BY SUZANNE DUNN
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stopped briefly last month.
So did one of her Democratic rivals, New Mexico’s governor, Bill Richardson.
Four years ago, so did presidential candidate Wesley Clark.
While far from the nation’s Capital, Laguna holds its own as a political stomping ground for presidents and candidates seeking national office, dating back at least to 1913.
Woodrow Wilson was believed to have visited Laguna during his first administration at least twice, reportedly staying at the house at 1 Moss Point, according to a plaque at the site. He visited during a tour of the west in 1919, where he was drumming up support for the League of Nations.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was greeted by a parade-like crowed when he passed through town on July 16, 1938.
He was actually en route to San Diego from Los Angeles and Coast Boulevard, as it was known then, was the only way to get there. FDR’s
visit, albeit brief, was a fantastic event in a small town.
Art Sherman, 20 at the time, and Walter Mayer, all of 18, remember that when FDR passed he seemed approachable. “When he nodded his head and tipped his hand towards his fedora it felt like he was looking right at you, like you made a connection.”
Sherman and Mayer, now in their 80s,
Mayer left Laguna before graduating from high school, but both Sherman and Mayer remember kids being bussed to Newport or Tustin from Laguna for high school.
Sherman eventually transferred to what is now LBHS when it was changed from an elementary school. Sherman graduated in 1937, but it was the Artists’ high school football championship in 1936 that brought a twinkle to Sherman’s eye.
Sherman and Mayer both returned to Laguna in 1938 to see FDR’s motorcade. They were posted on opposite sides of Coast Boulevard in front of the White House restaurant when the president passed.
The First Lady, Eleanor, was not present on this trip, a re-election campaign swing through the west. Instead FDR was flanked by Secret Service, though he stood exposed to the public in an open-top car.
Sherman and Mayer remember growing up in Laguna when the beach was the babysitter. “As long as you could walk,” said Mayer “you were at the beach until dinner time.” Sherman reminisced about the “old” Laguna, before the wealthy moved into town. “The families that lived in town didn’t have a lot of money.” Kids worked for their parents making it a true family business.
Although FDRs visit was due to circumstance, the presidents and presidential candidates that followed came with purpose.
On recent visits by presidential hopefuls, Senator Hillary Clinton and Governor Bill Richardson arrived to raise funds for their upcoming campaigns. For its size, Laguna’s affluent donors make it an important pit stop on anyone’s campaign agenda.
Richard Nixon came to Laguna campaigning on behalf of his running mate, Dwight D. Eishenhower in 1952.
Yorba Linda-born Nixon returned during his own reign as commander in chief from 1969 through 1974.
At the time, Eric Jessen was a member of the Los Angeles Young Republicans while attending California State University, Long Beach. As a leader among the Young Republicans, he was charged with identifying potential properties for a western White House.
Jessen, a member of the Laguna Beach Historical Society, recalls first nominating Pyne Castle on High Drive, currently an apartment complex.
Nixon’s security detail nixed the idea, believing the area to be too exposed. Jessen next suggested a private residence in Monarch Bay, but it was not large enough. Eventually, the western White House selected was Cotton Point Estate in San Clemente, which has since been dismantled, subdivided and developed.
Every time the Nixon entourage arrived, needing 100 to 125 cars, the supplier was a Hertz franchise set up in the old Shell Station next to Benton’s Café on Main Beach by Jack Hornbeek, who operated the old Standard station nearby, also where Jessen worked as a young man.
The increase in traffic during these times caused much of the same problem it does today, unhappy locals both liking and hating the attention of being Laguna.