From the Archives: Laguna’s official greeter, Eiler Larsen, turns 80 loud and strong

March 27, 1970: Celebrating his 80th birthday, Eiler Larsen waves to tourists in Laguna Beach.
March 27, 1970: Celebrating his 80th birthday, Eiler Larsen waves to tourists in Laguna Beach.
(Vince Streano / Los Angeles Times)

After wandering Europe, South America and the United States, Eiler Larsen settled in Laguna Beach in 1942. He supported himself by working part-time jobs. Larsen also took to welcoming people to Laguna. His favorite spot was the intersection of Forest Avenue and Coast Highway.

Staff writer Gordon Grant reported on Larsen's birthday in the March 28, 1970, Los Angeles Times:

LAGUNA BEACH – Someone wished Eiler Larsen a happy birthday Friday, and then made the mistake of asking him how he felt.

The word “Excellent!” boomed out so loud it rocked the well-wisher back on his heels.

Eiler Larsen, Laguna Beach’s bearded, red-coated greeter for almost three decades, the familiar figure who bellows, waves, points his cane, jokes with and even intimidates motorists and pedestrians along Pacific Coast Highway, was celebrating his 80th birthday.

Every now and then he retreated into the cool quiet of the Hotel Laguna’s lobby Friday, to rest up from party breakfasts and luncheons and his chores as greeter.

“Presents?” he shouted. “Yes. Some money and a new cane. Adjustable aluminum cane, but I’m keeping the old wooden one.”

He raised the new cane and aimed it at a middle-aged woman passing through the hall.

“You speak English?” he yelled. “You look wonderful when you smile!”

He turned back and added, his voice still thundering:

“I don’t care who they are. They all respond to goodwill. Some don’t speak English, but they understand anyway.

“It’s my eyes. They project. They reach every car and every person and they give the message of goodwill.”

Larsen, born March 27, 1890, in Aahus, Denmark, went to work in Siberia at the age of 19, buying butter for a Danish company. He did a stint in the Danish army, then sailed to South America, and finally arrived in the United States in time to join the Army and fight against Germany in World War I. He was wounded by artillery fire.

Later he attended a small college in Minnesota and worked as a bank messenger in New York.

Finally he arrived in Laguna Beach as a gardener in 1942. He began waving to tourists and yelling loud hellos and his voice reverberated and carried so far that some citizens started a move to have him silenced officially.

But the move foundered, and the then-mayor, William Martin, named him the city’s official greeter.

He has a rent-free room in the Hotel Laguna, and he never picks up a tab in a restaurant. The Masters Division of the Chamber of Commerce collects donations to take care of his medical bills.

“People love me,” he says. “This morning a woman I never saw before came up and kissed me.” A laugh roared out.

“I almost called the police!”

Friday night, the Masters held a champagne party for Eiler, with everyone in the city invited.

“I don’t drink much,” he said, “and I haven’t started smoking – yet.

“My 100th birthday? I just may surprise this world!”

Five years later, on March 19, 1975, Larsen passed away. Gordan Grant wrote Larsen's obituary that appeared in the March 21, 1975, Los Angeles Times. Both of the above photos, by Vince Sterano, accompanied the obituary. The left photo accompanied Grant's original story in the March 29, 1970, Los Angeles Times.

For more, check out this Jan. 6, 2008, story by Cecilia Rasmussen: Laguna Beach greeter left indelible mark.

This post was originally published on Aug. 26, 2016.

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