A Laguna Beach Chronologyby Charles Quilter and Jim Rue
© 1999, Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade Association
ca. 12,000 BC - 1769 AD:
Hunting peoples arrive after crossing the Bering Sea from Asia to pursue wooley mammoths and other large mammals. Shoshoneans displace Hokan people from Laguna area ca.
ca. 500 BC - 500 AD.
The Coronne clan form a village state on Aliso Creek known as Putuidem which survives into the time of Spanish colonizers as does another rancheria near Laguna Lakes. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo explores Laguna coast in 1542, followed by Sir Francis Drake in 1579. Gaspar de Portola conducts first Spanish land survey beginning July 22, 1769.
Mission San Juan Capistrano is founded by Fray Junipero Serra. The local Acâgchemem people are converted to Christianity and swept into the mission settlement which the Spanish are to hold in trust for their benefit. The Spanish call them Juaneños, and some of their descendants still live in the area. In 1821 the Mexican Empire secedes from Spain.
Captain Hippolyte Borchard, an Argentine pirate, puts ashore at Laguna near Goff's Island. Legend says he buried booty gained from raiding Mission San Juan Capistrano a few days earlier, but it may have only been wine and brandy because the padres had earlier hidden the mission's valuables. No trace has been found of any booty to date. In 1931 the site becomes a trailer park called Treasure Island. Voters approve a referendum in 1999 to allow the building of a luxury resort there.
Capistrano mission is secularized, and Mexican governors grant former mission administrators who call themselves Californios large grants of land called ranchos. Cattle roam Laguna as part of the hide and tallow export trade. Russian fur trading ships bring Aleut natives who use kayaks to hunt sea otters in Laguna's coves to extinction.
A Californio map names Laguna Canyon as La Cañada de las Lagunas, a reference to its freshwater lakes and from which comes Laguna Beach in English. The lakes are restored in 1996-97.
Near the end of the Spanish-Mexican land grant era, Governor Juan Alvarado grants title to the Rancho de San Joaquin to Don José Andres Sepúlveda which includes parts of Laguna Beach north and west of Broadway
and Laguna Canyon. Rancho El Niguel (Neuil, Niguil) is granted to Juan and Conceptión Abila (Avila) which include areas to south and east of Laguna Canyon as far as San Juan Creek. The ranchos encompass villages (rancherias) of the Juaneños.
American forces occupy California in 1846 in the U.S.-Mexican War which ends in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Mexico cedes Alta (Upper) California and other territories to the U.S., and California becomes a state in 1850. A federal land commission validates claims of Californio rancheros to most of their land in lengthy proceedings, but effectively dispossess Juaneños of their lands. The tribe has no land today. In 1853 the state legislature passes a preemption act that allows parts of Laguna whose title was not yet verified by the commission to be in the public domain and available for settlement. It is eventually homesteaded by Americans.
Five years after the end of the U.S. Civil War, local pioneer George Thurston arrives in Aliso Canyon from Utah to farm what is now Ben Brown's Golf Course. James Irvine and others acquire Rancho San Joaquin in 1864, and Lewis F. Moulton acquires Rancho El Niguel by the 1890s, thus ending the local Californio era.
John Damron homesteads what will become, fifty years later, the central part of Laguna Beach. Shortly after Damron laid claim to the land, he sells it to George Rogers who subdivides it and creates the downtown area. Andrew W. Thompson (1894) and William Brooks (1889) are also early homesteaders. Brooks goes on to become a deputy sheriff, and the first blacksmith and postmaster in the area. Homesteaders plant eucalyptus 'timber' as a way of improving the properties, a condition of homesteading.
Joe Lucas, Laguna's first 'greeter,' arrives in Laguna Beach from Portugal.
The U.S. government surveys the Laguna coastline.
A stage coach line via Laguna Canyon now connects the settlement with the recently built Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad station at Irvine, now Irvine Old Town. A previous stage ran from the 1850s to 1888 from Los Angeles to San Diego via El Toro with 24 hour service. The Laguna stage serves the 14-room Hotel Laguna and Arch Beach Hotel until 1910.
