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Unusual Hoard Reset in a New Home

Garden leaders Bill Rihn and Ann Christoph with the newly placed boulders and Frank Keneley’s dog, Ginger.

Large blue San Onofre Breccia boulders were installed last week in South Laguna’s community garden, giving added permanence to the plot-filled corner and creating an informal memorial to longtime resident Frank Keneley.

His widow, Hilde, donated some of the indigenous slabs her husband kept for five decades, said Ann Christoph, one of the garden’s founders.

Keneley died in March at age 94. His wife said she thought her husband would be happy to see his rocks being used in the garden, situated a block from their home. Some of the people that maintain its current 44 raised beds used to meet Keneley and his dog, Ginger, at the nearby Cafe Vienna every morning for coffee. “I think she thought he had a good feeling about the garden and the gardeners,” said Christoph.

Mrs. Keneley walked through the terraced garden for the first time this week, approving of the positioning of the table-size boulders. Smaller blue stones already serve as borders elsewhere in the garden. Landowner Paul Tran of Baton Rouge, La., granted use of the land to the South Laguna Civic Association as a community garden.

State road builders unearthed the large stones during the late 1950s when widening Coast Highway to four lanes from two. Keneley gave highway workers permission to deposit the rocks in the side yard of his home, near the Eagle Rock Way and Coast Highway garden. Over the years, he turned aside infrequent requests from neighbors who coveted the smooth-edged local stones for their own landscaping projects, she said.

Keneley’s rocks find a permanent home.

“They are special because of the blue color. They are beautiful in their shape and striations,” said Christoph, a landscape architect. “They’re not all the same. They’re not all chipped out of the same cliff.”

In fact, Cal State Long Beach geology professor Richard J. Behl rates the San Onofre Breccia formation, also found in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Dana Point, as the most fascinating in the county. “It marks the exact time Southern California started to rift apart about 17 million years ago. The whole Santa Barbara coastline used to be oriented north-south and was flush against Orange County and San Diego County. As this got pulled away, it pulled deep metamorphic rocks to the surface of the earth.  As they broke down, they deposited in the San Onofre Breccia. This is a unique time when California changed its whole tectonic nature,” Behl wrote.

The distinctive blue stones in San Onofre Breccia occur in only three places in the world, the late Fred Pratley, a local geologist, said in the South Laguna General Plan.

Volunteers wrestle the boulders into place.

Local volunteers Gilbert Briseño, Eddie Briseño, Vicente Perez, Ignacio Vasquez, and Mike Zahradnik used a bobcat and muscle power last Thursday to relocate some of Keneley’s stones and reset them in the two-level garden. Individual families tend its beds, bursting with a summer harvest of lettuces, chard, tomatoes and corn. Work is underway to expand their number.

For more than 20 years, the Keneleys walked to work as owner-operators of South Laguna’s Village Pharmacy, which they sold in 1985, Mrs. Keneley said. Frank, a pharmacist, dispensed medicine while Hilde ran the store, a literal stone’s throw from the community garden and located in the building now occupied by Coldwell Banker.

Bill Rihn and Sally Coffey with Frank's dog Ginger on the rocks.

Keneley graduated from USC’s School of Pharmacy following service during WW II. Gen. George Patton in 1945 liberated the German prisoner of war camp near Berlin where Keneley spent a year. The Army Air Corps lieutenant was captured after bailing out with two other members of a 10-man flight crew after a Luftwaffe fighter shot up their B-17 bomber. He returned home with a Stalag Luft III souvenir, a sketch of himself depicting his recovery from the bailout injury by a fellow prisoner.

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