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FROM CANYON TO COVE: Dream of a new ‘Boom’ still alive

Laguna’s gay activist Fred Karger may be entitled to a little “schadenfreude” — translation, enjoyment of another’s misfortune — in the AIG mess.

That’s because Karger’s nemesis, Steven Udvar-Hazy, is a major shareholder at AIG and his airplane leasing division — formerly the proverbial “cash cow” of the company — is now cash poor and may be going begging to stay in business.

And Karger has a deal for him: make some quick bucks by selling the Coast Inn and Boom Boom Room.

Karger has been fighting to save the iconic — now shuttered — gay bar where Rock Hudson hung out with other celebrities in the closeted ’50s and ’60s. The bar was around since the 1920s and is believed to have been the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the state, if not west of the Mississippi.

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Udvar-Hazy purchased the site and Coast Liquor, with its Gay Mart nearby, as well as a residential property, a couple of years ago when the real estate market was over-the-top. The Boom Boom Room — already on its last legs — was closed a year later, and the last major piece of Laguna’s historic gay area went bye-bye. You can find most of it relocated to the desert at Palm Springs — where the famed Dinah Shore lesbian confab swings into high gear this weekend — but it’s just not the same as the ocean-breeze-filled Boom.

Apparently, Udvar-Hazy has set his sights on purging Laguna of its gay identity: He closed the Boom, never opened anything else there, announced that his plans for the property will definitely NOT include a bar or restaurant — and to add insult to injury his son donated $1,000 to the campaign for Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban.

At some point, Udvar-Hazy put the property back on the market after a meeting with city officials didn’t end with support for some ambitious redevelopment plan. Karger says he brought Udvar-Hazy well-qualified — translation: well-heeled — suitors willing to fork over enough to buy the place outright. But the bazillionaire (or former bazillionaire) hemmed and hawed and eventually declined to sell to these parties — who promised to reopen the Boom as a gay establishment.

One thing (fighting to save the Boom) led to another (fighting the same-sex marriage initiative), and Karger, a “retired” Republican political consultant, is now leading the charge against the Mormon Church’s support for Proposition 8. Somehow, Karger got hold of some secret high-level Mormon documents and is in the process of blowing the lid off what he sees as a possible conspiracy by the church to secretly buy the election in violation of Fair Political Practices Commission rules. “Mormongate,” as the affair is being called due to its “deep throat” characters, is a twisted tale of coverups and religious zealotry that will make a good read when it can be reported.

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But I digress.

Plans for a beautiful restoration of the historic Coast Inn are slowly wending their way through the city bureaucracy. They were sent back for revisions in October and there’s no telling when the plans will be approved.

Enter Karger with a new, and improbable, funding source: the State of California.

The resourceful Karger has discovered a pot of money dispensed under the jurisdiction of the secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing. The California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank has millions sitting around waiting for worthy projects, including historic restorations, to benefit communities.

And why not use some of it to benefit Laguna’s gay community and restore the city’s preeminence as a gay resort?

He’s already made contact with the secretary, who indicated interest, and if he can get city officials on board, the Coast Inn and Boom Boom Room could be restored using the very plans now in the process of revision. Of course, there would be one caveat: a gay bar would be part of the project.

The Boom could revitalize a neglected but lucrative segment of the visitor population to Laguna Beach, which was snubbed last summer by our own Conference and Visitors Bureau, which declined to promote the city as a same-sex wedding destination despite the obvious benefits.

A gay and lesbian cultural center in Laguna Beach would provide a way station for visitors and keep the historic culture of the city intact, and there’s no better place for it than the Boom Boom Room.

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“Dinah” west, anyone?


CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 380-4321 or cindy.frazier@latimes.com.


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