Loss of a special place

Gay activists are delighted, and local historians should be pleased, that the City Council is requiring that a "bar" — a wine bar, to be precise — be included in the redevelopment of the Coast Inn.

It may seem an odd request to make of a developer, especially in a town where residents and council members routinely complain about the noise, traffic and poor behavior of patrons of some of the more popular watering-holes. But there it is.

The history of the Coast Inn and its famous bar, the South Seas, which became known as the Boom Boom Room by the military types who made it their hangout, is long and noteworthy. It started after Prohibition ended, as the first establishment to obtain a legal liquor license.

Decades later, known simply as the Boom, the ocean view watering hole was a favorite gathering place for gays and celebrities — and gay celebrities — from the 1950s and beyond.

Many in Laguna Beach have their own memories of the Boom, and they don't always coincide. Whether the bar was primarily gay or not when it was opened, it eventually became a gay spot and stayed that way for some 30 years, until it closed in September, 2007.

The Boom's closure was fought bitterly by local activists, but nothing can stop the march of economics. With property values in Laguna Beach at a peak, the owner of the Coast Inn property — a place that was even then in desperate need of a makeover — took the best deal available and sold it to a well-to-do businessman, who has his own ideas for the place.

Sadly, with the Boom gone, other gay-oriented businesses have also left town. Many are now located in Palm Springs or Palm Desert, which has become the new "Provincetown" of Southern California.

The restoration of the dilapidated Coast Inn is a welcome prospect for the neighborhood and the city, and the owner should be commended for a design that heralds the days when Laguna Beach was noted as a haven for artists, celebrities, servicemen and women, and yes, gays and lesbians.

Even more significant than the wine bar is the Council's insistence of a public recognition of the former Boom Boom Room and the entire "gay-friendly" area of Laguna Beach that surrounded it. But even better than a memorial to times gone by would be a place — be it a restaurant, night spot or community gathering place — that would revive the spirit of openness and safe harbor for the gay community, which many feel has been lost in Laguna Beach.

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