Our Laguna: Murals add vibrancy to St. Anns Beach

<i>This post has been corrected, as noted below.</i>

St. Anns Beach is awash with color.

Three murals have been painted on the beach-facing walls by three different artists. All are seascapes.

The most recent and colorful, clear-coated to preserve it vibrancy, was painted by Roy Gonzalez. It cascades down the hillside on a Laguna Riviera Hotel wall and features caricatures of locals and surfing celebrities.

“I worked for eight months on the mural, but I still have to add Red Locks, a Reggae musician that Laguna Beach loved, and legendary lifeguard Dean Westgaard,” Gonzalez said. “But I had to come up for air. I was a slave to that wall.”

Already pictured are the Laguna Greeter, Eiler Larsen; national champion surfer Jack Denny; rock ‘n’ roll musician and surfer Joe Petrovich, a regular at the Sand Piper; big wave surfer Peanut Larsen, who used to babysit Dick Metz, worldwide promoter of Hobie surfboards; skimboarder Max Caputo, tragically killed by a hit and run driver on Coast Highway; and Harry Willats, shown on a raft.

Willats was one of the “orrible arries,” a trio of community activist that included The Cottage owner Harry Moon and Mr. Laguna, Harry Lawrence, all now deceased.

Willats bought the Laguna Riviera Hotel in the 1930s when it was a barn, said his great grandson, Kris Pearson, who is manager at the hotel. Kris’ father, Kort, is the current owner.

He plans to have a formal unveiling of the mural later this year.

“People are always painting, but it isn’t always artistic,” said the elder Pearson.

Gonzalez and Pearson met through a mutual friend last year. They worked out an arrangement for the mural.


“I had done murals before in Hawaii and Costa Rica, but never one close to home,” Gonzalez said. “I said give me a place to stay and I’ll paint it.”

He virtually lived at the hotel while working on the mural.

Gonzalez has kicked around a lot since he was born in 1960 in Los Angeles.

“My Mexican father was in the Coast Guard and he stole my mother from Ireland,” said Gonzalez, the only boy of the couple’s six children.

The family moved to Orange County, and Gonzalez graduated in 1979 from San Clemente High School, where he was on the surfing team.

“I was the first national champion,” Gonzalez said.

He was also a budding artist.

In 1978, Gonzalez went to Peru as a member of the National Scholarship Assn. team and there he met Laguna’s Bruce Hopping.

“Bruce called us pioneers,” Gonzalez said.

He is a vocal supporter at virtually every City Council meeting of sports, figurative art and Laguna’s reputation as an art colony and home to the Victoria Skimboard and Brooks Street Surfing competitions.

“Roy’s mural relates to the history of Laguna Beach and its identity as an art colony,” Hopping said.

Gonzalez said his art has always been related to surfing. Those are his loves, art and surfing.

However, between surfing and a hospital stay, Gonzalez missed a lot of school, and that could have cost him a scholarship. But a

fellow high school student submitted Gonzalez’ work to Color It Orange, the annual countywide student art competition.

“I won a scholarship to the Laguna School of Art (precursor to Laguna College of Art & Design),” said Gonzalez. “But a month after I started, the school burned down.”

Gonzalez took off for Hawaii but returned to San Clemente. He opened the Surf Spot in the 1980s.

“I was doing skateboard and surf art and I began making more money off of my art than the shop,” said Gonzalez. “Since then, I have pretty much been freelance.”

Gonzalez’ mural couldn’t be more different from the one painted at sand level by Loren Hellige, better known as Loren Shaw, in Laguna, where she lived for 20 years.

Hellige’s mural, sponsored by the hotel, has a softer palette and more delicate representation of sea life.

“I started it in 1998 and it never gets finished,” said Hellige. “It always needs touching up.”

That’s OK. She is back in Laguna every year to paint murals for Patch Cunningham’s toe ring booth at the Sawdust Festival.

“He has a different theme every year,” Hellige said. “This year is was Leonardo Toe Vinci.

Hellige’s work can also be seen in the hotel’s interior.

Her paintings hang in guest rooms. Three murals originally created for Cunningham can be seen in the hotel game room.

The third mural at St. Ann’s beach, along the steps to the beach, was attributed by Hopping to Dennis McTighe. Attempts to contact McTighe for conformation were unsuccessful.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call 1 (714) 966-4608 or with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

[For the record, 5:47 p.m. Aug. 16: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated in the photo caption that the artist’s name was Ray Gonzales. It should read: A mural painted by Roy Gonzalez on Laguna Riviera Hotel.