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Air to awe: no one else wanted to take on this extreme slope--except one adventurous California builder.

When married attorneys Lee Feldman and Gina Browne moved into their posh Hollywood Hills home, they longed for a picturesque pool.

"The view is so spectacular," Feldman says. "We wanted to see how it would look at night with the city lit up and this pool extending out with water flowing off the edge."

The couple had a problem, though. There was no yard.

The rear of the house offered a tiny terrace, but the property immediately dropped off at a 1:1 slope toward a street below. Most pool builders wouldn't touch it. "I never heard back from them," Feldman says of the builders he approached. "One builder just left a plan at my door without ringing the doorbell and drove off."

Besides the extreme slope, there was a total lack of access. Electrical and telephone lines wouldn't allow a crane to reach over the house, so caissons had to be constructed on site. But a standard drilling rig couldn't fit through the side yard. "[The builders] would have to hand-dig the caissons, then hand-assemble the steel columns," Feldman says. "Nobody was willing to do that."

Only one builder signed on: Don Goldstone, president of Ultimate Water Creations in Beverly Hills, Calif. Now the couple has the aquascape of their dreams--a contemporary, vanishing-edge rectangular pool with gutter overflow on three sides. A perimeter-overflow spa caps the scene. They even have a grassy area and landscaping for a complete backyard.

Though it took $500,000 and two years of heroic construction efforts, the blood, sweat and tears finally paid off.

Stage one

Before Goldstone and company could build, they had to fix the access problem. The 5-foot-wide side walkway ended with a dangerously steep drop. After demolishing the concrete walkway, crews dug into the decomposed granite prevalent throughout the site to form a usable, temporary ramp.

"It took us probably a week to create that ramp," Goldstone says.

The workers also needed a staging area where they could operate machinery and maneuver the caissons. To create it, they had to grade out from the hill, retaining enough flat earth to support the men and machinery. They constructed a temporary retaining wall made of rebar, railroad ties, wood beams and plywood to hold the earth. The builder needed something sturdy yet removable.

Crews jack-hammered the 8-foot-long railroad ties into the ground. They attached a framework of 4-by-6-inch wood beams and rebar to the ties. Plywood leaned against the structure. Next, soil was moved from the top of the site against the wall, and a flat area approximately 5 feet wide was graded.

Goldstone saw danger at every step of the way. "While building the staging area, the workers used a harness around their waists [that was connected to the home's foundation] so if they lost their footing, they wouldn't go down the mountain," Goldstone says.

Stage two

Next, the crews had to build a support system for the pool and yard. The plans called for three rows of caissons 3 feet in diameter, along with grade beams and retaining walls.

Drilling the caissons proved to be the most harrowing part of this project. To safeguard the drill rig and its driver, the machine was tethered to a home caisson with a 1-inch steel cable.

Workers built the caissons row by row, moving farther down the hillside. With each row, the hillside got steeper and nail-biting became more intense. While drilling the final row, the rig faced straight down, and the operator started to rethink his chosen occupation.

"He actually walked off the job at least three times. It was such a steep hill that he worried about the machine falling," Goldstone says.

After building each row of caissons, Goldstone and his crew moved the excavated soil on conveyor belts. The soil was relocated up the hill and behind a retaining wall that was built with the first row of pilings.

After six months, the team had built the entire support system. The first row of caissons and retaining wall reached out 12 feet and would contain dirt for the lawn area. The second and third rows, which extended another 15 feet, would prop the pool area and shelter a guest room below.

Stage three

To build the pool, workers installed massively reinforced wood forms on the last two rows of caissons. "It looked like a giant, empty cardboard box, which [formed] the outside walls of the pool," Goldstone says.

The crew shot the gunite, leaving a 30-by-15-foot pool and spa combination. Goldstone wanted to finish the aquascape with materials as luxurious as the property. He and the couple agreed to tile everything.

"We wanted an ocean blue color," homeowner Feldman says. "My wife and I realized that certain plasters would give the appearance of blue, but only in the right light." Tiny glass mosaic tiles blanket the spa and pool bench. To contain costs, the clients opted for larger ceramic tiles on the rest of the pool.

Goldman looked for a unique way to cap the perimeter-overflow troughs. Ultimately, he covered the gutters with sandblasted, tempered glass. "You couldn't see through it, but light could escape," he says.

He put two strands of color-changing fiberoptic light in the trough. "We didn't want to light it too brightly," Goldstone says, "because that would kill the impact of the city view with the twinkling lights."

Now the clients have a backyard with gray travertine deck, patio furniture and landscaping. It's surrounded by tempered glass fencing to preserve the view. "It's not like we had a yard and now we have a pool," Feldman says. "We had nothing--there was air. Now we're constantly in the pool."

RELATED ARTICLE: How'd they do that?

Building 50-foot-tall caissons on a tight lot requires precision, ingenuity--and, above all, patience. The crew had to use less powerful machines than normal and didn't have much room to maneuver.

Construction was painstakingly slow. Just moving the drill rig through the side yard took 1 1/2 days. The nearly 5-foot-wide machine barely fit, and they couldn't damage the home or property walls on either side. "We literally had to go inch by inch by inch," says Don Goldstone, president of Ultimate Water Creations in Beverly Hills, Calif.

After drilling the caissons, the staff manually carried No. 11 rebar--almost an inch thick--to the back of the property to begin construction. "It had to be carried bar by bar," Goldstone says.

The caissons were built in two parts: one underground and another above. Because a crane couldn't place them, workers had to balance the 3,000-pound steel frames with two undersized machines. "We lifted these 35-foot-long pieces [on the first row] using the Bobcat on one end and the drill rig on the other to set them into the holes," Goldstone says. They had to position the steel frames carefully for fear of caving in the holes.

After pumping concrete into the holes, workers built the aboveground portions. They connected the vertical steel to the existing pilings, then added the 3-foot-in-diameter round ties, which provided the horizontal reinforcement. "The ties had to be put on one by one by one," Goldstone says. "The only way to do it was climbing up there."

Workers used Sonatubes to form the piles before pouring the concrete.

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Author:Robledo, Rebecca
Publication:Pool & Spa News
Date:Oct 31, 2005
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