Building a dream home takes more than just vision. It often requires determination to move forward in spite of the “no’s” and the “can’t-be-done’s.” John Hamilton had both qualities in ample supply in 1970 as he stood at the entrance of Newport Harbor. The real estate developer and founder of the Newport Sports Museum spotted a vacant lot nestled on a rocky cliff in a quiet Corona del Mar enclave called China Cove.

“I could see that the views from that site were spectacular,” he recalls, before adding: “Arguably, the best views in all of Newport Beach.”


You won’t hear a matter-of-fact businessman like Hamilton talk of intuition—but that is precisely what led him to purchase a plot of land the LA Times once called “unbuildable.” He contacted his real estate agent who put him in touch with the owner, who happened to be legendary Newport Beach architect J. Herbert Brownell. Hamilton knew if anyone could design it, it would be Brownell and that Bob Lawson, a well-known engineer out of Laguna Beach, could handle the engineering challenges involved in building a house that could rest on a steep 1:1 incline. Brownell and Lawson were energized by the challenge. Hamilton’s family, however, had reservations. His wife, Kathy, who was pregnant with the couple’s first child at the time, only agreed to the purchase on a condition: her husband had to build a flat yard where their future children could play. Other family members were cautiously optimistic. After taking his grandfather to the work site one day, Hamilton remembers one of the workmen asking him: “What do you think, Mr. Reilly?” He told them, “I think Johnny’s out of his mind. But I’m standing behind him.”


His family did indeed stand behind him. The Hamiltons raised all three of their children in the home, leaving behind a legacy of home ownership that lasted four decades and eventually grew to include 8,600 square feet, five bedrooms plus a maid’s room and five stories. Kathy got her flat ground and grassy yard at the entry—a feature no other homeowner on the bluff possesses to this day. Hamilton got his views, which can be enjoyed from every room in the house. His guests, too, got the luxury of curb cut and off-street parking, not to mention street-to-street access with a 5-car garage set on flat ground and approximately 30 paces from the beach. And since the front of the residence is hidden from the street, there is privacy and sound insulation from the top of the hill.

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