Historical note

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Barbara Diamond

It is the past that has made the city what it is today. City

entrepreneurs were catering to tourists when cattle still grazed the

hills of Mission Viejo and points south. Well, points north too.

The first hotel was built on what is now Diamond Street in 1889. The

Laguna Art Museum is the oldest cultural institution in Orange County,

founded by the Plein Air painters who made Laguna’s reputation as an art

colony. The Laguna Playhouse is the oldest continuously operating theater

on the West Coast and has become a world class theater.

Laguna Beach is the only south county city that was not part of a

Spanish land grant. It was homesteaded, under the Timber-Culture Act of


The first inhabitants were Juaneno Indians of the Shoshone tribe,

according to Karen Wilson Turnbull, author of “Cottages and Castles of

Laguna Beach” and fourth-generation Lagunan.

According to her research, Jose Serrano built the first home in town,

an adobe on the north side of Aliso Creek.

Eugene B. Sattler was the first English-speaking settler, but he only

stayed a couple of years and the George Thurston family from Utah took

over Sattler’s claim in 1871. The Thurstons built their home on what is

now the third tee of the Ben Brown’s Aliso Creek Golf Course. Descendants

of the family still live in town.

“We are still active in the community,” said Kelly Boyd, owner of the

Marine Room. “My mother Doris lives here and my brother Randy owns the

Thurston-Boyd antiques store and an interior design business.

In the early days as now, access to Laguna was limited. In the late

1800s, the only way to get into the coastal communities was down Aliso

Canyon to South Laguna or down Laguna Canyon to Laguna Beach. The two

towns developed separately, with Nyes Place the boundary, until South

Laguna was annexed in 1987.

The Goff Family, for whom Goff Island off of Treasure Island is named,

arrived in the 1890s and homesteaded the area now being developed as the

Laguna Colony resort, and Camel Point.

An Eastern land promotion company bought the property in 1887 and

began promoting development that included a deal with Santa Fe Railroad,

which wanted to build a depot at Treasure Island. The deal fell through,

but Treasure Island continued to be one of the most controversial

neighborhoods in Laguna.

One owner wanted to build high-rise condominiums there. The resort,

under construction, divided the town, 55 percent in favor, 45 percent

opposed in a special election. Now, the cost of the public park on the

property is a hot button.

Brothers William and Nathaniel Brooks, not the clothiers, settled the

Arch Street area and homesteaded 169.24 acres around Diamond Street. They

sold out to Henry Goff, but later bought back the property.

By 1880, most of the oceanfront from Three Arch Bay to North Laguna

was taken, at an estimated cost of $1 per frontage foot. The Brooks

family are said to have tried to raffle off their lots between Thalia and

Calliope streets for $25 each, but ended up taking a paltry $10 per lot.

George Rogers or relatives homesteaded most of downtown and built his

home where City Hall stands and planted the pepper tree that still grows

in front of it.

Artist Norman St. Clair arrived in Laguna Beach by stagecoach in 1900.

Smitten with the light, St. Clair sketched and painted. Exhibitions of

his work brought other artists to town. And in 1918, artist Edgar Payne

organized the Laguna Beach Art Assn. The Art Institute of Southern

California, three art festivals, the Pageant of the Masters and numerous

art galleries perpetuate the city’s reputation as an art colony. Arts

Orange validated the reputation April 19 by naming Laguna Beach the arts

patron of the year. Arts and business flourished side by side.


The city was incorporated in 1927, its name officially adopted in

1904. Laguna has the only natural lakes in Orange County and the only

municipal bus service. It was the first city in the county to create a

municipal HIV Advisory Board. Robert Gentry was the first openly gay man

elected to public office in the county.

Residents consider themselves on the cutting edge of social issues.

They bought the city’s “Window to the Sea” at Main Beach in the 1970s, to

prevent the construction of wall-to-wall hotels that would block public

views of the Pacific Ocean, limited building heights throughout town and

fought tract house development by buying the property.

City officials chase away chain stores to foster one-of-a-kind

businesses that preserve the unique character of the city’s downtown,

Laguna’s undefined but cherished “village atmosphere.”

And if there is a cause, there is a group in Laguna to support it:

from lawn bowling to shelter for the homeless, who share in a potluck

Thanksgiving dinner at Bluebird Park with residents and sleep in city

churches on cold, wet winter nights. The average-priced Laguna Beach home

sold for $850,000-$900,000 in April, according to Rick Jenkins, manager

of the Laguna Beach Coldwell Banker office.

Residents say it is not just the spectacular topography or artistic

and cultural advantages or wealth that makes Laguna so special. It is the


“Truly, it is the unconventional people that make the city unique,”

said Mayor Wayne Baglin. “Our residents think outside the box, some of

them don’t even know where the box is.”