Art Hotel's panoramic new mural — not quite finished —celebrates Laguna's rich heritage

Guests swimming in the pool at the Art Hotel in north Laguna will notice something different along one of the walls.

What co-owner Gail Duncan described as a "fun, whimsical" mural that once decorated a brick wall is no more. In its place, award-winning bronze sculpturist Randy Morgan has created a mural that captures elements of Laguna's heritage — the Hotel Laguna, well-known greeter Eiler Larsen and the lifeguard tower at Main Beach — in a panoramic landscape.

The mural, titled "Main Beach Panorama," was unveiled Saturday in a ceremony at the 28-room Art Hotel, at 1404 N. Coast Hwy. Mayor Steve Dicterow attended, as did Hotel Laguna employees proud that their iconic place of employment is featured in the new artwork.

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Morgan, who created the "Waterman's Wall" mural on the side of Hobie's Surf Shop along Forest Avenue, spent a year on the bas relief mural, whose carvings and clay add-ons give depth to an otherwise flat surface.

The genesis for it came at an opportune time for Duncan and Morgan, a former Laguna resident who now lives in San Clemente.

An advertising executive from a local magazine referred Morgan to Duncan in September 2014 to repair another mural at the Art Hotel — which lives up to its name with artwork inside and out.

Morgan noticed the wall by the pool, and that sparked a conversation with Duncan.

"I wanted a more serious tribute to Laguna Beach," Duncan said in a phone interview this week. "He had a much bigger vision."

"The hotel's pool area is the source of the hotel," Morgan said while standing next to the mural last week. "In looking for a place to do it, the natural place was the pool."

Morgan wanted the mural to tell a story that chronicled Laguna life of yesteryear while incorporating essential elements of its heritage.

"Starting to make a mural is like a documentary film," Morgan said. "You study the elements and learn all the fantastic stories, which tell the content of ... what the mural needs to be."

He consulted historic photographs for inspiration and, along with a crew of five, spent a year working on the space.

The decades-old Hotel Laguna, at 425 S Coast Hwy, occupies a prominent space on the left side of the wall. Morgan created depth by presenting the hotel at an angle and adding awnings that jut from the wall.

"The Hotel Laguna is the mothership of all hotels in Laguna Beach," he said.

Morgan used stucco for the background and cast clay figures — of Larsen, awnings and pelicans of different sizes — in a kiln before placing them into the 8-by-35-foot space.

The muralist added a few figures shaped as classic cars to the street in front of Hotel Laguna as an ode to Duncan's heritage. Duncan grew up Detroit, where her father owned a Ford dealership.

The hotel paid Morgan for the work, but he declined to discuss the compensation.

The mural is not quite finished.

Morgan will eventually create a scene depicting a landmark Laguna ocean feature — Seal Rock — with accompanying sea lions on an adjoining wall. One can see the rock from certain locations on the property.

Morgan said he doesn't know when he will start that work but expects it to be after the summer tourist season.

In addition to murals, the Art Hotel features paintings of Laguna landscapes that hang from balconies. The eclectic mix keeps life exciting for Duncan.

"There is always a work in progress," she said. "It keeps evolving and evolving."

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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