Checking In

The Changing Face of a Hometown


By Catharine Cooper.

Laguna has been the place that I’ve called home since 1956.  My father bought a vintage farmhouse on the top of Ledroit Lane and dragged his wife and children to live with a constant view of the ocean.  I was hooked on the village atmosphere of the town as a 7-year-old, and remain so today.

And yet, much has changed, and it’s not just the buildings, the City Council, or the DRB.

“Back then” – which works through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s – the town really did consist of locals. Laguna businesses were for the most part owned by the parents of my friends. We could hardly get in trouble. There were always extra sets of eyes tending to us.

Val’s dad owned the Union 76 Station. Gail’s owned Welches’ Health Food Store. Peacock Insurance was Kathy’s dad. And Steve’s, Laguna Nursery.  The principal of El Morro Elementary, Bill Allen, was my best friend Jill’s father.

We worked in jobs that I don’t see kids taking anymore. We were maids, waiters, waitresses and bus boys. We pumped gas, cleaned car windshields, and maybe put extra air in someone’s tires.  We mowed lawns, tossed the local newspaper, and baby-sat before nannies took over.  I helped mom clean our house, all 6,000 square feet of it.  No one we knew had a cleaning woman they could complain about.

We “kids” didn’t have cars, or if we did, we’d earned them by working hours between homework and sports practices.  No one’s parents drove their kids to or from school. It was either the bus or we walked.

The high school had strict clothing rules.  No crop tops, shorts, or pants of any kind for girls. Guys’ hair couldn’t touch their collars, and girls’ skirts could not be more than 3” above the floor in a kneeling position. The vice-principal carried a tape measure and suspension was a potential punishment for clothing infractions.

We didn’t have cell phone “leashes,” and could go for hours without anyone knowing exactly where we were. The hilltops were open and free, not yet parkland with restricted access.  And the beaches were home for as many hours as we could park our bodies between the sand and the surf.

My folks didn’t lock our doors until we went to sleep at night. And yes, my girlfriends and I used to ‘hitch’ from one end of the town to the other. Dogs ran the beach and didn’t get ticketed.

I’d like to say we more innocent and I believe that we were tougher.  I think we had lower expectations of what we should ‘get’, and a stronger understanding of how hard it was to work and save for the things we wanted.

There seems to be more glitz and a bit less ‘down hominess’ but the town remains a very special place. For those lucky enough to live in Laguna, it’s those sunsets and beach walks, those surf days and sun days, those whale spouts and dolphin leaps, that bring it all home.

Catharine Cooper is proud to be vintage Laguna.  She can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. Debra Beck

    I miss those days, tho I am a bit later — we were just being allowed to wear shorts to high school. I miss the local businesses, and was so sad to see mall stores seen cross country show up to replace Fahrenheit 451 and Mariners — but then, they did in Carmel and Encinitas and La Jolla and Santa Barbara. I wish they had been replaced by locally owned companies instead of corporate giants — I find it more interesting. Thankfully local artists seem to be selling.

    I would love to live at home, but i, like a lot of local kids in so many So Cal communities, can’t afford to live there. Unless parents have a house to pass down or the kids happen to be in big dollar jobs, Laguna is now a very expensive place.

    I consider myself so lucky to have lived there. Now I am in Oregon, largely because I like small town atmospheres and crazy nonconformists! Thanks Catherine — you look so familiar!


    Well, I have to say, I worked in the Laguna Beach Nursing Home 3-11 for most of my Junior and Senior year! During the summer I worked at the hamburger stand across from main beach. I remember it was owned by one of my school mates,father. By the way, I never stole the $5.just gave out the wrong change! Not bitter…lol My crazy,nutty mother kept all my money, for reasons of her own,Im sure. At any rate, I survived it all, due to the fact I lived in Laguna Beach!! Could not have asked for a better down home place to live in the 60’s. Walking everywhere, and or putting out that thumb when I had to get back in from the canyon. I still love you all. It was so eyeopening to see you all at the 40th! Bet you never thought I would look that good!!! LOL Bless you all
    aka: Coco

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