Chain Saws Slice Into Town’s History

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The site of a former lumber mill on Forest Avenue before it was redeveloped 40 years ago.Photo courtesy of Jeff Jahraus
The site of a former lumber mill on Forest Avenue before it was redeveloped 40 years ago.Photo courtesy of Jeff Jahraus

Amid a housing boom in the 1970s, Laguna Beach’s city officials encouraged the Jahraus family to relocate its lumberyard due to the volume of trucks the fast-expanding business was drawing into downtown.

So began the transformation of land acquired around the lumber mill by Joseph Jahraus, who started providing lumber, hardware and paint to the town’s early settlers and homesteaders, his grandson, Jeffrey Jahraus, said this week.

Backlash over the cutting of a towering twin-trunk eucalyptus tree earlier this month in what became the Lumberyard Mall on Forest Avenue reignited debate about preservation of heritage trees on private property. The City Council is expected to take up the matter next week.

The partially cut tree. Photo by Marilynn Young
The partially cut tree.
Photo by Marilynn Young

Lumberyard Mall, a semi-circle of shops and offices oriented around a courtyard and a shading central tree, is still owned by the Jahraus family through its Laguna Beach Lumber Company, incorporated in 1913. But the property has been sold to several lessees over the years, Jahraus said. “We were not directly involved in the development,” he said. “If we had not moved it would have been a big traffic jam with the number of trucks and trailers of building material that we had to unload everyday.” The Jahraus lumberyard that relocated to Laguna Canyon was eventually sold to Ganahl Lumber in 2001 for $2 million.

When developers cleared the site, several large eucalyptus trees were cut, photos taken around 1974 or ’75 show. One image could be the tree that was partly cut down on April 1 before city officials intervened. “The trees on the left might be the ones cut down, I just do not know for sure,” Jahraus said. “Seem to be in the right location. If they are, they were trimmed a lot,” he said.

City staff issued an emergency permit demanded by the current leaseholder and property manager, Koss Financial of Los Angeles, based on an arborist’s finding that at least one of the two trees was diseased and endangering the building. While city officials now want a third-party arborist’s opinion about the health of the remaining tree, conservationists such as Village Laguna’s president, Johanna Felder, are infuriated by the lack of a public hearing over the toppling of a historic resource.

Some suggest the cut tree was part of a grove planted by George Rogers, who acquired one of Laguna’s early homesteads and filed the first downtown subdivision in June 1888, according to a homestead map compiled by former resident Beryl Wilson Viebeck in 1996. Rogers improved the land to satisfy Interior Department regulations by planting eucalyptus trees, according to “The First 100 Years in Laguna Beach,” a historical account by Merle and Mabel Ramsey published in 1976.

Horticulturist Ruben Flores recently estimated the 80-foot tall tree, now with one remaining spire, to be 80 years old.

Jahraus said, “I would not know if all the trees on the property when the lumberyard was there were the original ones planted or descendants of the originals.”

Regardless, the 1975 photo that looks toward Ocean Avenue serves as a window into Laguna’s history from 40 years ago. Jahraus said the vine-covered building on the right is now the Lumberyard Restaurant, while the collapsed building at the rear of the property is part of the mill that was being demolished. The open-sided shed on the right provided storage for finished material.

 

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