CHRONOLOGY OF LAGUNA BEACH
This is a work in progress – data was taken from the sources below* which may include inaccuracies. Links are provided as sources when available. This chronology will continually be researched for accuracy. Please CONTACT US if you have any additional information or correctioNS.
THE SETTING BEFORE MAN
If one of the greatest aspects of Laguna Beach is its spectacular coastline, coves, caves, beaches, marine life, canyons, lakes, plants, trees, animals, hills and geology, then a full appreciation must start long before man arrived.
Prehistoric: Coastline - Some evidence shows that, Laguna’s unique coastline was formed 10 million years ago, with beaches rising to the top of the hills (now Badlands Park in Laguna Niguel) and hills falling to the coves making a haven for marine life and a picturesque masterpiece at the very edge of the continent.
Sedimentary rock dates from the late Eocene to the Pliocene ages. The Ice Age cut the canyons. Bones of prehistoric era animals remain. Rocks in Laguna Beach date back 65 million years ago. Ten-million-year old shark teeth were found in Laguna Canyon. Our greatest treasures are the hills, coves, canyons, beaches, and ocean as a unique setting drawing residents, artists, and tourists here in awe.
8000 BC TO 1846: THE INDIANS
8,000 to 12,500 years ago: Paleo-indian period. Some evidence suggests that Orange County's first inhabitants came here around 8,000 years ago. A portion of a female skull, dubbed the “Laguna Woman”, possibly 8,000 to 17,000 years old, one of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, was found on St. Ann’s Drive in 1933.
Pre-settlement era: Migrant Indians usually depended upon fresh water, game, and marine life for survival. Remnants of these villages were seen by the early homesteaders.
1769: Spanish Survey – Gaspar de Portola (Spanish) led an expedition on a route that closely followed El Camino Real and Highway 101. This included the overland route from San Diego across Aliso Creek and on to San Francisco.
1776: Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded by Saint Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest.
1818: Pirates – Hippolyte de Bouchard, a French Argentine sailor, plundered San Juan Capistrano and earned the reputation of "California’s only pirate" of those days. Legend says he buried booty in the Laguna coast...
1821: Mexico gains independence from Spain. The New Mexican government distributed more than 500 land grants to prominent families, using maps called disenos that roughly marked each grant's boundaries. This informal system of documentation would open the door to legal challenges by Americans.
1833: Ranchos – San Juan Capistrano Mission was secularized and the government granted large grants of land called Ranchos. The area of Laguna Beach was one of the few parcels of coastal land in Southern California not included in any Mexican land grant.
1841: Laguna Lakes – Mexican map showed the lakes in the Laguna canyon as the only spring-fed lakes in present Orange County.
1842: Land Grant – Juan Avila was given a land grant for the area called "Rancho Niguel." This area included the area south of Aliso Creek to Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, and Laguna Hills. The grant was re-established for Juan Avila after California's statehood with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Juan Avila retained ownership of the land until he sold it in 1865.
1848: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the peace treaty between United States and Mexico that ended the Mexican-American War was signed.
1847 TO 1879: THE SETTLERS
1862, May 20: Homestead Act – President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act which gave qualified individuals up to 160 acres of land with the requirement of five years of continuous residence and improvement of the land. Patents could also be purchased for gold coin.
1871-1916: Over 40 individuals applied for and received a patent for homesteading land in the areas of Laguna, Arch Beach, and Aliso, which all later became Laguna Beach. George Thurston, Sr. was one of the first settlers to arrive in the area with his family in 1871 and received two homestead patents in 1879. The first settler to receive a homestead patent in the area was Frederick Sievert in 1875. The area of Laguna Beach north of Laguna Beach Canyon was part of the Irvine Ranch and was not homesteaded.
1880 TO 1899: THE VILLAGE
1880: The first unofficial greeter – Joe Lucas arrived from Portugal. He greeted stagecoach visitors from Santa Ana and El Toro while carrying a trident fishing spear as if he were Neptune. Old Joe Lucas stayed in Laguna Beach for 28 years and died in 1908.
