Viewing posts with tag: history

October 22, 2018

Laguna Beach: Home to the Stars


When movie stars needed a place to get some peace and quiet away from the fishbowl of Hollywood, many chose to visit and some lived in Laguna Beach. With its proximity to the ocean, natural beauty and safe distance from inquisitive Hollywood reporters, Laguna Beach was the perfect place to get away from it all. Let's take a look at some of the notorious stars that have fallen in love with Laguna Beach...

In 1931, author John Steinbeck and his wife, Carol, rented a room in Laguna Beach at 504 Park Avenue. The shingled cottage was built in 1912 for volunteer fire department worker George Garbarino. Steinbeck, who was still unknown at the time, rented the room from Garbarino from 1931 to 1932 for $15 per month.

Steinbeck wrote a great deal of his second novel, “The Pastures of Heaven” at the Park Avenue house. Released in 1932, the book wasn’t as successful as his later work, and the Steinbecks weren’t well-off financially during this period.

The publication of “Tortilla Flat” in 1935 would bring Steinbeck recognition and financial success. He went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1939. Today, the house at Park Ave. is something of a landmark. It’s the place where a great author spent time honing his craft before being recognized as one of the most important American authors.

Before he became a renowned playwright and screenwriter, Tennessee Williams was known by his given name of Tom. In 1939, while working at a job plucking pigeons at a ranch in Hawthorne, California, Williams and his friend, clarinet player Jim Parrot, decided to ride bikes down to Tijuana and Agua Caliente, Mexico.

On their way back from Mexico, the duo found themselves in Laguna Beach. Pedaling along Bootleg Canyon (now Canyon Acres), they came upon a chicken ranch. The elderly couple who ran the ranch offered them use of a small cabin on the property in exchange for looking after the chickens.

“I don’t know why I was so committed to occupations involving poultry in those days,” Williams wrote. “No analyst has ever explained that to me.”

The pair also took part-time jobs as pin-setters at a Laguna bowling alley, partook in the night life, and lounged around the local beaches. Williams wrote:

In the thirties, [Laguna Beach] was a fine place to pass the summer days. There was constant volleyball, there was surfing and surfers, there was an artist colony … and all of it was delightful. It seems to me that the best part of all was riding our bikes up the canyon at first dark, in those days when the sky was still a poem.

Williams later referred to that summer as “the happiest and healthiest and most radiant time of my life.” Williams and Parrott stayed in Laguna until August 1939.

The Balboa Inn and the Hotel Laguna were both popular with Hollywood celebrities and stars during the 1930s and 1940s. The Hotel Laguna was rebuilt in 1930 after the original wood-frame building was torn down. The mission-style hotel was host to many denizens of Tinseltown, including John Barrymore, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Errol Flynn, Joan Fontaine, Dick Powell and Rosalind Russell.

Actor Ozzie Nelson’s love for the ocean drew him and his wife, Harriet, to Laguna Beach, where they bought a weekend home on Camel Point in the late 1940s. They sold it and built a beach house in 1954 in the community of Lagunita.

Harriet Nelson told a story of the time in 1954 when the Nelsons were eating dinner, looked up, and saw a family peering at them through the sliding glass door. “They were staring at us like in a department store window. I said, ‘Can I help you?’ They said, ‘We just heard the Nelsons lived here.’”

Ozzie Nelson took a half-mile swim in the Pacific twice a day. Three years after Ozzie’s death in 1975, Harriet Nelson decided to live in Laguna Beach full-time. She eventually moved to a smaller home in Laguna, where she lived until her death in 1994. Their son, Rick Nelson had a condominium at Blue Lagoon in the late 1960s.

Former Laguna Beach resident Harrison Ford received his big show business break while living in the city. He moved to California with his wife, Mary Marquardt, where he landed a role in a 1965 Laguna Playhouse production of “John Brown’s Body.” This led to a contract with Columbia Pictures for the princely sum of $150 a week. “I was so naïve, I thought I had to pay them the $150,” said Ford. An auto accident in Laguna Canyon left Ford with the scar on his chin.

In 2004, Ford returned to Laguna Beach for a Laguna Playhouse fundraising dinner. He was quoted in a Los Angeles Times article as saying, “The people here were pivotal to the good fortune I've had.”

In the late 1980s, singer and actress Bette Midler bought a home in Laguna Beach on a bluff overlooking Victoria Beach. When the house went up for sale in 1998, it was described as:

Built on a 5,000-square-foot lot, the Laguna home features a French Norman tower, which has stairs circling down to the beach. It has four bedrooms and three fireplaces, including one in the master bedroom, plus a large brick entry courtyard. It's historic too by local standards, dating to 1925.

The property included the landmark 60-foot “Pirate Tower,” which was built in 1926 by then-owner California State Senator William E. Brown to provide access between the beach and his house atop the cliff.

During the time Midler lived in Laguna, she was occasionally spotted around town. While working out at the Laguna Health Club, a procession of cars crawled by the club’s picture window for weeks, the drivers hoping to get a glimpse of the star.

“It used to make us furious,” said Robert Unger, the club’s co-owner. “The phones were ringing off the hook. They’d call up [and ask], ‘Is Bette there?’”

