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Diving In to Laguna Past and Present

By Justin Swanson | LB Indy

 

Hellewell’s history of Laguna includes a Hollywood chapter, such as the 1946 Bette Davis movie “A Stolen Life,” shot partly on the beach at Treasure Island. Photo courtesy of Jane Janz

Hellewell’s history of Laguna includes a Hollywood chapter, such as the 1946 Bette Davis movie “A Stolen Life,” shot partly on the beach at Treasure Island. Photo courtesy of Jane Janz

Skip Hellewell fell in love with Laguna Beach immediately. On a camping and surfing trip as a youth, Hellewell was awestruck with the beach community; there were people walking around town in their bathing suits. He slept on the beach. He learned to surf. He was so taken, Hellewell moved to Laguna Niguel in 1974 and eventually to Laguna Beach in 1996. He now lives in South Laguna, and he has written a book that chronicles the history of the town through the lens of its modern incarnation.

Hellwell says he feels he has always belonged to Laguna.

“Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach” is Hellewell’s fourth self-published book. Ever reverential of history, each book dives into the past to uncover the roots of various, unique stories and his latest is no different.

A member of the Laguna Beach Historical Society, Hellewell says, “Remembering our history makes us a better town going into the future.” This aphorism stems from knowing that well-grounded individuals typically have a good sense of where they came from and the forces that shaped them. There, he says, is a relation there, one based informatively on history. In telling Laguna’s story, Hellewell credits his wife with urging him to make it relevant to today’s resident or tourist. That is, to craft it practically as a guide about town.

Edward S. Postal, owner of Barnaby Ridge Bookseller, who is something of a Laguna historian himself, says there is a definite need for more history to be written about the city.

Laguna Beach Books proprietor Jane Hanauer says of Hellewell’s book, “It is a very good guide. A tourist could carry it in their pocket.”

Postal explains the demand for books about Laguna saying that residents buy them up for nostalgia purposes.

“I see connections in everything,” Hellewell notes. He points out how the sprouting of churches lured homesteaders and brought them to different parts of town.

He pulls out a map that draws the borders of the town’s early inhabitants, huge plots of lands that today are filled with homes. He points to different names of landowners. He knows where they are from and why they moved there and what they did to contribute to growth of the colony.

Hellewell has a wealth of pictures of old-time Laguna. He knows what stores stand where then and now, what became what and why it was needed, from convenience to hardware, from churches to bars.

“Loving Laguna” is born of an erudition Hellewell cultivated by gathering photos and scouring bits of information from history books, letters, and personal narratives.

“You can tell the history of a town by its roads,” he says excitedly. Drawing where streets made accessible other parts of town on his map.

Hellewell marks the eras that were and that helped become Laguna now. He acknowledges the homesteaders that plotted the land, the artists that gave it culture, the Hollywood types that raised awareness of the place, and the surfers that graced Laguna with its favorite pastime. Finally, he mentions the conservationists who established the Green Belt.

“The conservation foretells well for Laguna Beach,” he says. “It allows the town to remain unique, welcoming, and colorful.”

“Loving Laguna” is available for purchase from Laguna Beach Books, Tuvalu Home Furnishings, Laguna Beach Drugs, Amazon.com, and the Hotel Laguna.

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