1883: Chapel school house was built as a meeting house and the RLDS (Reorganized Latter Day Saints) school and was in four locations during its time. 1. It was originally located on near Laguna Canyon Road and El Toro. 2. It was later moved down Laguna Canyon road to an area near Canyon Acres and was the Laguna Elementary School. 3. When a new elementary school was built on Park Avenue (at the location of the current high school), the old schoolhouse building was purchased by Joe Yoch who moved it to Catalina Street (called Aliso at that time) between Park and Legion (called Beach Street at that time.) He donated the building (including two lots) to the Catholic church and named it St. Catherine's (after his wife.) 4. Later, Joseph Kleitsch, the artist, bought the building and moved it to the area of Through Street and Legion Street. The property was later bought by another church who subsequently tore it down to build a new church.
1880s: Oldest homes – Three of Laguna’s oldest homes remaining today were built in the 1880s: 154 Pearl St. (1883), 411 Arroyo Chico (1884), and (1897– Cope House) 412 Glenneyre Street.
1886: Emma Schooner – Former whaling vessel laid anchor at Woods Cove to transport barley hay to San Diego for stagecoach horses. Later it was wrecked at Arch Beach during a storm.
1887: Pier (*6) was built at Arch Beach for the Emma Schooner. Over the years, two other piers came and went at Main Beach and a fourth at Aliso Pier – the latest to go from storms was in 1998.
1888: Subdivision (*8) – A stagecoach line via Laguna Canyon connected with the railroad in El Toro.
1889: County (*8) – The County of Orange was formed, separating from Los Angeles County.
1888-1890: Economic Crash (*6, *7) – A real estate bust caused many early settlers to move away. Some even took their buildings with them.
1895: Laguna Beach Hotel, Isch General Store, and Isch-Warling Livery Stable (*6, *7) – Inland visitors came to escape the heat.
1900 TO 1909: THE ARTISTS
1903: Art Colony (*6, *7, 8) – Artist Norman St. Clair arrived, the first of many painters who would form Laguna’s “Art Colony”. Other early artists include William Wendt, Frank Cuprien, and Edgar Payne.
1904: Laguna Beach (*7) – Official name was changed from Lagona back to its historic name, Laguna Beach.
1908: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – Famous song was written by Jack Norworth who was later a resident of Laguna Beach from 1940 until his death in 1959. He founded Laguna Beach Little League in 1952.
1910 TO 1919: THE MOVIES
1912: Water – North Laguna piped water from the canyon pumps and advertised itself as “the tract with water.” Other areas used barrels to transport water from wells in the canyon or cisterns to store rain water.
1913: Lumber, Dancehall, Sea Life (*8) – Joe Jahraus founded Laguna Beach Lumber on Forest Avenue in French Normandy style. Fred MacMurray played saxophone in a dance hall on Main Beach. A campsite costs thirty cents a night. Pomona College Marine Laboratory was built across from Main Beach to study sea life and was later was used to study snakes until 1944. Tent city along Broadway was mostly for visitors from Riverside and North Laguna for those from Santa Ana.
1914: Movies – “False Colors” was filmed here, with many other later films including Robinson Crusoe and movies with Baby Peggy (1924 Captain January), Errol Flynn (1935 Captain Blood), Betty Davis, Mary Pickford, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Rudolph Valentino, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Harold Lloyd, etc. Later local high school students were featured in “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County” reality television show in 2004. The first radio was broadcasted, by Lynn Aufdencamp from a log cabin.
1914: Temple Hills was developed. Joseph Thurston bought the large tract overlooking the village and named it for “inspiration and spiritual strength.” It is the highest point in the city.
