LAGUNA BEACH : Lifeguard Tower a Top Landmark

The aging lifeguard tower at Main Beach may be the most photographed public building in Laguna Beach.

Both quaint and functional, the hexagon-shaped structure is one of this community's treasures, residents say.

"It's a landmark," said Mike Dwinell, the city's head lifeguard. "It's been the subject of many postcards and many paintings."

The landmark was once part of a gas station at Broadway and Coast Highway. In the 1920s, horse power was used to move the structure to the beach, Dwinell said. Until the new lifeguard center was built at the north end of Main Beach in 1985, the 400-square-foot tower was the headquarters for all lifeguard activity, he said.

"Meetings were held on the sand on the beach in front," Dwinell said. "Our radios and files were there, everything was jammed into that little building. It was used 365 days a year. Cold. No showers. Pretty primitive."

The building was remodeled in the 1970s, he said, and is now headquarters for the city's rookie and junior lifeguard programs. The top floor is an observation room, the ground floor holds first-aid and rescue equipment, and a basement dug into the sand provides storage space for surfboards.

At various times over the years, Dwinell said, the tower's windows have been blown out by heavy storms. In the winter, the building is shut down.

John Gabriels, a frequent visitor to Laguna Beach, said he remembers when a petition drive kept the tower from being razed by the city in the 1970s. Gabriels was one of those who spoke at a City Council meeting in favor of saving the structure. "It did my heart good to see it," he said. "It's part of our beautiful Laguna Beach."

City officials agree that the tower is "an extremely important landmark for the community."

"I think the city recognizes that, and we've done everything we can to try to preserve it," said Community Development Director Kyle Butterwick.

"All I know is it's in more paintings of Laguna Beach than any other feature," City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said. "That one picture of Main Beach is the most painted single scene in Laguna Beach, and the tower is always in those paintings."

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