Guest Opinion: A Neighborhood with Klass

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By Bob Borthwick

Laguna is a town of many unique neighborhoods. Some are larger, like Top of the World, and some are smaller, like Canyon Acres or Woods Cove. Every one of them has stories. My neighborhood is Brooks Street, and this is the story of one of its original families from the 1930s: Carl and Virginia Klass.

My wife Vicki and our two young sons Scott and Evan moved to our house on Brooks Street in 1980 after living a block away on Brangwyn Way for the previous six years. It was our good fortune to be moving next door to the Klass family. At that time, I was 34 years old, and Mr. Klass was 70.

When we moved to Laguna, Mr. Klass was a well-known business owner on lower Forest Ave. His small storefront [near the current Shoe Cellar] was called Klass Electric, which sold small electrical appliances and did minor repairs. It was a place where one could bring in their broken lamp for a new cord or plug and then bring it home in like-new condition for a very reasonable price. (Ann Christoph tells me that her repaired toaster was returned with a piece of toast in it—to prove it was fixed!) Such was life in Laguna only a few decades ago.  

On the personal side, Mr. Klass was both exceptionally kind and unusually frugal. On our first holiday season on Brooks Street, our sons were 5 and 7 years old. Mr. and Mrs. Klass knocked on our door on Christmas morning dressed in red as Santa’s helpers, and they came into our living room to provide a little show for our kids with the marionettes they had brought. A complete and wonderful surprise.

Shortly after we moved in, Mr. Klass gave me a tour of his house, which he built brick-by-brick and board-by-board by himself in 1936, with assorted friends and laborers to assist. 

The Klass house circa 1936. The house’s windows face the ocean, with Brooks Street to the right. Photo courtesy of the Klass family.

Almost all of the materials were brought to Laguna from salvage yards and demolition sites around southern California. Mr. Klass was a Depression-era scavenger for cast-off materials if there ever was one. 

Even the lumber was salvaged from torn-down structures, and the nails had to be removed before using the boards.

He proudly showed me every room: “See that bathtub? It came from a hotel that collapsed in the Long Beach earthquake. See those clay roof tile? They came from a demolished boathouse in Altadena. I traded the guy a clothes washer for the roof tiles.”

His unusual 7-foot tall by 4-foot wide glass-panel front door was discarded from the front of a dress shop on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Everything in his house had a story. I was raised in a small tract home in the suburbs where all the components were standardized, and these stories of salvage and creativity fascinated me. I realized that this type of individuality is what gives Laguna its charm.

Recently Carl Klass Jr. loaned me his father’s high school yearbook [Bonita Union High School – La Verne, 1928] and the journal he kept that described the construction of his Brooks Street house: from land purchase to completion. Carl Jr. grew up in the Brooks Street house and is a retired Laguna firefighter. He and his wife Marcia now live in Canyon Acres. Reading his dad’s handwritten construction journal was a joy for me. 

It describes in meticulous detail how the house was conceived and built. The index page lists 15 “chapters” with titles such as “The Idea” and “The Wrecking Yard .” The first sentence in the journal: “It all started with a goat, was kept going by a legacy and was finished because of a wedding.” The goat’s name was Rosie, and she needed a proper shed even before their family house was built

A few years ago, the Klass home was purchased by another young family and remodeled. The front of the original house was removed. Garages and a second story were added. While the Klass-assembled front façade can no longer be seen, I like to think that the stories still linger.

Back in the day, Mr. Klass took the liberty to build the side of his house out of salvaged hollow clay tiles that are directly on our common property line, with no setback. 

This created a solid, rough-hewn, 8-foot-tall masonry wall that borders our rear patio. That rustic wall is a reminder of Carl and Virginia Klass. The salvaged barbed wire Mr. Klass used in the tile joints for reinforcing is still visible. Our family is glad that the beautiful wall is still there.

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