renamed.]

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