1915: Newspaper; Gate, Electricity – Laguna Life began publishing and became the Laguna News-Post in 1967. Electric power for village came from a gas motor on Broadway. The Canyon road was paved. 35 artists were in town. Gate hung and remains at Forest and Coast Highway, “This gate hangs well and hinders none, refresh and rest, then travel on.”
1917: Chamber of Commerce (*6, *7, *8) – It was established at the corner of Park and Glenneyre Street. E. E. Jahraus was the first president.
1918: Art Association; White House (*7, *8, *9) – It was founded by local artists. Later it became the Laguna Art Museum. Plein-air painting became a distinctive Laguna style similar to that of French impressionists. White House Restaurant opened and remains today as the oldest restaurant in Orange County still operating.
1920 TO 1929: THE HIGHWAY
1920: Population – 363
1920: The Laguna Playhouse – Built Ocean Ave and originally called "Community Clubhouse" was used by the "Laguna Players". Later it was renamed "Laguna Playhouse" and moved to Broadway. It is the oldest, continually running theater on the West Coast.
1921: Peace Pipe Pageant was held to raise money for the art museum.
1923: Coastal Defense – Laguna Canyon Road and parts of Coast Highway were paved with heavily reinforced concrete to permit transport of coastal defense artillery.
1923: Rumrunners – Rumrunners may have used many secluded Laguna Beach coves to evade federal agents during Prohibition. Their boats had trap doors to get rid of evidence if necessary.
1925: School – Laguna’s elementary school had an enrollment of 150 pupils. The elementary school at this time was located in the area of the current high school. (High School students attended school in Tustin until 1934.)
1926: Coast Highway – Movie stars, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. attended the ribbon-cutting dedication as a Coast Highway opened from Newport to Dana Point. The couple had a rustic hideaway in Irvine Cove.
1926: Piped water – Residents bought “duck hunting” land supposedly in Huntington Beach Santa Ana River basin to drill wells to bring piped water into the village to replace wells and cisterns throughout the canyon and village. Cabrillo Ballroom on Main Beach opened.
1926: Private Tower – Sixty foot picturesque Norman tower was built at a Victoria Beach home as a staircase down the cliff to the beach. A concrete swimming pool was built into the rocks at the property south of the tower.
1927: Cityhood – It was the first incorporated city in South Orange County. Residents pushed or incorporation of “lagunatics” were concerned about the anticipated influx of visitors with the completion of Coast Highway.
1927: Airstrips – Famed aviatrix Florence ‘Pancho’ Barnes built a private airstrip between Coast Highway and the bluff top along what is now McKnight Drive. At least one pilot misjudged his landing and dribbled off the bluff into the water. Another airstrip was at upper Three Arch Bay.
1928: Presbyterian Church – It was built in the village. The Garden Club was formed.
1929: Fire Station – It was designed by Aubrey St. Clair, son of artist Norman St. Clair.
1929: La Casa Del Camino hotel – Grand Opening was January 26, 1929. Heralded as "Laguna's first modern hostelry." Early room rates were $2 to $3.50 per night. Article in Laguna Beach Independent
1930 TO 1939: THE FESTIVAL
1930: Population – 1981
1930: Hotel Laguna originally had a grand neon sign on top of the hotel (removed due to ordinance in 1996.) In the early years, it became a favorite hideaway for many of the famous. 70 rooms replaced the former hotel on same site built in 1895.
1931: Heisler Building (provincial revival influenced style) was built across the street from Hotel Laguna. Commercial use has included Jolly Roger restaurant, doctor's office, Tommy Bahama, and Skyloft. Howard Heisler, developer of the building, was an important real estate entrepreneur in the early days of Laguna. Along with L.C. McKnight, he acquired most of the land, which now compromises north Laguna, from the Irvine Company and subdivided it in 1906 under the name Laguna Cliffs. This was the first tract in Laguna to have water directly piped to each lot, quite an achievement for its time. This building on South Coast Highway is an important testimony to the memory of an important Laguna pioneer, H.G. Heisler. Laguna Beach City Historical Resources Inventory
1931: Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club began in Heisler Park.
