Our Laguna: Parking lot, playhouse are celebrated

The refurbished Callboard in the Peppertree Parking Lot was dedicated last week as a kickoff for the yearlong celebration of the 90th anniversary season of the Laguna Playhouse.

A large crowd of enthusiastic arts supporters gathered for the ceremony under the pepper tree that gave the parking lot between Forest and Ocean avenues its name.

"This Callboard is making history," said Karyn Philippsen, chairwoman of the anniversary celebration. "It marks 90 years ago — exactly 90 years ago today — that the playhouse began its commitment to theater in Laguna Beach on this spot, nestled under the pepper tree."

Philippsen said one of the perks of chairing the anniversary is the opportunity to learn more about the theater's history and the significance of the Callboard.

The audience for the ceremony included many who remember the original community theater and the Callboard with affection.

"I attended plays here when I was a kid," said Jan Sattler, a Laguna native and artist. "The first one was 'The Boyfriend.'"

The first play Festival of Arts exhibitor Jacquie Moffett saw at the Ocean Avenue site was "Waltz of the Torreadors" in 1959.

"I was 13 when I saw '20th Century Limited,'" starring Keenan Wynn, Moffett said. He came out in the intermission to have a smoke by the Callboard under this very pepper tree.

"I asked for his autograph and when I thanked him, he said I might want to get the autograph of his buddy who was sitting in the balcony. It was Van Johnson, my very favorite actor."

Moffett brought the autograph book, in which Wynn and Johnson had signed their names, to the ceremony.

Karen McBride appeared in the theater long before she starred in the award-winning "Quilters" at the new theater on Broadway. Jim McBride was in the cast of "Manet" at the old theater.

Pageant of the Masters Director Dee Challis Davy starred as Dopey in "Snow White and Seven Dwarfs." Barbara Painter performed in "Tonight at 8:30," directed by Roger Armstrong. Rick Balzer played her son.

The Callboard is truly a Laguna Beach icon and historical treasure.

"When the actors and other artists would come to a performance they would stop at the Callboard to sign in and read any announcements affecting the performance," said Karen Wood, playhouse executive director.

Traditional Greek masks for tragedy and comedy are among the theatrical symbols displayed on the Callboard restored by Michael Tauber. The restoration includes a quote from "Hamlet:" "Speak the speech I pray you, as I pronounce it to you, trippingly on the tongue."

Retiring Artistic Director Andy Barnicle said Hamlet's speech in Scene 2 of Act 3 is the only drama lesson written down from Elizabethan England, before performing the complete quote.

Wood thinks of the playhouse history in terms of a play, with the community theater as Act 1.

"The original playhouse was built in 1924 right here on Ocean Avenue at the cost of a whopping $5,000," Wood said. "During World War II, it hosted USO danced and was even a temporary barracks for a short while in 1941."

The Moulton Playhouse on Broadway was built in 1969.

Act 2 began about 18 years ago, Wood said, when the theater went professional.

"Act 3 includes an updated business and artistic model, which finds us debt-free and beginning to position the Laguna Playhouse as a vibrant performing arts center, with the season of professional theater still at its core," Wood said.

The new slogan is "It's art and entertainment at its finest, in your backyard."

Among those who attended the ceremony, Mayor Elizabeth Pearson, who read a proclamation from Orange County Supervisor Pat Bates and added her own good wished for the next act at the playhouse.

Ninetieth Celebration honorary Chairs Jim Suzanne Mellor; Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman and council members Kelly Boyd, Verna Rollinger, accompanied by her purebred Havenese, Sophie, and Jane Egly, dog-sitting her son's rescue pet of undetermined lineage were on hand to celebrate.

Henry Mayhew and Harry Lawrence, current and past playhouse board chairmen, respectively and "Lagunatics" founder Bree Burgess Rosen and her script-writing buddy, Chris Quilter, also attended.

Playhouse Trustee Terri Turner introduced Assistant City Manager John Pietig; city Treasurer Laura Parisi; Arts Commissioners Pat Kollenda and Lisa Mansour; Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson; Laguna Art Museum Director Bolton Colburn; Festival of Arts President Wayne Baglin;, Sawdust Festival board member Dennis Junka; Laguna Beach Live! founder Cindy Prewitt; school board member Betsy Jenkins; and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Judy Bijlani.

Emanuel Patrascu represented his boss, Sen. Tom Harman and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore.

AAUW honors three

Many of the same people who attended the Callboard dedication were hand Oct. 18 when the Laguna Beach branch of the American Assn. of University Women presented the annual Leadership Dinner at Tivoli Too.

Johanna Felder, Jodie Gates and Barbara Norton were honored as Women Making Magic in Our Community.

Felder was recognized for 23 years of community service. She served on the Laguna Greenbelt Inc. board for nine years, the Laguna Art Museum Board for 13 years and the Village Laguna board for 12, including two terms as president and multiple years as chairwoman of the Charm House Tour, and has volunteered time to many of the community's organizations.

She is on the boards of the Laguna Canyon Foundation and Laguna's AAUW branch and chairs the museum's Contemporary Collectors Council.

"I know she thinks she got back more that she gave, but this award could not be more deserved," said Betsy Jenkins, who introduced Felder.

Felder who has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder said she never thought of herself as different, but moving to Laguna Beach made a difference in her life.

"I flourished because it was an absolute fit," Felder said.

She thanked friends who attended the dinner and Gene Felder, her husband of 36 years.

Christine Rhoades introduced Gates, a renowned ballerina, professional choreographer and UC Irvine dance professor. She founded CaDance, which presents an annual dance festival in Laguna.

Gates said she turned to ballet because the balance bar in her gymnastics class scared her to death — and found her niche in life.

Dance is more than a performing art, she said.

"Dance brings us together; dance connects people," Gates said. "Thank you for recognizing my passion for the art form."

Norton, who transitioned seamlessly from PTA mom to park ranger, was acknowledged for her activism and advocacy of public education and support for conservation. She was introduced by Pam Berkson.

"How great is this? " Norton said, "The kids are gone; you have a mid-life crisis, discover your passion, land the dream job and get recognized by your community for living your dream — and you get to wear shorts to work."

Norton was 47 when she recreated herself as a park ranger, posted first as a reserve officer in Huntington Beach, then promoted to a full-time position in 1999 and posted in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. She has been senior ranger since 2007, overseeing the 7,000-acre park and the James and Rosemary Nix Center.

Her commitment is legendary, her enthusiasm an inspiration to park employees, volunteers and visitors.

Jahn Levitt chaired the 2010 dinner, founded in 1999 by Carol Reynolds. Sixty-nine women have been honored, with more to come.

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 coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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