CITY FOCUS:'I dream about the ocean’

  • This is the last in a series of interviews with longtime Lagunans in honor of Heritage Month.The Jahraus family has been active in local politics, business, education, the arts, and community service for more than 125 years.

    Elmer Ellsworth and Phoebe Jahraus planted the roots of the family tree in Laguna Beach in 1902 when they brought their 13-year-old son, Joseph Richard I, and daughter, Pauline, from the midwest and founded a dynasty.

    The family was honored in 2002 as the Patriots Day Parade Citizens of the Year. The little triangular park at the peak of Cliff Drive and North Coast Highway with the doggie fountain bears their name and the reservoir at Alta Laguna is named for third generation Joseph Richard Jahraus II, known as Richard or “Dick,” whose father was instrumental in establishing the Laguna Beach County Water District.

    It is a source of pride to Dick Jahraus that the district had no debts when it was annexed into the city, a step he thinks was a mistake that could have been avoided with proper legal advice. The district never even lost money when the county went bankrupt because no funds were invested in the pool.


    Much of the family history up to 1989 has been documented by Michael Onorato, who interviewed Jahraus that year for an oral history that is available in the Local History Room at the Laguna Beach Library.

    “Dick” Jahraus graciously agreed to bring the Coastline Pilot up to date.

    Q: Tell us about your grandfather

    Jahraus: His first business in town was making cigars. He was sent by the tobacco companies to Australia in 1912 to check out their tobacco. It took three months to make the trip.


    But was also the first real estate agent in town.

    He also forced old man Heisler to live up to his promise to the city to donate the land for the park. He said he would sue if the land wasn’t donated and the city got its park.

    Q: If your grandfather came back today, is there anything he would recognize?

    Jahraus: I doubt it. Maybe Pyne Castle.

    Q: Did your father inherit your grandfather’s business skills?

    Jahraus: He founded the Laguna Beach Lumber Co. in 1912 when he was only 23. The lumberyard was built on property the family owned and still owns on Forest Avenue. Cedar Creek Inn is on the site of the original lumberyard office. The lumberyard was later moved to Laguna Canyon and operated by the family until it was sold in 2001.

    Q: Did you work there?

    Jahraus: I started going to the lumberyard when I was about...oh, I guess, 14 years old or something like that, 15 years old. I used to have to clean out bathrooms and fill up paint thinner bottles and things like that.


    Q: Tell us more about your dad.

    Jahraus: My father "” he was called Joe "” helped organize the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce and Civic Assn. and helped bring water to Laguna Beach.

    In 1925, the wells in Laguna Canyon that had supplied water to the residents were drying up. My father and four others went to find a new source of water, pretending to be looking for a hunting club. They found what they were looking for in Huntington Beach on sale for $60,000 with a down payment of $5,000, which they promised to pay, but none of them had the money.

    They floated a bond, incorporated the water district, floated another bond and paid off the property. Then they put in a line from Huntington Beach clear down to Laguna.

    (Oil later was found on the property, which was then sold for a solid profit that eventually paid for different water-rich property and reservoirs.)

    My father also brought the French country-style architecture of the [Cedar Creek Inn] restaurant and other buildings in town, including the one on Forest Avenue often called the Eschbach Building, where the Pilot [newspaper] was written and printed, back to Laguna after World War I.

    Q: What would your dad recognize?

    Jahraus: The water district.


    Q: What was your childhood like?

    Jahraus: My father married my mother, Susan Venum, after the war. She died when I was five, the same year my grandfather died. I was an only child.

    I grew up at 714 Cliff Drive, across from Boat Canyon. Our home phone number was 2-0-2. The lumber yard number was 2-2. We made all of our calls through an operator who knew who everybody was. She’d say, “No, they’ve gone to buy fish.”

    I had a 16-foot dory that I sailed to Newport Beach. I was born on the ocean, live on the ocean and dream about the ocean.

    Things were very different when I was growing up. I remember my father would say we were having company for dinner and I would go down to the ocean and pick six or seven abalone and bring them home. I could shoot 20 quail in about a half hour.

    My dentist was Dr. Pine. Dr. Mason was my doctor. But we had no hospital.

    Guests stayed at the Hotel Laguna and we banked at the Bank of America and later at Laguna Federal. J.C. Penney [Co.] moved into town in 1935 or ’36.

    Q: What about restaurants?

    Jahraus: In my teens, we ate at Victor Hugo [now Las Brisas].

    Q: What did you do for entertainment?

    Jahraus: We had the one movie house and the Playhouse on Ocean Avenue where a lot of stars acted. And we had the Festival of Arts and the Pageant of the Masters.

    They put Coast Highway in, in 1926. It was two lanes. In 1932, they made it four lanes. As kids we used to play tag football out in the middle of the highway and we could hear a car coming from Corona del Mar. That’s how little traffic there was.

    Q: When and where did you meet your wife, Beverly Clair Jahraus?

    Jahraus: We met in Santa Barbara when I was going to school. My father had a fit when I told him I was getting married. She was a Newport Beach girl. Her father was mayor for 14 years.

    On Sept. 7, we will celebrate our 60th wedding anniversary.

    Q: Were you in the service in World War II?

    Jahraus: Yes. The Air Force.

    Q: Children? Grandchildren?

    Jahraus: Three children "” Joe [Joseph Richard III], Jeff and Jennifer.

    Joe, who worked at the lumberyard until it was sold, is active in Neighborhood Watch. He is married to Susan [nee Thomas], former board member of the Laguna Beach Playhouse, and daughter of the late Bill Thomas, who opened a business in town in 1945. They have one son, William.

    Jeff, who runs the family corporation, and his wife, Linda, a teacher and president of the Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club, have two daughters, Molly and Sally.

    Jennifer, who lives in Arizona, has no children.

    Q: What is your legacy to the city?

    Jahraus: Thirty-eight years on the board of the Laguna Beach County Water District, 25 as president.

    I served on the Festival of Arts Board and the board of the Boys and Girls Club, starting when it was on Main Beach [before girls were included].

    Q: How do you feel about Main Beach? Like Kelly Boyd, do you miss what used to be there?

    Jahraus: I loved the four old houses that were there and the dance hall.

    Q: Anything else you object to?

    Jahraus: The council just bothered the hell out of me for a while. If it hadn’t blocked the construction of the reservoir at Top of the World, we might have saved some more houses in the [1993] fire.

    I hate to see Cedar Creek Inn leave and there is too much traffic, too many people

    Q: What about the future?

    Jahraus: I wouldn’t like to see Laguna get any bigger.

  • EDITOR’S NOTE: Information for this article came from “Dick” Jahraus, his oral history, and the program for the 2002 Patriots Day Parade Program.
  • From “The First 100 Years in Laguna Beach 1876-1976" by Merle and Mabel Ramsey:

    “The Laguna Beach Lumber Co. was established in 1912 by Joseph Jahraus on a lot 50' by 200'. It became one of the large yards along the coast.

    “Since there was only one lumberyard in the little village [Laguna Beach], Joe Jahraus established another yard across the street by the name of Canyon Lumber Co. For many years, it was a secret that Joe owned both yards.

    “The writer was aware of this second yard as Joe and I had been kids together in the early days and I sold materials to both yards.”

    Also in the Ramsey’s book, “Tribute to Joe Jahraus:”

    I’ve wandered through the village, Joe

    And walked among the trees.

    I remember the Mormon schoolhouse

    Moved in Eighteen-ninety-three.

    But you are not there to greet me, Joe

    Like Seventy years ago.