1932: "Lighthouse" – The Mediterranean revival-style sewer treatment plant was built along with the venting tower shaped like a lighthouse on the hillside at the mouth of Laguna Canyon.
1932: Festival of the Arts – To lure the crowds here after the 1932 L.A. Olympics, the first and second Festival of the Arts events were presented on El Paseo next to the Hotel Laguna and tableaux vivants or "Living Pictures" were included, giving birth to the Pageant of the Masters with Roy Ropp as the Father of the Pageant. The first tableau, “Mona Lisa”, appeared for three years running. The third year of the Pageant was on Ocean Avenue near the museum. “The Last Supper” at Pageant of the Masters was presented for the first time in 1935. An “Olympic Village” was developed up Bluebird Canyon with two-room cottages that were transported from the Los Angeles Olympic Village. The streets with these homes were named after 1932 Olympics U.S. medal winners.
1933: Battleship – The battleship U.S.S. Colorado anchored off Laguna Beach for liberty call. Acords Market opened. St. Francis by the Sea chapel was built 17 x 60 feet, later named the smallest cathedral in the world.
1933: Public Art – The oldest “public art,” “Boy and Dog” was placed in Jahraus Park. It would later exceed 80 artworks, one of the largest in the country for a city of our size.
1934: Laguna Beach High School was combined with the elementary school for the first year (previously, Laguna Beach high school students attended high school in Tustin.)
1935: A new elementary school was built across the street at the current location of the swimming pool on Park Ave. The high school stayed at the old location. Jack Benny played his violin at the Festival of the Arts.
1935: John Steinbeck – John Steinbeck wrote “Tortilla Flats”. Although he rented a home in Laguna Beach called, "The Bent Twig" on the corner of 3rd street and Park Ave, it is not known if he wrote the book while he was living there.
1936: The Pottery Shack was started by brothers Van and Roy Childs in two old log cabins at the corder of Coast Highway and Anita Street. In 1937, the Pottery Shack was moved to Coast Highway and Brooks Street. That location is now called The Pottery Place.
1937: Lifeguard tower moved to Main Beach – The tower was originally part of Union Oil Gas Station at Broadway and Coast Highway across the street from its now current location.
1938: First Official Greeter came to Laguna – Eiler Larsen was born in 1890 in Denmark, settled in Laguna at age 52, and spent much of his time waving at folks from his spot across from the White House restaurant at Coast Highway near Main Beach. He was cast as Judas in the Pageant of the Masters from 1938-1940. Eiler Larsen was the only Official Greeter so designated by the Laguna Beach City Council. He died in 1975 at age 84. A statue of him and also his footprints lay in the sidewalk near where he often stood. Another statute of Eiler Larsen stands at the Pottery Shack at Coast Highway and Brooks Street.
1938: President Roosevelt – His motorcade drove by throngs of waving citizens by the White House Restaurant, ironically. Victor Hugo (Las Brisas Restaurant) was built on Main Beach.
1939: Flood – A tropical storm flooded much of the county and destroyed Laguna’s historic pier.
1939: Treasure Island trailer park expanded from 30 to 200 trailers. By 1947, up to 6,000 trailers per year would stop at Treasure Island. By 1997, all residents were cleared.
1940 TO 1949: THE WAR
1940: Population – 4,460
1941: World War II – The bombing of Pearl Harbor brought widespread fear of invasion. Japanese farming families from Emerald Bay were interned. Armed Coast Guardsmen with dogs patrolled the beaches and bluffs. A local unit of the Observer Corps was formed to track aircraft along the coastline and stayed active until about 1958. The wartime blackout lasted four years. The Hotel Laguna became quarters for El Toro’s Marine officers, some of whom decide to make their home in Laguna after the war. The Pageant of the Masters closed for the duration of the war.
1944: Government – New Council/Manager government was started with non-elected rotating mayor from the council.
