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Our Laguna: Pilots’ history soars into presentation

Two of Laguna’s most extraordinary residents were the subject of a trio of stories that captivated the audience at the Laguna Beach Historical Society presentation Tuesday at City Hall.

Aviation historian Barbara H. Schultz gave folks a peek into the lives of pilots Moyes Stephens and Florence “Pancho” Barnes and Richard Halliburton, who was only included because he was Stephens’ passenger.

Barnes was one of the foremost pilots in the so-called Golden Age of Aviation.

Although never a licensed pilot, she was a pioneer aviatrix who flew in the first National Air Race for women in 1939, nine years after she had captured the women’s speed record and founded the Women’s Air Reserve the following year.


Barnes successfully fought an attempt to bar women pilots from the air during certain times of the month, Schultz said.

Although she married four times, femininity was not Barnes’ strong point. She was photographed in a dress when she was six, but not often after that, Schultz said.

“She could swear like a sailor for an hour and never repeat herself,” said Schultz.

Barnes worked alongside her ranch hands, raised horses and rode them in rodeos. Barnes reportedly was dubbed “Pancho” after an escape from Mexican bandits with a man she called “Don Quixote,” who called her Sancho. She preferred Pancho, Schultz said.


By any name, she was a party girl. She hosted parties at the Happy Bottom Riding Club in the mid-1930s, a way station for pilots stationed at Fort Edwards, and in her Laguna Beach home on her grandparents’ North Laguna estate, now known as Smithcliffs.

Guests included Hollywood stunt pilots, actors and actresses and the socially elite, according to the Historical Society’s newsletter, “Laguna Life.”

There was a rather crude runway for landings that was short and headed straight for the ocean. It has been reported that a least one pilot failed to stop in time and landed on the beach.

Barnes’ parties were as raucous as the hostess, hence Grandma’s order to move the house that she had inherited from her mother, along with a tidy fortune, which the heiress ran through rather quickly.

Barnes’ storied life ended in 1975. She was 73.

Barnes crossed paths with Halliburton through Stephens, a pilot most popularly known for piloting Halliburton around the world, which led to the adventurer’s fourth and most famous book, “The Flying Carpet.”

Although Stephens was a big name in aviation history, Halliburton was a draw for the Laguna Beach audience, although of less interest to Schultz.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman asked if Schultz had less respect for Halliburton than for Stephens.


“I didn’t know him, and I don’t know if he had the soul or substance that Moyes had,” Schultz said.

Coincidentally, the next morning Iseman participated in a special council meeting on the stalled remodel of Halliburton’s home in South Laguna that has created some vibrant debate about city’s policies on alterations to historical structures.

“If I ruled the world, I’d go out and buy a case of wine and some snacks and invite everybody to sit down and figure out how to do this right,” said Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger.

Councilman Kelly Boyd advised purchasing at least two cases of wine, probably appropriate.

Halliburton’s house didn’t get the name of Hangover Housfor no reason, although some have claimed it stemmed from the location atop a peak in South Laguna that would never pass muster today with opponents of ridge development.

According to society member Eric Jessen, the Hangover House is the legacy of one of the most famous residents ever to live in Laguna.

An adventurer and travel writer, Halliburton rode elephants in Babylon, sailed the route of Homer’s “Odyssey,” climbed the Matterhorn and swam the Hellespont, while on his travels around the world, about which he wrote, according to the society newsletter.

Still curious?


Village Laguna will present a program on Halliburton at 7 p.m. Monday at the Unitarian Fellowship, 429 Cypress Drive.


By design

The 20th annual Philharmonic House of Design opened to the public with a festive premiere night Saturday.

A private reception was held the previous night for sponsors, designers and donors to the Design House, which is the major fundraiser of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County’s youth education programs.

Laguna Beach gallery owner Peter Blake was among the guests Saturday. He had loaned several pieces of art to the society, including an abstract seascape that lent color to the living room designed by Dan Ollis and his partner, Hal Swanson.

Ollis described the room as soft contemporary. He said it took 2 ½ months to put it together.

“I call it sophisticated,” Blake said.

The home was built in 2006 by Gerald Massino, despite objections of neighbors who thought a 17,000-square-foot house, a 4,500-square-foot garage and a helipad was not compatible with the smaller surrounding homes. The size was later reduced.

The setting for the home is carved into the hillside, which is held back by massive stone retaining walls. Guests enter the house through a foyer with seven different staircases that lead outside to a patio and infinity pool, and to various rooms and the bedroom wing.

The master bedroom was designed by Chris Kittral to take advantage of the often gray ocean view, she said.

Another, less subdued bedroom was designed by Between the Sheets, a store in Newport Beach’s Fashion Island.

The house will be open for public tours through May 20. It includes an on-site café and boutique. Opportunity prizes will be offered.

Kim Weddon is the chairwoman of the 2012 Design House, her second.

General admission is $40. Unlimited entry is $50. Access is limited to passengers in the shuttle buses, which ply the route between the free parking at 34111 Selva Road in Dana Point and the house.

For more information, call (714) 840-7542 or visit or

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4682 or email with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.