hat meets the eye upon arriving at Fashion Island® is a dazzling array of specialty boutiques and eateries set against the elegant backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and nestled in an enclave whose architectural style reflects Italian Renaissance principles of perfection, order and harmony. Stately palm trees dot the piazzas and frame the classic facades. A koi pond teems with multicolored aquatic life. At holiday time, a soaring, ornament laden tree draws gasps of admiration. What doesn’t meet the eye, but rather wafts through the air as white noise that barely clears the threshold of human hearing, is an inspiring sense of place; of being at the center point of the compass.
When Fashion Island opened its doors in the fall of 1967, the open-air, off-the-beaten-track shopping center was seen as a bold and, to some, risky, retail experiment. Would Orange County residents drive all that way for a new dress? Wasn’t Newport Beach a place for surfers?
Time-travel to 2018 and discover a Fashion Island that didn’t just deliver on its original goal, but also on an almost unfathomable list of loftier ones. The square footage dedicated to retail became the hub of a wheel, architecturally and metaphorically, that reaches outward in all directions and encompasses luxury residences at Villas Fashion Island and The Colony, the elegant Fashion Island Hotel™, office towers housing everything from PIMCO and Pacific Life to medical professionals, and Newport Center’s Orange County Museum of Art and the Newport Beach Civic Center.
A SENSE OF PLACE
In its earliest years, Newport Beach was essentially a collection of discrete neighborhoods that identified more with their own moniker — Balboa Island, the Peninsula, Corona del Mar – than with Newport Beach as a whole.
“We never really had a single focal point,” said Steve Rosansky, president of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce. With the development of Newport Center and Fashion Island, however, the geographic center of town took shape.
When the decision was made to rebuild Newport Beach City Hall, which was located on the Balboa Peninsula, residents and planners evaluated more than 30 locations. The list was whittled down to three, and in 2013, the civic and government seat moved into new quarters in the Newport Center business district adjacent to Fashion Island. According to Rosansky, who served nine years as a Newport Beach city councilman and one term as mayor, it made perfect sense.
“Fashion Island is more than just a retail center now,” he said. “It’s the number one business address in Newport Beach. It commands the highest rents in town, it’s become a significant residential area, and the best retailers in all of Orange County locate in Fashion Island. It’s the heartbeat of Newport Beach.
“I used to drive down from Arcadia when I was a high school student,” he said. “It was always my dream to live in Newport Beach, so now I tell people that I’m living the dream.”