Historical charms

The annual Laguna Charm House Tour falls smack in the middle of May, the month the city celebrates its history. How appropriate.

Village Laguna has been presenting the tour for 37 years, offering residents and visitors glimpses into some of the city’s most charming, architecturally diverse and/or historically interesting private homes. The 2009 tour on May 17 will feature homes ranging from an early Laguna art gallery to a “Green House," where people flourish.

Tours normally can be completed in two to three hours, at one’s own pace. Comfortable shoes are advised.



The Little Art Gallery that was

Believed to have been built about 1900 by Dr. E. C. Day next to the Hotel Laguna, the “Pavilion" served variously as a community center, a church, a dance hall, a funeral parlor, a wedding chapel and the birthplace of the Laguna Beach Art Assn., according to the write up in “Cottages and Castles of Laguna Beach," by city historian Karen Wilson Turnbull.

The first art exhibit was in August 1918, featuring works by such renowned plein-air artists as William Wendt, Frank Cuprien, Edgar Payne and Anna Hills.

The art association outgrew the little oceanfront building and moved to bigger digs on the corner of Cliff Drive and North Coast Highway, now the Laguna Art Museum.


No longer needed by the association, the building was moved by concert pianist and artist Fred Swankowsky to its present location, where it was home for years to the Community Players, which performed plays and musicals.

Today, the remodeled building is a private home, owned for the past two years by Cindy Holloway.

Holloway is an interior designer who has transformed the cottage with sumptuous French country deco and paintings collected on her travels in France, according to tour committee member Barbara Pinchey.


Mediterranean Revival Estate

This lavish 17-room Mediterranean Revival estate was built in 1927 by Claude Bronner, the owner of the White House Cafe, Laguna’s oldest existing business. Bronner intended the estate to serve as a residential hotel but he died shortly after the construction.

The ½-acre property became a Catholic Monastery before it was converted to a private residence. It now also houses a private school. Built into the hill side that characterizes the neighborhood, the home has two primary wings and a connective wing with a gabeled third story. The entrance is in the center via a brick and tile stairway.

Of special note are the family’s paintings in the dining room; they are from the 1930s from their homes in Germany.



Multi-storied House

Creative contemporary design and dramatic canyon vistas are the hallmarks of this 2-year-old home, built by a local architect with sustainable materials.

“Everything has a story," the homeowners said.

The unique steps into the main living area were retrieved from Kona Lanes, an old bowling alley. Doors to the garden area are from the Pasadena Rose Bowl. Mahogany doors were taken from a turn-of-the-century bank.

The bathtub filled with flowers in the herb garden was from Bette Davis’ Laguna’s home. Soil excavated for the home’s construction was salvaged for the two-story rammed earth wall that insulates the property from the street.

Large windows and the tower chimney direct warm air upward, eliminating the need for air-conditioning. A gray water reclamation system irrigates the vintage avocado grove, citrus trees and vegetable garden. Passive and active solar are in use. The family enjoys canyon views due to the unique linear identity of the lot and the steepness of the slope.



Hideaway Cottage

This stop on the tour is another step back into early Laguna "” an early cottage lovingly restored to its original character and charm.

A bridge over a lush ravine leads to the bungalow, which was built in 1931 by artist Ruth Alexander. Actor Paul Cornelius later lived here and added to the home.

The décor in the original section reflects the era in which the home was built. Watercolors from the 1930s and ‘40s and 1900s woodblock prints are family inheritances.

Three giant redwood trees provide shade and quiet seclusion from the road and neighboring homes.

In the back, an old garden is replicated with stone paths and vintage, yet comfortable lawn furniture.


Solar Eco Home

Chris Prelitz built this home on a challenging lot in a deep ravine that he purchased in 1997.

The home blends affordability, intriguing architecture and sustainability, long before most Laguna residents had heard of “green construction."

Sustainable building techniques were used throughout the house: a southern exposure for natural warmth and light, solar panels, straw bale walls for insulation, a rainwater catchment system and recycled concrete “urbanite” for hardscapes.

The house has been featured in magazines and the owner’s book, “Green Made Easy," released in April, explains how practical sustainability benefits the homeowner and the world.

A shell motif runs throughout the house. The staircase replicates the fossil nautilus shell which rests at the top of the stairs, but Chris’ pride is the stone fireplace inset with seashells.

Contemporary encaustic paintings by Becky Prelitz and her late mother’s sculptures are displayed.

Natural plantings in the stream bed, stone paths and an edible garden provide a haven for birds.

Village Laguna is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the “Village Character" of Laguna Beach. Proceeds from the tour help fund an annual scholarship to a Laguna Beach High School graduating senior, donations to local charities and provide financial support for local city and school board candidate of their choice.


WHAT: 37th Annual Laguna Charm House Tour

WHERE: Bus depart from the Festival of Arts Grounds, 650 Laguna Canyon Road

WHEN: Buses start leaving at noon, with the last departing at 3:30 p.m. May 17. Homes close at 5:30 p.m.

COST: $40 in advance

INFO: (949) 472-7503



?Animal Crackers for Pets, 30822 South Coast Highway

?Coast Pet Supplies, 880 N. Coast Hwy.

?Copy & Print Center, 240 Beach St.

?Fawn Memories, 384 Forest Ave.

?Golden Spoon Frozen Yogurt, 272 Broadway

?Hotel Laguna, 425 S. Coast Hwy.

?La Casa del Camino, 1289 S. Coast Hwy.

?Laguna Beach Books at “The Old Pottery Place," 1200 S. Coast Hwy.

?Rock Martin Custom Jewelry, 268 Forest Ave.

?Silver Images, 311 Ocean Ave.

?UPS Store, 668 N. Coast Hwy.

?Monarch Bay Optometry, 13 Monarch Bay Plaza

BARBARA DIAMOND can be reached at (949) 380-4321 or