If there was a position for ambassador of the Coronado Cays it would have to go to Aldo Ciani, a resident and realtor in the Cays since 1972. Ciani and his wife Alberta moved to the Cays from Orange County to Antigua Village, which was only one of two villages built at that time. The landscape of the Cays looked different then with Jamaica Village, the only other village and two houses on Green Turtle. Ciani remembers white sand dunes all over. The family bought sand buggies to ride around their new neighborhood. Around the time Ciani moved to the Cays, a condo in Antigua cost $58,000, a number that was high in those days.
Ciani is originally from New York state and came to California by way of Kansas City. He lived in Imperial Beach where he owned a bar called Aldo’s Grass Hut. For Ciani the bar was a business he took on with the intention of remodeling it and selling it. The bar was in the current location of the Bullpen Tavern. Ciani recalls his landlord stopping by once a month to tell him how great the place looked and collect the rent. “I worked 12 hours a day for 30 days and in 10 minutes the landlord would pick up the money and leave,” he said. That gave Ciani the idea of becoming a realtor. “I was in the wrong business,” he recalls saying.
It was during the time he lived in Imperial Beach that he met his future wife Alberta, who is Hawaiian. After Ciani sold the bar, he moved to Orange County and worked as a realtor, then came back south and started selling homes in the Cays. The Cianis had three boys who grew up in the Cays and attended schools in Coronado. They have been married 52 years and very seldom have been apart for no more than four hours at a time. “We love it, we want to be together,” said Ciani.
As a realtor in the brand new neighborhood, Ciani soon realized there was a need for property management alongside the realty business. So Alberta Ciani took on the job and concentrated on property management starting in 1975; the couple has worked side by side ever since. Alberta Ciani explained, “When you sell a place, sometimes [the new owner] wants to rent it… We did it as a favor at first, then decided to do it as a business. We saw a need. When you’re in real estate you need property management. It’s a service for a buyer.”
Ciani has always kept his operations small. “We give quality care without being too big,” he said. Ciani has had different employees over the years, but for the past 20 years Mari Chmelik has been a constant presence.
Alberta Ciani recalls the early days of the Cays when people in San Diego found the idea of living on the water new. “We were into the boating community [in Orange County]. In San Diego they didn’t get it… they thought it was beyond their reach,” she said.
Ciani recalls the rumors circulating that the Cays were built on landfill, but he saw the construction with his own eyes. The channels were dug up first. “They ran the pilings with cranes into the dirt, built the channels and filled them with water. Only Grand Caribe Isle (where the Homeowners Association building is located) and later Loews Resort were built on landfill dug out from the channels.
Ciani had many loyal clients over the years. “Real estate is a more personal business than people think. Clients from the 1970s are still with me,” he explained. Ciani has sold houses multiple times including one he has sold nine times.
The first homeowners in the Cays were retired Navy captains who were taking their bonuses and buying a home. “It was good. A lot of them were young and took positions as directors of villages,” he said. Many had kids who eventually grew up and bought homes through Ciani.
Because of his extensive knowledge of the Cays, realtors still call Ciani many times a day to inquire and clarify questions about docks. “It’s all good for the community. I don’t have a problem even if I’m not involved in the deal,” he explained.
From the very beginning Ciani was a member of the Coronado Cays Yacht Club and was commodore in 1985. The club was originally located in the HOA building under a different configuration. Ciani drives or walks to work and sometimes he has taken his boat to work. “It’s hard to switch from boating to office work,” he said.
Ciani has owned many power boats ranging for 15 to 58 feet. The couple has enjoyed traveling to Catalina for many years on their boats.
As a young man growing up in upstate New York, Ciani dreamed of becoming an architect, but when his mom had a heart attack at 40 years old he took care of her and his younger sister and did not continue his studies.
A few of his sons followed in Ciani’s footsteps and got real estate licenses, but are now in different professions. The couple has one grandchild who also has a real estate license. He sold a house in the first hour of holding an open house. “He made a $22,000 commission and I thought he was sold for life; instead he bought a car and got out of real estate,” Ciani recalls with a smile.
He feels lucky his family has stayed nearby. His children, grandchildren and great grandchildren all live within 20 minutes of the Cays.
Although real estate has had its ups and downs, Ciani has been a constant in the community. A lot of realtors come and go in Coronado, and he says that change doesn’t help the quality of the profession. “I’m into taking care of people. I live next to them. After 47 years I walk down the street and people wave at me,” he said.
Overall he has enjoyed being a realtor because it has allowed him to live, work and play in the same community.
After moving from Antigua in 1974 to Bahama Village, because the family needed more space, the Cianis have stayed put. Ciani believed in the concept of the Cays from the very beginning and invested his own money in it. In the early days, Ciani bought a lot on Admiralty Cross for $50,000 and later the value had gone up to $125,000. Ciani kept getting offers for that lot from a realtor. After six tries Ciani was offered $265,000 and he sold it. He later found out the buyer was Signal Landmark, the company which developed the Cays. At one point while the construction of the Cays was going on, Ciani owned 11 houses in Trinidad Village. Between 1984 and 1985 he owned so many houses he had to keep a booklet in his pocket to keep track of them.
There are many stories Ciani can tell you about the history of the Cays. Port Royale and Mardi Gras were supposed to have channels too, but because of licenses expiring and some disagreements, the project never happened.
High profile people have lived in the Cays and Ciani knew some of them. For example Actor Dick van Dyke was his across-the-street neighbor in Antigua Village for a while. Ciani sold a house to Ted Waitt, co-founder of Gateway and his wife Joan. When Ciani first met Ted Waitt he noticed his pony tail and thought he was a rock star. Only later he found out who Waitt was. Ciani asked them how they found him. The couple told him they were at a charity function and happened to ask if someone knew a realtor in the Cays. That person told them “Aldo Ciani - I don’t know if he is a good realtor, but he is honest,” recalls Ciani.
The Waitts bought a house for $5 million thanks to Ciani, which was the most expensive house in the Cays at that time.
Ciani has loved his profession and how things have turned out for him. “I’ve always stayed small. It’s the best way to take care of your clients,” he said.
Although he’s 78 years old, he has no plans to slow down. “I would miss it desperately,” he said.