Culture Karma

Now Versus Then

Randy Kraft

Laguna they say was founded as an arts colony, but surely the surf drew the boarders from the first. Between the two, the town evolved into a tourist destination. A week-end respite. A safe haven for families. Some like to think of the town as a village, although in a pretty book, “The Most Beautiful Villages of California,” Laguna Beach was noticeably absent, and when asked, the editors said it was a beach town, not a village. Since they also included many towns, I suspect oversight.


So, is it the landscape or the culture that defines us? That’s the intent of this column – over time, through the events and people that serve as our icons, we will try to get to the true karma of this seven mile stretch of coastline within the canyons. More to the point, what is our culture now, versus then? Cultures transform over time and one can see from the earliest sepia photos [I especially love those at Hotel Laguna] as the landscape changes, so too the persona.


Some things don’t change, at least not on the surface. Laguna Playhouse commemorates 90 years this year; the Pageant, 78; Sawdust, 46; Laguna College of Art & Design, 50; the Music Festival, its first decade. Laguna Presbyterian Church has an exquisite new façade but its foundation goes back to 1927. On the other hand, summer visitors once pitched their tents on the sand and now we enforce an anti-camping ordinance as ever more monster houses loom in the hills.


Downtown, which in itself has expanded its terrain to the Hip District and Woods Cove, has seen in recent years an influx of upscale retailers and restaurants, despite the recession. What does that say of our culture? We also added a beer-toting pub with an expansive view [Big Fish] but lost a popular family-style eatery [Pomodoro] and an independent bookseller [Latitude 33.]


On a more practical level, one might say that a city is defined by its budget, which may be the ultimate arbiter of culture. To what do we devote the bulk of our expenditures and our time? Is spending a reflection of the culture or the progenitor? A question for our city council.


Perhaps our culture is seasonal, blowing in on Memorial Day and back out to sea in September. Marked by arts festivals that draw visitors and fill city coffers. Certainly Laguna in summer is a different place from Laguna in off-season. Perhaps the beach town-village-upscale-arts colony-family community is exactly what we are – cultural driftwood reshaped daily by the elements. And, like any work of art, a matter of interpretation.


Randy Kraft covered City Hall for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com.

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