Letter: A Family’s History at Coast Inn

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The Coast Inn, as you may know, is up in front of City Council once again. The Coast Inn is on South Coast Highway and Mountain Road which is filled with history dating back to 1928/29 when my Grandparents built and operated this new hotel in town. You probably don’t know that it was my grandfather, best known as Pappy Smith, who hired a mule team to pave Mountain Road? It is now filled with almost 90 years of interesting Laguna stories, facts, and many happy days. I thought it would be fun to share some history for the enjoyment of residents who remembers the old days and for new residents not yet familiar with its rich history.

The photo you see of the hotel is actually two of my photos placed together in order to get the length of the hotel down to the ocean. In 1933, my grandfather added the second story along Mountain Road. It retained this look until a fire in the front half of the hotel in 1956.  So for 23 years, the look of the hotel was Spanish Colonial with wooden rails, turrets, and signage up top.

Another very historical part of the Coast Inn was Grandpa’s South Seas bar. In 1930, Grandpa built a garden and water fountain. Gosh, with demo going on inside, I now see the back of the fountain with rocks along the wall in what used to be the kitchen. Then in 1933, Grandpa obtained Laguna’s first liquor license. How did he know to be so ready back then, he even bought the empty lot across from the hotel and let it sit empty till 1956. In 1936 he built out the South Seas located in the top area off Mountain Road. I do not know when Grandpa moved the bar closer to the beach. Anyone know? I do know it was famous for many reasons; home away from home for our servicemen in the 40s, locals bar hoping in the 50s & 60s, and different celebrities loving to enjoy a drink while watching the fish swim in the fish tank used as their counter. My favorite celeb I would love to meet was Clint Eastwood while John Hedges was our bartender. My uncle hired a new bartender in the 70s and his clients followed him. This began the era of gays joining locals for fun, drink and dancing, creating a line outside to get in the door. My dad sold all the business to my schoolmate/neighbor friend Sid Bryan who in 1978/79 began to advertise the South Seas as the Boom Boom Room. Gosh they had fun. My dad mentored the three consecutive new owners until he passed in 2006. One of my favorite activities was joining my dad for meals. We often ate in the Coast Inn restaurant and enjoyed conversing with James Marchese, half owner 2000 to 2007.

Now the Coast Inn is looking at a whole new change. I can remember crossing the street with my grandmother when I was little and thinking back then, “when might they spruce it up”? I hope the building stays historical. I wrote a web site to retain its history.   CoastInnHistory.com. Please enjoy.

Carolyn Smith Burris, Laguna Beach

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