From afar, the arched entrance to the grounds of the Pageant of the Masters appeared to be a handsome work of carved stone and stucco.
But in a brief ceremony this week, the archway was reduced to its basic elements — plywood and foam.
It turns out the entryway to the Laguna Beach festival grounds was as much of an illusion as the living tableaux that the pageant produces every summer.
One after another, Festival of Arts board members donned hard hats and wielded sledgehammers as they pulverized the festival archway, sending beads of plastic foam raining on the pavement.
"I'm so excited," said board member Pat Kollenda, slinging a hammer and wearing safety goggles to fend off the debris. "I've wanted to do this for years."
The facade, which extends along the sidewalk on Laguna Canyon Road, has stood for 17 years. Thousands of guests have passed through it to attend the city's oldest arts festival and the pageant in which actors — posing and standing breathlessly still — recreate the artwork of the masters.
The festive demolition will clear the way for a new facade, expected to be complete in time for next summer's art festivities. The new entrance will feature metal cutouts of trees as well as banners that reflect the current pageant theme.
The new $3-million gateway to the art festival grounds will be made primarily of recycled materials such as copper and zinc rather than plywood and foam.
The future facade has already gotten at least one rave: Newport Beach-based Bauer Architects won an award of merit this year from the American Institute of Architects' Orange County Chapter for the design. Jay Bauer, the firm's founder, was among those present Monday.
"We're helping the festival and, I'd say, Laguna Beach, reimagine this place — really bring it back to a place where it reflects the quality of the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters," he said before the entryway-smashing ceremony. "It really says Laguna Beach in a way that the current facade doesn't."
But Fred Sattler, president of the festival's board, took a moment to salute the facade's longevity, given its DNA.
"We never expected the foam — yes, foam — to weather as long as it has," he said. "We've done our best to modestly expand and ingeniously dress it up year after year with banners, planters, trim, columns, new fonts and paint. But now even the most aggressive cosmetic surgeons we could find have refused to work on it.
"They offered no hope. Not one more year."