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OUR LAGUNA: May is Heritage Month in Laguna

Treats are in store for residents and visitors this month — as Laguna celebrates its history and the preservation of some of Laguna’s earliest and most cherished buildings.

The monthlong celebration will include self-guided bus tours and free guided walking tours of historical districts led by city Heritage Committee members and a Laguna Beach Historical Society presentation

City-sponsored events:

 Kick Off: 6 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday — Mayor Kelly Boyd will welcome guests to a reception hosted by the city Heritage Committee at Madison Square & Garden Café, 320 N. Coast Hwy. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres will be served. No Square Theatre and the Ken Garcia band will entertain. Heritage Committee Chairman Jon Madison owns the craftsman bungalow, which he converted from a private home to a café. It is considered a fine example of preservation.


 Crystal Cove Historic District tour: 10 a.m. to noon, May 9 — The guided tour will take participants back in time to experience an early California beach settlement, now a state park. Meet at Los Trancos parking lot on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway, about one mile north of El Morro Elementary School. The tour is free, parking is $10. For more information, call (949) 497-7647.

 Historic Downtown Laguna tour: 10 a.m. to noon, May 16 — Committee member Rick Gold will guide the free tour. Meet in front of the Laguna Beach Library, 363 Glenneyre St.

 Norman House and Tower Lecture: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. May 18 in the City Council Chambers, 505 Forest Ave — The Laguna Beach Historical Society will host a lecture by Mark Whitman on the Victoria Beach landmark. Slides will illustrate the lecture. The 60-foot tall tower and home were built in 1926. It has had several owners; one of them, Howard Kendrick used to dress up as pirate and conduct treasure hunts in the tower for local children. Admission is free. Seating is first come, first served.

 North Laguna Cottage Walking Tour: 10 a.m. to noon, May 23 — Heritage Committee members Gold and local architect Carl Iverson will conduct the free tour. Meet at Madison Square & Garden Café


 Heritage Neighborhoods: The Heritage Walking Companion Self Guided Tour Brochure is available on city buses or at City Hall. Take the bus and wander at will in the historic neighborhood of North and South Laguna. .

 Historical Society Headquarters: The Murphy Smith House, 278 Ocean Ave., was built in 1920. Wells Fargo Bank owns the Builder Bungalow-style home. The Historical Society furnished it and maintains it. Open weekends from 1 to 4 p.m.

Event brochures are available at City Hall and in stores around town.

There are few better ways to prep for Heritage Month than to pick up a copy of “Images of Laguna,” compiled by Claire Marie Vogel, 22. The paperback book is a delightful mélange of historical photographs and informative captions, available at Laguna Books, 1212 S. Coast Hwy., and Latitude 33 on Ocean Avenue.

Vogel graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 2004 and now attends the California Institute of the Arts.

She was inspired to write “Images of Laguna” because most of the books dealing with Laguna’s history are out of print, although still in demand, and no new ones were on the horizon.

“I gathered over 500 photos, but I could only fit 220 in the book,” Vogel said. “I picked photos that were important to the town and also ones that hadn’t been published.”

She tapped the collections of the Jim Nordstrom, Steve and Karen Turnbull, author of “Cottages and Castles of Laguna,” Christian Marriner and the Historical Society, among others.


Gene Felder [society president] had a lot of original photographs at his house and he spent hours with me,” Vogel said.

The book would sure beat a coffee mug as a memento of a visit to the city and would be a prized addition to any library in Laguna, whose owner cherishes the history of Laguna that make the town so special.

Certainly, from its earliest days, Laguna was different from the rest of South County. Cattle still roamed the great Spanish land grants of Orange County when the first hotel was built in Laguna by Hubbard Goff in 1886.

Entrepreneurs, not cowhands, gravitated here.

Goff bought the property for the hotel from the Brooks Brothers, Nathanial and William, owners of 169 acres around Diamond Street, then called Arch Beach.

Land was cheap in the early days. All a homesteader had to do to claim 160 acres free and clear was to plant 10 acres of trees, as required by the Timber Cultures Act of 1872.

Now you know where Forest Avenue got its name.

Eugene Salter was the first known homesteader in 1871, but he left a couple of years later and George and Sarah Thurston took over the claim in Aliso Canyon. Thurston Middle School and Sarah Thurston Park were named for them. Their descendants still own property here — Mayor Boyd owns the Marine Room, as well as his home. The family reunites from around the world each summer.


Laguna’s second hotel opened in 1889, also built by Goff, but purchased by Joseph Yoch for $600. Yoch also bought Goff’s Arch Beach Hotel, cut it into three sections and moved it next to his new hotel, which stayed in business until it was condemned in 1928 and replaced by the Hotel Laguna in 1929.

Brooks House was the next hostelry built. Constructed in 1892 on the site of the colonnaded Isch Building just south of Main Beach, the hotel burned down “before the paint was dry.”

Historical Society member Jane Janz is descended from Nick Isch, who owned the livery stable.

Tourism got a boost in 1903, when businessman Elmer Jahraus and artist Norman St. Clair arrived in Laguna, each to make an indelible impact on the city.

Elmer’s son, Joe, opened a lumberyard in 1912, which considerably influenced development — since construction materials no longer had to be hauled by mule through Laguna Canyon or floated in on the tide.

St. Clair’s sketches of Laguna and praise of the city’s climate impressed his fellow plein air — why plein and not aire is a mystery to me — artists and they began first to visit and then to live here.

Studios were opened by Frank Cuprien, William Wendt and Alexander Griffith, for whom city streets are named.

A group exhibition was held in 1918 in a small wooden building then near the Hotel Laguna, later moved. Today it is a private residence and one of the buildings on the 2009 Charm House Tour on May 17. It was the birthplace of Laguna’s reputation as an art colony.

That first show was the springboard for the Laguna Beach Art Assn. and by extension the Laguna Art Museum, which the association opened as a commercial gallery.

Laguna’s growth was further stimulated by the opening of Pacific Coast Highway in 1926, with America’s Sweetheart Mary Pickford and her dashing husband, Douglas Fairbanks, cutting the ceremonial ribbon, which brought in more tourists, including film celebrities, and more permanent residents.

Roy M. Ropp boosted the city’s reputation as an art colony when he came up with notion of an outdoor exhibit, with a pageant to lure a crowd. The first event was held in 1932 on El Paseo.

The Pageant of the Masters and the Festival of Arts and its two off-shoots, the Sawdust Festival and Art-a-Fair, now bring thousands of visitors to Laguna annually

From tents pitched on Main Beach by vacationers in the late 1880s to celebrities luxuriating in elegant oceanfront hotels and dining on fine cuisine, Laguna has thrived on tourism — but the locals know living here beats visiting any day.

*Historical data excerpted from Historic Resources Element of the city’s General Plan.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail