Finding Meaning

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The First Village Entrance

By Skip Hellewell

A lot has changed between Laguna’s two village entrance projects. Two entrance projects? Yes, there was another one, back in 1933 when the city was just six years old. It still exists—the grassy area at the corner of Cliff and Coast Highway opposite our museum. It was named Jahraus Park to honor Elmer Jahraus who came to Laguna in 1903, even before the artists. Jahraus was involved in everything until his death in 1927, the year the city incorporated. It’s on my mind because of the recent 86th anniversary of its dedication, an event that drew the biggest crowd of Laguna’s early history.

You’ve likely read that today’s village entrance project is projected to cost $11.1 million, not counting the cost of acquired land. That’s a lot of money. What did the first village entrance cost the city? Not one stinking dollar. It was all donated, spearheaded by the ladies of our Garden Club, founded in 1928. Perhaps we can learn something from looking back at that first project.

It was a big deal when Pacific Coast Highway reached Laguna Beach in 1926. The dedication ceremony featured Douglas Fairbanks as Vulcan, the Roman god of fire shaping the last link in the (highway) chain reaching down to Laguna. Mary Pickford, arm decorously raised, symbolized the Spirit of Progress. Things were looking up for Laguna and the Garden Club, already busy planting trees to beautify the town, spearheaded a project for a proper village entrance. It helped that the members of the Laguna Beach Art Association had just finished California’s first dedicated art museum on the opposing corner.

It was a true community project. The Garden Club arranged for a landscape architect to provide a design and the ladies did the work of planting. The design featured a fountain with a bronze statue of a girl giving water to a scotty dog. The bronze was done by Ruth Peabody, local artist and sculptor. Isadora W. Kerr gifted the bronze fountain as a memorial to her sister Helen Weiser, an artist who suffered an early death the prior year. Local men installed the cement foundation and Joe Jahraus, son of Elmer, donated the rock on which the statue rests. The water company provided the pipe to supply the water. Everyone, it seemed, did something and the entrance was a source of local pride.

Laguna has grown since then and we live in a more complex world. But perhaps we could learn something from that first project. Besides being a free gift that beautified the city, it also unified the town. That happens when people work together in a shared cause. Democracy is complicated, it’s not easy to build consensus. We know that because the current entrance project has dragged on for 25 years or so. The first one was, by comparison, quick and efficient. We’ve lost something.

We seem to be ignoring our heritage in other ways. The second project, though it surrounds the charming historic sewer digester building, pretends that it’s not there. And the plaque later placed on the first project isn’t even accurate. There are lessons to be learned from all this. 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. 6 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, Sunday 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish). Saturday: 4 pm Reconciliation, 5:30 Mass.

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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