Some of Laguna Beach’s early landmarks, destroyed by misfortune and mishap, have not entirely disappeared from memory thanks to a Historical Society presentation last month in Council Chambers about the town’s early downtown.
Among the lesser known but architecturally distinctive landmarks was the Brooks Hotel, which included a grocery, barber shop and post office. It was built in 1888 by William H. and Annie Brooks at the corner now occupied by the Greeter’s Corner restaurant at Forest and Coast Highway. They operated it but 60 days before a midnight fire consumed the structure. “Josie, the daughter, escaped with one shoe and a sheet around her. All others were partially dressed. The only thing salvaged was a ham that was thrown out the window,” wrote Merle and Mabel Ramsey in their 1967 book “Pioneer Days in Laguna Beach.”
“It burnt down before the paint was dry,” joked Gene Felder, of the Laguna Beach Historical Society, who, along with Eric Jessen, provided a running commentary for the photo presentation.
Another fire-consumed structure with a short-lived history was the Raven Café, which burned the year after it opened in 1923, Felder said.
Other examples from the presentation included:
The painting “El Paseo” by Joseph Kleitsch, an early plein air artist whose canvases fetch seven figures, captures a long-gone scene on a still existing street. His paintings were carefully representational, such as in this painting where the foreground depicts grading for construction of the new Hotel Laguna at the street’s end, Jessen pointed out.
The scion of Elmer Ellsworth Jahraus, a real estate agent for Emerald Bay, established a lumberyard on Forest Avenue. Joe Jahraus started the Laguna Beach Lumber Company and stocked artist supplies. Some of the family’s existing art collection stems from trades artists made for supplies, Jessen said.
A photo of the better-known landmark pier, at Heisler Point north of Main Beach, built by Nick Isch and other residents in 1916. The pier provided a speedier means of bringing in construction materials than overland. Cargo departed from the Seal Beach landing at Anaheim Bay, where train service ended, Felder said. The pier was destroyed by a fierce storm in the ‘30s.
A descendant of one of Laguna’s earliest homesteaders also made an appearance. The daughter of Beryl Wilson Viebeck described her mother’s “coup,” researching and locating original homestead documents in Sacramento issued to her great, great grandfather, Henry Rogers, in 1879. She also found 39 other original homesteads issued to Laguna Beach families over 41 years through 1916.
Viebeck’s plunge into historical research was prompted by the discovery in 1991 of a copy of speech given by her grandmother in the 1930s that described “government land” her grandfather, Henry Rogers, had acquired.