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Old School Laguna Day aims to make the historic hip

Old School Laguna Day aims to make the historic hip
Old School Laguna Day on Saturday will celebrate the historical places, such as the Sandpiper Building, in Laguna Beach’s HIP District. (Courtesy of Susan Elliott)

What could be more hip than old school?

Merchants in Laguna Beach’s Historic and Interesting Places District — HIP District for short — are banding together to find out in the first Old School Laguna Day on Saturday.

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The event will kick off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Bob Whalen at noon at the Soul Project at 1516 S. Coast Hwy. Rock ’n’ roll bands, balloons and posters of vintage Laguna will line South Coast Highway for the celebration, which lasts until 6 p.m.

“I definitely think we’re the cool part of town,” said Susan Elliott, owner of the Twig of Laguna gift shop and primary organizer of Old School Laguna Day.

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That part of town — the seven blocks along Coast Highway between Thalia Street and Bluebird Canyon Drive — has been hip for a long time, Elliott said.

She has photos of the building at Thalia and Coast Highway where photographer William Mortensen once shot grotesque art, and has another of her shop’s building at 1045 S. Coast Hwy., which at one point housed a restaurant called Colony Kitchen. She plans to display the pictures in her store for Saturday’s event.

Nearly 50 other businesses in the HIP District are interpreting Old School Laguna Day in their own ways. Many, like Elliott, will display vintage photos. Thirty-seven are offering giveaways or deals. Five will host performances from local bands, including Honk.

Visitors can go to stores along Coast Highway and collect stamps on a bingo-style card. Those who complete the card by getting all the squares stamped are eligible for a drawing for prizes including jewelry, posters and gift cards.

Lara Lanfried, manager of the Nuance boutique at 1200 S. Coast Hwy., said she plans to give customers cookies and lemonade as well as a 20% discount for purchases of $100 or more.

“It’s fun that we get to have the historic nature still intact,” Lanfried said of the HIP District. “We’re excited to raise awareness and let people be reminded of what’s still here. That community feel that we all experience on a regular basis — yes, there’s tourists that come through and that’s great — but there’s a real community here that’s really special and unique.”

Real estate investor Joe Hanauer led the effort to brand the HIP District about eight years ago. He said the district holds the essence of old-school Laguna, with its combination of historical buildings and one-of-a-kind establishments like the Old Pottery Place, which he owns.

“This vibe of this area is more typical of the way Laguna used to be,” Hanauer said.

His goal with the HIP District was to give business owners in the area an opportunity for cohesive branding and promotion, such as during the annual Patriots Day Parade, joint ads throughout the year and coordinated sales around the holiday season, he said.

Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, director of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, said Old School Laguna Day is the kind of collaboration the chamber likes to see in town.

“What we are thrilled about is that our community partners have gotten together and created this wonderful Saturday for our locals to visit each and every shop,” she said.

Susan Elliott, primary organizer of Old School Laguna Day, holds a vintage photo of the building where her shop Twig of Laguna sits.
Susan Elliott, primary organizer of Old School Laguna Day, holds a vintage photo of the building where her shop Twig of Laguna sits. (Faith E. Pinho)

Old School Laguna Day is the first daylong sales event for the district. Thalia Surf Shop at 915 S. Coast Hwy., in a building that dates to 1936, will make special pins for the day and give out hats with a $40 purchase.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, [but] I have not heard of the HIP District until recently,” said Rachel Kenney, an employee at Thalia Surf Shop. “I feel like they’re trying to make it known and just educate people on the history of Laguna and the buildings and what they used to be.”

Elliott said that while she supports preserving Laguna Beach’s historic character, Saturday’s event has no connection to the city’s discussion of a historic preservation ordinance.

“I’m hoping people just forget about politics that day, frankly,” she said. “We’re all Lagunans.”

Elliott said she organized Old School Laguna Day for March to distinguish it from events during the summer tourist season and year-end holiday promotions.

“The main thing is, it’s like a gift of appreciation for customers,” she said, likening it to the city’s annual Hospitality Night in December. “We just want to say thank you.”

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