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Pottery Place blends old, new

The Pottery Shack is history, but the memory lives on in the Old Pottery Place, which brought the landmark site into the future.

A “renovation celebration” will be held this weekend to officially introduce the public to the recently completed complex of shops, offices, restaurants and ample parking at 1212 So. Coast Highway that has replaced the beloved, but ramshackle, collection of buildings that covered the site for more than 60 years.

“The corner of Brooks Street and South Coast Highway — one of Laguna Beach’s most historical sites — is alive again with residents and visitors to our community,” said property owner and developer Joe Hanauer. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the response.”

Outdoor seating, a restaurant, a glass blowing booth and art gallery, a candy shop and stores that feature books, shoes, clothes and home furnishings have opened where there used to be tables and cubbyholes stacked with plates, bowls and kitschy ceramics.

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Shops include the Chocolate Soldier, Studio Arts Gallery, Tootsies, Scout 3, Riviera Home, and Laguna Beach Books.

The merchandise, parking and construction may be new, but much of the material used in the renovation is old.

“Wherever possible, we used the old materials,” Hanauer said on a tour of the site. “What’s different is the foundations. There were none. We lifted the walls to build them.”

Lumber from the old board and batten shacks was salvaged, old glass was reframed for the windows, patio bricks were saved and re-laid. Part of the brand new Sapphire Restaurant and Pantry is covered by the roof built in about 1925 for the Yum Yum Tea Room, the first structure erected on that corner.

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Mementos from the “Only in Laguna” past are scattered throughout the site.

Yes, those funky plastic animals are back on the roof. The bear, elk and ram were restored before they were remounted.

Legend has it that one-time Pottery Shack owner Roy Childs was a hunter and the animals were a tribute to his passion, according to publicist Leslie Cunningham.

Slightly to the left and just below the rooftop animals is the mural created circa 1930 of a colorful strutting peacock with the legend “Do not sacrifice freedom for pomp and show,” also recently restored.

The Charles Beauvais concrete statue of the Greeter, which weathered for decades on the corner of Brooks Street and the highway, was refurbished in 2006 by Arts Commissioner Mike Tauber.

A “Heritage Walk” connects the courtyard to the parking structure and lot. A few of the Franciscan Desert Rose plates that used to hang from the eaves of the shacks are displayed on the walls. Panels depict the history of the site, the story of the pottery industry and the history of the town.

A bronze bas-relief cast from a mold designed by renowned sculptor Julia Bracken Wendt (1871-1942) hangs on the restaurant’s exterior wall.

Laguna Beach historian Anne Frank found the original sculpture of a goddess or angel playing a harp, a negative of the cast piece at a garage sale in 1999. It deteriorated and finally broke apart. Local sculptor Marvin Johnson spent months repairing it and overseeing the casting.

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Danish woodcarver Christian “Pop” Abel (1895-1985), whose descendants still live in Laguna, created “The Potter,” a wooden relief of an artisan standing at his wheel, located under the eaves of the green building that faces the highway. This self-portrait is one of the few commercial pieces designed by Abel that has survived, Cunningham said.

However, new works by local artists also add to the ambience of the site.

Marsh Scott and Sherry Bullard collaborated to create “Greetings From Laguna,” 26 handmade bas-relief tiles inspired by vintage postcards cards sent from Laguna throughout the years. The tiles are mounted on a metal fence, designed to recall the willow fence that formerly surrounded the property.

Architect Dennis DeLorenzo designed a scaled-down model of the Main Beach Lifeguard Tower for the bookstore. The Laguna Beach icon was put together by local woodworker Dennis Shafer and artist Ryan Gourley.

Glass blower John Barber, whose collaborative work with other artists was selected March 6 for the Art in Public Places installation at the ACT V parking lot, demonstrates his art on the patio, near the Studio Arts Gallery he owns with his wife, Rebecca.

Marlo Bartels created the ceramic Old Pottery Place logo at the arched entry from the highway.

The Old Pottery Place appellation was suggested for the site by Bette Anderson when the previous owner refused to sell the Pottery Shack name along with the property.

Just as well.

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The new buildings — even painted the same dark green that covered the conglomeration of shacks in recent years — have a sense of permanence that would have made a mockery of the old name.

It has been more than two years since the City Council approved Hanauer’s proposed renovation, despite objections of neighbors who feared the project would exacerbate the parking problem on nearby residential streets.

Fifteen separate parcels comprise the property, with frontages on South Coast Highway, Brooks and Glenneyre streets, for an estimated total of 37,500 square feet. The entire site is E-rated, the highest inventory rating the city confers, but was not registered until Hanauer bought the property.

Hanauer’s proposed renovation squeaked by the City Council on a 3-2 vote. The approval was burdened with 57 conditions, including the restoration of the kitsch.

The Pottery Shack was on the site of one of several large pottery factories that flourished during the war years in Laguna Beach and is the only site remaining, making it an important landmark, according to the city’s Historic Inventory.

Roy and Van Childs and their wives opened the retail business in 1936 with $80 worth of pots and vases displayed on second-hand shelves and third-hand tables.

The Childs sold the property to Pier One in 1972 and it later passed into private hands, most recently, Hanauer’s.

The Renovation Celebration this weekend honors the revered past and salutes the future.


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