In the early 1960s, El Toro Road served as an impromptu drag strip on occasional weeknights during the winter, when good students should have been at home studying. Who knows, kids may have had drag races all the way back to the time of mules. But they sure did in the early ’60s, and Les Stricker had the fastest flivver of them all. He built that hot rod Oldsmobile himself and for decades he’ll build a fast car for you.
Ross Cortese and his development of Leisure World put an end to the races. Kids just couldn’t count on no traffic coming down El Toro Road anymore, plus the increased population of affluent seniors attracted regular sheriff’s patrols when there had been none before. All that was left was whatever entertainment could be garnered from visiting this new town of oldies and snicker at the blue haired ladies driving a golf kart down the street.
Today there is no need to visit Leisure World. Laguna has blue haired ladies driving golf karts down the street right here in town. There are more of them every day. Over 60 percent of Laguna’s voting age population is more than 50 years old. Not all of them are driving golf karts…yet. With a national birth rate that is below the numbers required to replace dead people, this ratio of old folks to young folks is likely to increase for the foreseeable future.
So where is the clamor for a bright vibrant downtown Laguna Beach, full of night life, coming from? Old people don’t want night life in a vibrant downtown. Vibrancy gives them a headache and bright lights illuminate the wrinkles. Oldies want the sunset special at a greatly reduced price. There’s only one place in town that has has sunset specials part of their business model. Every other establishment is betting on the young party goers who’ll drop a bundle on having a good time.
As a result, they keep dropping like flies. There are just so many folks who think it’s a good idea to drop hundreds of dollars on chewy steaks sauced in a road apple reduction. It’s always been a long winter for hospitality businesses in Laguna. The fact that locals now have a handy source of dining options just over the hill isn’t helping.
In the 1952 Laguna phone book, there are 39 restaurants listed. Only two remain under the same name and they no longer serve food. It’s a brutal world, and city intervention isn’t going to change the facts of life.
J.J. Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11 years old. He has loved it ever since.