Juilliard at age 12. Then Harvard, Oxford and London’s Royal Academy of Music. Mix in world-tour solos with her piano for a decade-plus, work at The Kennedy Center and a spot among the elite in Australian author Ida Lichter’s latest release, The Secret Magic of Music: Conversations With Musical Masters. But for Berenika Schmitz, still in her early 30s, all of that has been a precursor to what she’s doing now: planting the seeds of an artistic Renaissance as executive director of Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens. “The first time I saw Casa Romantica, I thought: What a beautiful place,” she notes. “I could see great things can happen here.”
The hilltop San Clemente venue was built by city founder Ole Hanson as his family home almost 90 years ago. The Spanish facade was saved by preservationists in the 1990s, when a proposal threatened to turn it over to chain-restaurant developers. Those who fought the plan hoped to draw the arts there. But few could envision what Schmitz has done with it in three years: theater in the gardens, a ballet on its terrace and exhibitions in the gallery.