1946: Bushard’s Pharmacy – Well known drugstore started. First postwar pageant was presented.
1947: Junior Art Festival – Showcased over 300 works of art by students from war times to present.
1948: New Water Source – Water piped from Colorado River and the Northern California.
1948: Surf and Sand Hotel was built. It was used by media during the Nixon years while he was at his home, Casa Pacific, in San Clemente.
1949: Snow – Laguna Beach received one inch of snow.
1950 TO 1959: THE SURFERS
1950: Population – 6600
1950: Surfing – Hobie Alter started his surfboard business. Brook Street surf classic soon followed. Skim boarding at Victoria Beach dated back to the 20s. Beach Boys later mentioned Laguna Beach in one of their surfing songs and later at a concert at Three Arch Bay.
1952: Nixon – He gave a speech in front of City Hall by the old Peppertree as he campaigned as Vice President with Eisenhower.
1953: City Hall – Fittingly, City Hall was built on the site of the first home in the village, the Rogers Family's old ranch house and what had more recently been the Women’s Club, with promises to maintain and preserve the large pepper tree in front of City Hall.
1959: Hospital – The South Coast Community Hospital, now Mission Hospital, accepted its first patient.
1960 TO 1969: MAIN BEACH
1960: Population – 9,268
1962: Laguna Beach College of Art and Design was founded.
1967: Sawdust Festival and Laguna Art-A-Fair each held their first shows.
1967: Patriot’s Day Parade – The first parade was held. Counter-culture members of “Brotherhood of Eternal Love” with Timothy Leary moved here.
1968: Main Beach Park, – On October 29, 1968, the city of Laguna Beach purchased 1,000 feet of beach frontage from various property owners, an area known since as Main Beach Park. The cost was recorded at $3,135,000. All structures were removed and an open park was later dedicated in 1974. This was a major event opening up the village directly to the beach.
Historical Society Newsletter from April 2008 containing more information on the purchase of Main Beach Park
1968: Dr. Timothy Leary, an advocate for LSD, was arrested in Laguna by Neil Purcell,
1970 TO 1979: THE HIPPIES
1970: Population – 14,550
1970: The Christmas Happening – Worldwide attention was on tens of thousands who attended a free open air rock concert in Laguna Canyon by El Toro Road (“Woodstock West”) that lasted several days. In the 60s and 70s, Hippies and Hare Krishna adherents were common sights in the village.
1971: Height Limit was set by the City Council at 36 feet.
1974: June 22. Main Beach Park, "Window to the Sea" was dedicated.
Main Beach Park Dedication Ceremonies program: The Chronicle of Laguna's Window-to-the-Sea
1975: Animal Shelter built
1977: Students – 3,129 students were enrolled at five schools.
1977: El Nino flood – A subtropical cloudburst dumped over eight inches of rain in a few hours in the early morning hours, generating flashfloods and landslides. Many homes and businesses were flooded, and several feet of muddy water raged through downtown streets. It was the heaviest rainstorm storm ever recorded in Orange County.
1978: Landslide – The western part of Bluebird Canyon landslide destroyed 24 homes.
Department of Conservation: California Geological Survey
Count of Orange-Robert Sydnor
1980 TO 1989: THE GAYS
1980: Population – 17,858
1981: Historic Resources – A list was compiled of pre-1940s buildings to give tax benefit per the Mills Act for its preservation.
1982: The Gays – Robert Gentry was elected as mayor and was the first openly gay public official elected in Southern California. Laguna Beach became known as a gay-friendly place to live and visit.
1986: Laguna Art Museum – Reopened after a two year renovation, increasing its space to 20,000 square feet.
1986: Public Art was made a requirement of some business construction.
1987: South Laguna annexation by Laguna Beach. Laguna Niguel lost its attempt in the race to annex.
1990 TO 1999: THE GREENBELT
1990: Population – 23,170. The big increase was mostly from the South Laguna annexation.
