While most homeowners couldn’t conceive of preparing their home for 800 visitors, participants in Village Laguna’s annual Charm House Tour unanimously describe the experience as “fun.”
“It was an easy thing to do,” said Mike Boon, owner of a 1915 Federal Revival bungalow in North Laguna, on last year’s tour. “The people who come through are enthusiastic; it gives them an emotional experience and re-enforces what to preserve in the future,” said Boon, a member of the city’s Heritage Committee, which advises the City Council about historic preservation. His home is on the city’s historic register and has Mills Act status, giving Boon a break on property taxes in exchange for the continued preservation of the property.
Joan McLean’s 800 square foot bungalow, formerly her parents’ beach house in South Laguna, was recently remodeled and expanded to 2,400 square feet when she was asked to participate. “It was a way to finish all the things that weren’t quite done,” she said calling the preparation a “fine tuning.”
Pam Hagen agrees. “It makes you get things done,” she said about her California Mission style house built in Bluebird Canyon in 1936. Hagen and her husband have lived 50 years in the home, originally 800 square feet. Along with two children came several additions and now the home totals 2,100 square feet. When her house was on the tour she prepared by doing a lot of cleaning, some painting, adding fresh plants to the garden and Persian rugs to the patio.
Village Laguna introduced the Charm House tour in 1975, four years after its inception. Tickets then cost $2.50 and the 400 guests were given maps to drive themselves from house to house. The early organizers were Fran Englehardt, Verna Rollinger and former president Arnold Hano, who takes credit for conceiving the tour. “I’m not sure it was him,” said Hano’s wife, Bonnie.
Since tickets could be bought at any house along the route, attendance doubled in the tour’s second year. “I spent the day scrambling all over Laguna for more tickets, more cookies and more maps,” said Rollinger.
Today, the Charm House tour scheduled for Sunday, May 15, is the major fundraiser for Village Laguna, a citizen group formed to oppose to high-rise hotels along the Laguna Beach coastline. Their current mission preserving the town’s character and heritage also encompasses restoration and protection of the ocean and coastal habitat.
“Proceeds from the tour support City Council candidates that most closely agree with these values,” said Joanna Felder, Village Laguna’s president. In 2014, the group spent $26,934, mostly in support of candidates Toni Iseman and Rob Zur Schmiede. In its most recent campaign filing in January, the group reported a balance of $17,461.
Village Laguna also uses tour proceeds for high school scholarships and grants to local organizations such as the Community Clinic, Friendship Shelter and Laguna Food Pantry. “Our budget doesn’t change much from year to year,” said Rollinger. “Clearly our biggest expense is the election contributions, but those amounts vary depending on how many candidates we support and what other issues come up,” she added.
Over the years, the group’s efforts aided a range of causes including open space preservation in Laguna Canyon, Schoolpower fundraising, injured firefighters and victims of the 1993 fire.
The driving force behind the annual tours is Charlotte Masarik, who begins in January knocking on doors and asking owners if they’d like to participate. “She’s so charming; I can’t imagine ever saying ‘no’ to her,” said Rollinger, who says they mostly relied on friends’ houses for the first tours. The Hanos’ Bluebird Canyon home by architect Lamont Langworthy was on the very first tour.
This year, City Council members Toni Iseman and Bob Whalen will serve as “bus guides” who brief guests en route to their destination, a neighborhood that is not disclosed until the start of the tour. Each of the five or six houses on the tour gets a name that the owners select and a team of docents to point out its various features.
Village Laguna has a $2 million insurance policy against damage to a home, which “we’ve never had to use,” said Felder. The homes chosen represent a variety of styles “from rustic cottages to a Mark Singer modern,” said Masarik, who aims for an eclectic experience.
Unique homes, such as the 1929 Spanish Revival above Main Beach, designed by Aubrey St. Clair and once occupied by Ken Kesey, are especially sought out. Current owners Mark and Cindy Evans twice opened their doors for the tour. Their home carries an irresistible pedigree. St. Clair’s father, watercolorist Norman St. Clair, is considered one of Laguna’s earliest artists. “It’s a lot of work to get the house ready,” said Mark Evans, who nevertheless enjoys meeting guests, which once included a former college professor.
“A lot of the people on the tour are thinking about their own homes,” said painter Kathy Jones, whose 1,495 square foot Canyon Acres home was re-built with the original footprint after the 1993 fire. “We worked with our architect and builder to incorporate clever storage and built-in furnishings,” said Jones, whose husband is a wood-worker. “People were really interested in our storage solutions and polished concrete floors,” she added.
Tickets, now $50-$60, include transportation and refreshments. They may be purchased at villagelaguna.org, by check to Village Laguna Charm House Tour, P.O. Box 1309, Laguna Beach, CA 92652, or at shops including Copy and Print Center, Ego Salon, and Laguna Beach Books.
Buses set out from the Festival of Arts, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, from noon to 3 p.m. Homes are available for viewing until 5 p.m. The tour normally takes two to three hours to complete.