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Restoring a Sentimental Sentinel

By Justin Swanson | LB Indy

 

Renovation work on the Main Beach lifeguard tower began last week. Repairs include a new roof, stucco repair and new paint, with work scheduled to be completed shortly. Photo by Mitch Ridder

Renovation work on the Main Beach lifeguard tower began last week. Repairs include a new roof, stucco repair and new paint, with work scheduled to be completed shortly. Photo by Mitch Ridder

“Orange has its Circle, San Juan its Mission, and for Laguna, it’s this tower,” says local historian Andy Alison, who helped renovate Laguna Beach’s iconic landmark tower beginning in 1997. That project fortified the structural integrity of the tower, wreaked by El Niño flooding.

Today, though, the town’s most visible emblem is swathed in cardboard-colored sheeting, undergoing another refurbishment, this one a cosmetic upgrade with new paint and the maintenance of its faltering clocks. The project should take two to three weeks, says Wade Brown, city project director, with clocks taking sometime longer. Parts were backordered for its new Glo Dial system, says Brown, confirming that the building is still structurally sound and has held up fine for the last decade.

“We can still get 50 years of life out of it,” says Alison, noting a steel collar, a concrete base that was installed in the ’97 renovation.

The Main Tower has not always sat where it is today. It was formerly part of a Union Oil filling station located at the southeast corner of Broadway and Coast Highway. When the Union company decided it no longer needed the station, or rather was moved to create a more accessible one due to the growing car culture of Southern California, the tower was repurposed for lifeguard use in 1932. A local teamster wrangled a team of mules to haul the tower across Coast Highway on rollers, running the rollers from back to front to continue the tower’s ride to its final and current resting spot. In 1958, the cap of the tower was removed in favor of the flat roof it has now.

The tower’s photogenic quality makes it “one of the most photographed historic icons on the West Coast of North America,” Alison claims.

“It’s outlasted at least four boardwalks. It’s the only original building left on Main Beach besides the Hotel Laguna,” former lifeguard and longtime Laguna native Craig Lockwood goes on. “When people think of Laguna Beach it’s what comes up in our collective mental developing tray. It’s Laguna’s trademark and a landmark’s landmark.”

Alison enthuses about the way the playground just south of the tower was designed to look like the tower itself, so that children’s imaginations are captured and that interest is initiated to keep the preservation going.

“We’re lucky to have a visual icon to represent the city and what we’re about,” Alison says.

“What’s missing in all of historicity is the most important aspect,” says Lockwood, “Main Tower is simultaneously a link and symbol.”

He explains, “The ‘Main’s’ our sturdy little sentimental sentinel. It says: ‘Welcome to Laguna Beach. We’ll take care of you. We’ve been doing it since 1929.’ Main Tower has come to symbolize a wonderful, caring community.”

 

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  1. Sand says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article! I didn’t know that the tower was moved in 1932. I like Lockwood’s view on how the tower welcomes people to Laguna Beach. In addition to the tower, Michael, the new Greeter represents Laguna Beach as a friendly, caring community. He is one of the sweetest people on Earth so be sure to wave back at him.

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