Hansen: Fires and drunk cartoonists, Laguna's colorful past

Perhaps for some romantic reason, people adore and trust buildings.

We store skeletons in their closets.

We honor closed doors.

We never ask the walls to talk.

But eventually, for history's sake, these sacred rules are broken.

Every building has a story and on Tuesday, Laguna Beach Historical Society treasurer Gene Felder gave a two-hour slideshow lecture to about 25 people on the noteworthy downtown buildings.

Starting with the Rogers family, who in the 1880s bought a chunk of the downtown civic area for $1,000 in gold, to the more recent incongruous and defunct water treatment facility near City Hall, Felder explained many buildings and historic sites.

Critics will scoff that the West Coast doesn't have any real history because we are so young. Perhaps, but we still have some stories.

Who knew, for example, that the first real greeter — who helped people get off the stagecoaches — was Joe Lucas, a Portuguese fisherman and shipwreck survivor?

"The only English Joe Lucas ever learned was cuss words," Felder said, quoting a historian.

Felder told the story of hard-drinking cartoonists from the L.A. Times and Playboy magazine, and other residents who used to hang out at the Ivy House (now the Lumberyard). Allegedly, the cartoonists would mail their work at the nearby Post Office, then drink the rest of the day, sometimes hurling insults at patrons.

Earlier, during the war years, the Ivy House was used as the Red Cross Relief Headquarters, organized by Jessie Dunham, who also helped found the nationwide Red Cross.

There were many random facts throughout the evening.

Glenneyre used to be called First Street, which frankly, I think, most people would prefer because no one knows how to pronounce Glenneyre.

There was a cool restaurant in 1923 called The Raven Cafe that had what looked like a stuffed, oversized raven near its roof sign, but the building burned down after only about a year.

A lot of buildings burned, especially restaurants and hotels.

The White House survived everything, of course, since 1918.

Franklin D. Roosevelt came through town in July 1938.

We had a professional baseball player, and he was good. Clifford Carlton "Gavvy" Cravath held the home run record until he was surpassed by Babe Ruth. After his baseball retirement, he became a judge in Laguna in 1927. He died here in 1963 at age 82.

The architect who designed a lot of the old Laguna buildings in that Mediterranean revival style? Aubrey St. Clair.

What movie played in the theater downtown in 1936? "Women are Trouble."

What was Las Brisas called in 1938? The Victor Hugo Inn.

But maybe the most interesting bits of history came from the two homeless guys who attended the lecture and sat politely in the front row. Over the course of the two hours, everyone learned that they grew up in Laguna in the 1950s, attended school together and had an uncanny recollection of nearly every building — past and present — in the city.

They interjected various details throughout the evening, and afterward, the other local history buffs crowded around and peppered them with questions.

History from those who live it.

Actual people who know where the skeletons are buried.

That's the thing about history: It impacts everyone equally.

You just need to listen to the walls.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World