1991: Green Belt – Laguna citizens voted 4:1 to tax themselves to acquire land for the future. Laguna Coast Wilderness Park protected through efforts by bookstore owner Jim Dilley since 1978. Laguna was unique with 22,000 acres surrounding it.
1992: Laguna Beach Historical Society was founded.
1992: Dog Park – The park in Laguna Beach was the first dog park in Orange County.
1993: Fire – Arson-set fire swept the canyons and hilltops of Laguna, leaving 366 families without homes.
1993: Goats – 600 goats were used as part of fuel reduction and vegetation management to current date with herders mostly from Peru. State marine reserve was legislated.
1993 May 10: Our New Home – The Laguna Beach Historical Society signed its first 5-year lease with Wells Fargo Bank for the Smith Cottage, now known as the Murphy Smith Bungalow.
1995 Aug 22: The Murphy Smith Bungalow, home of the Laguna Beach Historical Society, opens to the public.
1995: Wyland Galleries was built a painting of “The Whaling Wall” on the external side of its north wall.
1996-02-07: High School Awards – Laguna Beach High School received its first Distinguished School honor. Coastline Pilot article
1997: Flooding and Landslides
1997: Plein Air Painter’s Festival – Landscape painters' easels are set up along the coastline every year.
2000 TO 2009: WORLD CLASS DESTINATION
2000: Population – 23,727
2002: Festival Fight – Festival of the Arts/Pageant of the Masters ended in a fight with the city for renewed support and lease, as San Clemente tried to move the location there. They signed a new 40-year lease to keep it in Laguna Beach. Restoration of kelp fields by California Coast Keeper annual “kelpfest” is celebrated every April.
2003: World Class Destination – The Montage Hotels and Resorts opened at the former Treasure Island property, with a park and public access trail along the coast. Four other 5-star resorts are on Laguna’s borders as a testament to its unique world-class beauty (more than any island in Hawaii.)
2003: Farmers Market started.
2005: Landslide in Bluebird Canyon
2008: Sister City – Menton France, and in 2012 San Jose del Cabo, Mexico became sister city. City became a “transition city” to promote local food production.
2010 TO PRESENT: THE BLUEBELT
2010: Population – 22,723. Population decreased during decade.
2010: Homeless Shelter – Opened in Laguna Canyon. Churches and groups donate meals.
2012: Marine Reserve (Blue Belt) – Legislation extends reserve from Irvine Cove to Treasure Island Beach. Essentially Laguna Beach is surrounded on land and sea with green and blue belt preserves. There are three miles of Crystal Cove State Park to the north with Salt Creek Beach and its watershed to the south. Few cities in the world are so protected, as if it were a beautiful pearl protected in a shell.
2012: Mayor Kelly Boyd – Kelly Boyd became mayor. He was the great grandchild (through Marie Thurston) of Laguna’s first settlers, George and Sarah Thurston.
Now: Over 300,000 visitors now see the world famous Pageant of the Masters each year. More than five million people visit Laguna each year. There are seven miles of coastline, with 20 unique coves and beaches.
2014 Population – 24,300
- Laguna Beach of Early Days, Joseph S. Thurston, 1947
- Pioneer Days in Laguna Beach, Merle and Mabel Ramsey, 1967
- The First 100 Years in Laguna Beach 1876-1976, Merle and Mabel Ramsey
- History of Orange County, California with Biographical Sketches, by Samuel Armor, 1921
- A Short History of Laguna Beach and South Laguna, Karen Wilson Turnbull, 1992
- Laguna Woman – The First American, by Steve Turnbull, 2003
- History of Laguna Canyon, Belinda Blacketer, 2001
- Laguna Beach Timeline, Gene Felder
- A Laguna Beach Chronology, Charles Quilter and Jim Rue, 1999
- Laguna Beach, Wikipedia
- Laguna Beach- Then and Now, Gene Felder, 2013
- Loving Laguna, Skip Hellewell, 2013, LA Times Review