Actor Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" films, moved from Los Angeles to Laguna Beach in 1989, where he still lives today. He was often spotted surfing with local residents. Originally from Glendale, Englund spent summers in Laguna Beach as a child. His grandfather owned an apartment off Coast Highway.

When asked what his neighbors thought about having the infamous horror movie star living in the neighborhood, Englund quipped: “I think they’re just happy Robert Englund keeps his leaves raked.”

Other luminaries who have called Laguna Beach home throughout the years include astronaut Buzz Aldrin; and actors Robert Armstrong, Mike Connors, Lorne Greene, Sterling Holloway, Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Elmo Lincoln, Frederick March, Victor Mature, Polly Moran, Mickey Rooney, Slim Summerville and Claire Trevor.

September 23, 2018

When the Most Dangerous Man in America Lived in Laguna Beach


Throughout its long history, Laguna Beach has been known for many things. It’s stunning coastline and wonderful Mediterranean climate have consistently made the city a popular place to live, work and vacation. At the turn of the 20th century, it was the home of Southern California plein air painting. In the decades that followed, it was a playground for the rich and famous, including many Hollywood stars. And in the 1960s, it became the coolest place south of San Francisco for America’s burgeoning psychedelic culture. Hippies, artists and bohemians flocked to the city by the thousands. And for a brief time in 1967-68, it was home to Timothy Leary, whom Richard Nixon called “the most dangerous man in America.”

The 1960s were a time of civil unrest, student protests against the Vietnam War, and an unraveling of the cultural fabric of America. There was the psychedelic music of popular bands such as the Beatles, the Byrds and Pink Floyd. Even the Beach Boys were experimenting with music influenced by hallucinogens.

The psychedelic experience included partaking in marijuana and drugs such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. These were seen by some as tools to expand their consciousness and discover cosmic truths. Others saw drugs as harmful and illegal substances that could cause mental illnesses, or even lead to death.

In the search for enlightenment, Timothy Leary was the high priest and LSD the sacrament. Leary, a former Harvard lecturer who held a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, became an evangelist for the use of LSD. In late 1967, he moved to Laguna Beach to spend time with The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a group of counterculture hippies who lived together in the Woodland Drive area (known by the police as “Dodge City”) and manufactured LSD nicknamed Orange Sunshine.

At this time, the Laguna Beach police were largely unaware of the scope of the Brotherhood’s massive manufacturing and distribution operation. Police officer Neil Purcell recalled: "The BEL [Brotherhood of Eternal Love] still appeared to be just an unorthodox, goofy location operation, a pain ... but no hippie mafia."

When Leary arrived in Laguna Beach and moved into a home on Gaviota Drive, he’d already been arrested on drug charges. A lightning rod for controversy, he brought the unwanted attention of police to the Brotherhood’s illegal LSD production. On December 26, 1968, the same day Leary announced he was running for governor of California against incumbent Ronald Reagan, Officer Purcell noticed a car parked illegally in the middle of Woodland Drive, blocking traffic. He was incredulous when he realized that one of the vehicle’s occupants was none other than Timothy Leary.

After noticing the car smelled of marijuana, Purcell called for backup and searched the vehicle. The search yielded two roaches found in the ashtray, a pound of marijuana, two ounces of hashish and some tabs of LSD. Leary claimed the drugs were planted by the police.

Leary was sentenced on January 21, 1970. He received a 10-year sentence for the Laguna Beach offense, and another 10 years was later added for his 1965 arrest. When he arrived in prison, he was given a battery of psychological tests designed to determine the appropriate work detail. Since Leary designed some of the tests himself, during his time as a clinical psychologist, he answered them in a way that resulted in his being assigned to a low-security prison, where he worked as a gardener.

Leary escaped by climbing over the prison wall. He was met by a pickup truck that had been arranged by the Weathermen, who had received a $250,000 payment from the Brotherhood. Leary became a fugitive from the law. After traveling to Algeria, Switzerland and Vienna, he was apprehended at the airport in Beirut. After spending time in Folsom Prison, he was eventually released from prison on April 21, 1976 by California Governor Jerry Brown. Leary died from prostate cancer on May 31, 1996, at age 75.

Leary may have attracted some people to Laguna Beach, but it was already home to a large number of artists, idealists, hippies and those seeking alternative lifestyles. Laguna Beach was still a sleepy little town, but it had an active arts scene. And it was still an affordable place to live for artists and other creative people, who earned a living by selling their wares from their front yards, the Pottery Shack, local art galleries or the Sawdust Art Festival.

Since the hippy heyday of the 1960s and ‘70s, each generation of Laguna Beach residents has contributed to and nurtured the arts that are so valued in the city. It’s home to the Laguna College of Art and Design as well as more than 100 art studios and galleries, some of which are featured in the monthly First Thursdays Art Walk. You can see it alive in public art installations and annual events such as the Sawdust Art Festival, Art-A-Fair, Festival of the Arts and Pageant of the Masters.

Even if you don’t live in Laguna Beach, a visit of any length may inspire your creativity. In addition to festivals and galleries, there are many art classes and workshops to enjoy, offered by professional artists through the Sawdust Festival organization, LOCA Arts Education and others. Or you can purchase an original piece of art to remember your visit to Laguna.

Today, Timothy Leary is a footnote in the history of Laguna Beach, but every once in a while, you may find yourself wondering if that was the really the scent of sandalwood incense you just smelled.

Image description