As a Garden Grove teenager Diane Valentino would ditch school with girlfriends to hang out in Laguna Beach’s sun and sand. The visits in 1968 always included a stop at Mystic Arts World, a Coast Highway store infamously started by the acid-dropping acolytes of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love and destroyed in a still unsolved arson fire.
Scented by nag champa incense and stocked with what Valentino describes as cool clothes and posters, “it was what we thought Haight Asbury would be,” she recalled.
The fondly remembered hippie era vibe from her girlhood prompted Valentino to adopt the name Mystic Arts a decade ago for her flourishing artistic endeavors. She repurposes vintage fabrics and remnants into clothing, sold under the Mystic Arts label at the Sawdust Festival.
Now, along with 10 other Sawdust artists, Valentino revived the historic Mystic Arts storefront as a cooperative gallery, using a street sign with the psychedelic graphics reminiscent of the original.
“We wanted to go for the feel of the era, the neighborhoodness,” said Valentino, now 60, adding that the gallery’s welcome mat at 660 S. Coast Highway, coincidentally next door to the original, is out for poetry readings or jam sessions. “It’s not just for tourists, but a gathering place as well.”
One of the first to take advantage of the invitation is local financial advisor Walker Reed, who will hold a book signing this Saturday, Jan. 25, from 6 to 9 p.m. for his work, “Genetic Memory of the Cazadores.”
The signing serves as Reed’s connection to both the old and new Mystic Arts.
While going to college, he worked as the night manager of the former Vacation Village, now Pacific Edge Hotel, across the highway from the original Mystic Arts World. His boss, hotel owner Loren Haneline, fumed over his inability to shield guests from its intrusions, including its 11 p.m. hours and patrons, some of whom were under the influence of something and would wander into the lobby or a second-story stairway, Reed recalled this week.
“During that time they were sure to have some encounter with counter-culture,” Reed said of guests. “This was the mecca of hippie-dom in Southern California.”
Mystic Arts World holds a special footnote in Laguna’s history as an enterprise of a mysterious group of adventure seeking surfers turned hippie drug smugglers who were friends with Timothy Leary and known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. They famously used a cargo plane to drop thousands of tablets of LSD at a concert in Laguna Canyon in 1970, writes local resident Nick Schou in “Orange Sunshine,” published in 2010, which describes their exploits.
The shop employed 20 people in its multiple departments, which included organic foods, beads, imported clothing, metaphysical books and a rug-lined meditation room, said Kent Kelley, a former manager who got his start there sweeping floors. Today, he owns the collectible shop Cherry Moon, adjacent to the new Mystic Arts.
Visiting yogis from India held talks in the meditation room, which was also used for yoga and on occasion pot-smoking, Kelley said. “It was a real head shop,” he said, dissenting from the perception that Mystic Arts traded only in drug paraphernalia and catered to acid-dropping followers of Leary.
“Everything we were doing has current popularity today,” said Kelley, who encouraged Valentino to open the new gallery when the space opened.
For her part, Valentino consciously avoids the contemporary cues embraced by most of the town’s galleries, shunning white walls for splashes of color and figurative, decorative arts over plein air landscapes.
She endeavors for the new Mystic Arts to echo its lineage with rugs from India and Afghanistan and its open door policy. “We bring a little bit of fun,” she said.