Finding Meaning

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A Walk Through 1920 Laguna

By Skip Hellewell

Take a walk through the Laguna Beach of a century ago, guided by a dead man. Harold Weaver was an English jockey who emigrated West to become a cowboy, but wound up a landscape artist. If you check the 1920 census, you’ll see he was the enumerator. Laguna had 363 year-round inhabitants then; 15 were artists, two were ministers.

The census starts on Forest Avenue, where people are living in their family businesses. Jay and Margaret Oxford run a grocery store and cafe; their neighbor, Charley Simms, is the bookkeeper. Next is a bakery, run by Albert Wohlforth, born in Sweden. In 1920 Laguna, you could buy bread so fresh, you smelled it baking. Nathan Philbrook, the realtor, had a sign: “Laguna Cliffs, the tract with water.” Carl and Mary Benson are nearby—he’s a plumber giving folks indoor plumbing. Folks must have wanted electricity, too, for Maybell King, 22, keeps the books for the electric shop.

Two neighbors reflect the past and future of freighting: William Hall, a teamster with his own team, and Garfield Jubb, who drives the Jahraus lumberyard truck. Edwin and Sarah Foote have a farm, but their son, Harry, 20, is an auto mechanic. Harry works for Roy and Sylvia Peacock, who live over on 3rd Street. The automobile age is creating opportunities and the Peacocks came down from L.A. with their baby son to start Laguna’s first auto repair. Motion pictures were another innovation and Fred Aufdenkamp has Laguna’s first theatre. Everything’s up to date in Laguna Beach.


A look up Forest Avenue about the time of the 1920 Census. Photo courtesy of the Laguna Beach Historical Society

Continuing up Forest, Alva Burt is a school teacher in Laguna’s two-room school house (now the Legion Hall). Marie Fraser is the other teacher, living over on Park Avenue in the home Joe Thurston built for her. They’ll marry in 1921. Leaving Forest Avenue, you turn down 2nd Street, where Frank Hanson lives. Frank started our first newspaper, “Laguna Life,” an optimistic venture for such a small town. Over on Park Avenue is Nick Isch’s general store and post office—Laguna’s social center. Reversing back to Ocean Avenue, you find the Duarte and Derkum families, fisherman working out of Boat Canyon. Josie Derkum, 24, is a waitress. A few years before, she posed with her horse Honda for the painter Louis Betts in the famous painting, “Girl of the Golden West.” The Skidmore family is further down Ocean.

Crossing over Laguna Canyon Creek, you come to Laguna Cliffs (north Laguna), recently part of the Irvine Ranch. The first street is Electric Way (the eastern portion of today’s Cliff Drive), named in the hope of LA’s electric railway coming. Major league baseball players Ernie Johnson, Albert De Vormer, and Gavy Cravath, winter here. You likely won’t recall their names, but Cravath would have been famous if Babe Ruth hadn’t broken his home run record. There are more residents in the streets up to Myrtle, the edge of Laguna then, and down in Sleepy Hollow, Arch Beach, and Aliso Canyon. These people are gone now, but by you reading their names, they live again. They worked, they loved, they chased their dreams. Now it’s our turn.

I asked the Beautiful Wife out to dinner. We took a walk down Forest Avenue and nodded hello to strangers. The bell tower of the Presbyterian Church was shining in the night. The moon, framed by clouds, was setting over the ocean. It reminded me of past columnist John Weld, who always finished with, “Laguna, I love you.” Don’t we all? There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]

 

Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 7 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m. There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.

 

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