Nelsons Return to Home Turf

Tony Bennett may croon about losing his heart in San Francisco, but a well-documented number of A-list celebrities embrace Laguna Beach with body and soul. Those include rock stars Gunnar and Matthew Nelson, twin sons of celebrated ‘60s era teen idol Ricky Nelson and grandsons of TV icons Ozzie and Harriet Nelson.

Gunnar and Matthew Nelson play the Coach House this Sunday, Jan. 12, a tribute to their father Ricky Nelson.

Gunnar and Matthew Nelson play the Coach House this Sunday, Jan. 12, a tribute to their father Ricky Nelson.

Gunnar and Matthew Nelson will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12, at San Juan Capistrano’s Coach House where they will pay tribute to their father in a multi-media show titled “Ricky Nelson Remembered.” Here, the show will also be augmented by video clips.

Altogether, it’s the duo’s fourth Coach House performance.

Playing a few miles from Laguna Beach comprises a sort of homecoming for the brothers, who spent their childhood frolicking on Victoria Beach where their grandparents had lived part time since 1955.

On an oceanside bluff in gated Lagunita, the elder Nelsons built a one-story, two-bedroom bungalow that they later expanded to accommodate a growing family and to escape the demands of Hollywood. Their television show, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” ran from 1955 to 1966, a total of 435 episodes.

Family included sons David and Eric (known as Ricky) and later Ricky’s wife Kristin (née Harmon) and her brother Mark, who currently stars in the CBS show “NCIS.”

“Our roots to Laguna run deep,” said Gunnar, now 46. “Our family came to acquire several houses there, and from the time we were born, we spent every summer in Laguna Beach. Fourth of July was wonderful: legal fires, legal fireworks, dogs on the beach, hippies,” recalled Gunnar, the self-described spokesman for the twins. “Laguna was artistic and affordable and everyone was beautiful. Now it’s more like Palm Springs on the water, but it is still beautiful,” he added. The brothers currently live in Nashville, Tenn.

Over time the Laguna Nelsons included Rick and wife Kristin, his in-laws Tom and Elyse Harmon, Ozzie’s brother Don and Joe Byrne, a high school friend of David and Rick.

Music comprised the family business with Ozzie Nelson originally a band leader and Harriet a singer. Their TV show became a springboard for Ricky’s career. Their grandsons’ interest in music began about age 6, recalled Gunnar, adding skateboarding, skimboarding and surfing to their faves.

Today, the family holds a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the only family to contain three generations of hit makers. Ozzie topped the charts in 1935 with “And Then Some” and his sons have generated platinum albums and singles including “Can’t Live Without Your Love and Affection,” billed as one of the 100 greatest songs of the ’90s.

Ricky Nelson and his son Matthew on the sand near the family home near Victoria Beach.

Ricky Nelson and his son Matthew on the sand near the family home near Victoria Beach.

“I booked ‘Ricky Nelson Remembered’ because Matthew and Gunnar’s tribute to their father is an incredible show that pays homage to one of the music industry’s most legendary performers,” said Roger LeBlanc, the Coach House’s talent booker. “Ricky Nelson’s kids are not only talented enough to pull it off, they add a level of personal attachment and feeling that only his children could do.”

After the patriarch died of cancer in 1975, Harriet sold the Hollywood house and moved to Lagunita full time. It was there in 1982 that she learned of Rick’s death in an airplane crash.

A 1989 Los Angeles Times article described the house as “stylish yet unpretentious,” featuring picture windows overlooking the ocean, white carpeting in the living room and an antique collection begun in 1934 and filled with friends and family.

“I had come to know the twins in 1989 and toured with them through Asia, wrote songs with them and played acoustic guitar with their band. I often came to stay at the house in Laguna, up until Harriet died. Being a bit older, I was familiar with Ozzie and Harriet and thrilled to sleep in their room,” said Steve McClintok, 59, a Long-Beach based musician and record producer.

Harriet died of congestive heart failure in 1994. She willed the property to her surviving son, David, and grandchildren, who include actress Tracy Nelson and entrepreneur Sam Nelson as well as Gunnar and Matthew.

In 1997, the house was bought for $1.85 million by Tony and Jane Ciabattoni, who built a larger two-story Italian style country house designed by architect Brion S. Jeannette.

Playing a one night gig that may or may not allow for an actual Laguna visit, Gunner said: “We are playing several shows in California and across the country but we want everyone, including the friends we grew up with to know that at the Coach House we are playing for them.”


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