The County of Orange is formed out the southern portion of Los Angeles County. Laguna Beach is part of the new county.
Artist Norman St, Clair arrives, the first of many painters who would form Laguna's "art colony". J.N. "Nick" Isch builds a general store opposite the Hotel Laguna and later serves as postmaster for many years.
A pier is built from the headland where the gazebo of Heisler Park now stands. It extends beyond the rocks to allow coastal and fishing boats to tie up. It stands for 43 years.
William Miles buys the 149 acre site known as Green Bay, and later as Emerald Bay, from James Irvine for $175 an acre. Miles plants eucalyptus trees and "dry farms" lima beans.
Joe Jahraus founds Laguna Beach Lumber on Forest Avenue. Fred MacMurray plays saxophone in a dance hall on Main Beach. A campsite costs thirty cents a night.
November 5, 1915:
Laguna Life, South Orange County's first newspaper begins publishing. This publication, after a succession of name changes, will become the Laguna News-Post in 1967.
November 2, 1917:
Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce is established at the corner of Park and what would become Coast Highway. E.E. Jahraus is first president.
The Laguna Beach Art Association is founded by local artists. Plein-air painting becomes a distinctive Laguna style of art.
About this time Laguna Canyon Road and parts of Coast Highway are paved with heavily reinforced concrete to permit transport of coastal defense artillery. It will never be used for this purpose. Rumrunners use Laguna's many secluded coves to evade federal agents during Prohibition. Their boats have trap doors to get rid of evidence if
necessary. Ditched booze bottles are still occasionally turned up today.
Laguna's school has an enrollment of 150 pupils. It is located in what later becomes the American Legion Hall, and is now the Veterans Memorial Community Center.
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. attend the ribbon-cutting as Coast Highway opens from Newport to Laguna. The couple have a rustic hideaway in Irvine Cove.
Famed aviatrix Florence 'Pancho' Barnes builds a private airstrip between Coast Highway and the blufftop along what is now McKnight Drive. It would be Laguna's only airport. At least one pilot misjudges his landing and dribbles off the bluff into the water. The colorful Barnes also built Laguna's first swimming pool which had a porthole in the side for vicarious viewing of her many celebrity guests.
Laguna Beach becomes the first incorporated city in South Orange County. Population reaches 1900.
August 13, 1932:
The first Festival of Arts is offered by artist John Hinchman on El Paseo Street. The following year, an admission fee of ten cents is charged and tableaux vivants produced by Roy Ropp are included, giving birth to the Pageant of the Masters. The first tableau, "Mona Lisa," appears for three years running.
January 21, 1933:
The battleship U.S.S. Colorado anchors off Laguna Beach for liberty call. Later in 1933, Lloyd Acord opens Acord's Market at 144 Forest Ave. This address later becomes a location for Marriner's Stationers.
Jack Benny plays his violin at the Festival of Arts.
Roy Ropp presents "The Last Supper" for the first time. The Pottery Shack is established by Roy and Van Childs. Initial investment: $80. Laguna population reaches 3,000 souls.
Laguna Beach High School's football team has a winning shut-out season.
Eiler Larsen, a Dane, arrives in Laguna and takes up his volunteer post as the second "Greeter" at Coast Highway and Laguna Ave. Larsen, born in 1890, spoke at least six languages, and served in World War I. He had a special love for people, books and the poems of Louis Untermeyer.
Playwright Tennessee Williams takes up residence in Laguna, works part-time as a pin-setter at the Laguna bowling alley and on a poultry ranch in 'Bootleg Canyon,' an earlier name for Canyon Acres. On September 24th a hurricane floods much of the county and destroys Laguna's historic pier.
December 1941 - August 1945:
World War II; the bombing of Pearl Harbor brings widespread fear of invasion. Japanese farming families from
Emerald Bay are interned. Armed Coast Guardsmen with dogs patrol the beaches and bluffs. A local unit of the Observer Corps is formed to track aircraft along the coastline and stays active until about 1958. The wartime
blackout lasts four years. Marine Corps Air Station El Toro is commissioned, 17 March 1943. The Hotel Laguna becomes 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 closes for the duration.
Bushard's Pharmacy opens. The city now has a public swimming pool, located in the yard of Dr. Paul Eslinger. The population of Laguna Beach: 4,500. First postwar Pageant. January 1949: One inch of snow falls on Laguna Beach.
The present City Hall building opens on the site of what had been the Women's Club. The Women's Club negotiates a swap for property on St. Ann's Drive on the condition that the city will maintain and preserve the large pepper tree in front of City Hall. It does.
Officer Gordon French is shot during an arrest and dies enroute to the nearest hospital, 25 miles away. A group of concerned Lagunans including John Childs, Francis Kramer, Melvin Herbert, H.W. Planalp, Peggy Taylor, Josephine Tice, and John Weld decide to build a local hospital. They convince the Whiting Brothers to sell a 22 acre parcel in South Laguna called "The Badlands" for $55,000. Weld asks for help from Myford Irvine whose Irvine Company pays for both it and grading the site. On July 1, 1959, the South Coast Community Hospital, now South Coast Medical Center, accepts its first patient. The hospital handles 432 births and 1,234 emergency and surgical cases in its first year of operation.
Four automobile dealerships line Broadway Avenue: South Coast Ford, Tommy Ayres Chevrolet, Siemonsma Buick, and Allen Oldsmobile and Cadillac. No dealers of new cars are in Laguna today.
February 22, 1967:
Emily Ross' idea of an annual Patriots' Day Parade becomes reality on the streets of Laguna Beach for the first time. The next year she is its Grand Marshal.
October 31, 1968:
The city takes possession of 1,000 feet of beach frontage purchased from various property owners, an area known since as Main Beach Park. In December, Dr. Timothy Leary of Brotherhood of Eternal Love fame and notoriety is arrested in Laguna for possession of LSD by Sergeant, later Chief of Police, Neil J. Purcell.
Worldwide attention is drawn to Laguna as tens of thousands of the Flower Power Hippie Generation attend a free, week long open air rock concert in upper Laguna Canyon. The gathering is peaceful.
February 17, 1971:
The legal maximum building height is set by the City Council at 50 feet. About the same time bookstore owner Jim Dilley is proposing a concept to surround Laguna with a "Green Belt".
Laguna Beach population exceeds 15,000, including 3,129 students enrolled at five schools.
October 5, 1978:
The western part of Bluebird Canyon sustains a major landslide that destroys 24 homes.
September 23, 1986:
Laguna Art Museum reopens after a two year renovation, increasing its space to 20,000 square feet. The museum accumulates a substantial collection of local painters, including William Wendt, Edgar Payne and Joseph Kleitsch and welcomes works by local artists.
Laguna citizens vote 4:1 to tax themselves to acquire land for the future Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.
October 27, 1993:
Arson-set fire sweeps the canyons and hilltops of Laguna, leaving 366 families without homes.
February 7, 1996:
Laguna Beach High School is awarded one of 266 national Presidential Blue Ribbon accolades.
December 6, 1997:
A subtropical cloudburst caused by El Niño dumps over eight inches of rain in a few hours in the early morning hours, generating flashfloods and landslides. Many homes and businesses are flooded, and several feet of muddy water rage through downtown streets. It is the heaviest rainstorm storm ever recorded in Orange County. Later that winter two are killed in debris flows on February 23rd.
Over 200,000 visitors now see the Pageant of the Masters each year. More than five million visit Laguna each year. The population is estimated to be 24,300 residents.
[Sources: LB Historical Society, Lisbeth Haas, Richard Jahraus, Jane Janz,
Roger W. Jones, William Miles, Jr., Elizabeth H. Quilter, Doris Walker.]
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