By John Zegowitz
Decades ago, when I first moved to Laguna Beach, I took notice of a unique personal transformation that would happen as I drove through the Canyon and into Laguna Beach. Whether I was descending from the beige of Irvine on the 5 or from the early evening parking lot of the 405, coming through the beauty of the rolling open spaces, golden grasses, and oak trees between the highways and El Toro Road, I could feel the intensity and stresses of the day washing away, revealing a lighter clarity and peace. The protection of that corridor became something I think all of us in Laguna celebrate to this day.
But that was only the beginning of the transformation. After passing El Toro, Anneliese, Willow Canyon and the dog park, we begin to run a gauntlet of small and unique trades and crafts along with artist and creative studios of all types before reaching the college, the Sawdust, and the Pageant. For me, this part of the drive became a gradual accumulation of connections to a truly uncommon community and all its creativity, heritage and beauty. This was my place. These were my people. This was my adopted heritage built on a history of arts, independent thinking, and a connection to a natural environment unlike any other. This is what makes Laguna Beach so iconic and exceptional. Whenever I was asked where I was from while traveling, this is what people identified as Laguna Beach when I mentioned that I was from Laguna Beach, California. This was before the MTV show, of course.
I don’t share this stroll down memory canyon without purpose. Last week, I overheard a discussion of the potential sale of some of the canyon properties, which can also lead to displacing a large chunk of Laguna Beach’s local artist and creative community. It got me thinking about the importance of these local artists and businesses and their place in the Canyon. With all due respect to the “Village Entrance” and its pristinely architected beauty, the true Village Entrance begins long before we ever get to the Festival or even the Sawdust. As we drive through the Canyon and into the city, we pass through what is ostensibly our creative hub. We begin to connect through osmosis the feeling that this is a community of independent ideas, passions, businesses, artists and trades, all blended into the natural beauty of the winding canyon. Each one represents the same autonomy and thriving creative mindset that represents the authentic Laguna Beach, and hopefully, always will.
We’ve all seen a lot of changes in Laguna over the past couple of decades, and I’m not writing to argue the positive or negative merits of past changes but to provide the perspective that the death of culture typically happens through a thousand tiny paper cuts. A single displaced community, with the casual mindset that they will find somewhere else, is far more than a single slice. Each displaced Laguna Beach creative today represents another critical cut to the authenticity of our culture tomorrow. And changing the nature of the Canyon would profoundly affect how people relate to the city. That doesn’t mean it can’t be improved, but I believe that it should grow from the current soul.
I won’t pretend to have the solution – smarter people than me will have far better ideas. But I am going to suggest that Mayor Bob Whalen and the city council of Sue Kempf, George Weiss, Alex Rounaghi and Mark Orgill consider finding ways to not only protect the cultural immersion of Laguna’s Canyon, its artists, and sense of independence but to invest in it and encourage its growth. The artists of “East Side” Laguna Beach represent so much of what we hold as our identity, it’s ridiculous, and it’s kinda easy to take it for granted. We’re currently living in the age of the “Creator,” and Laguna Beach, at its heart, celebrates itself as a creative community. Let’s find a way to build this authentic connection to our heritage and leverage it into a Village Pre-Entrance that represents a vital pillar of our greater heritage.
John is the award-winning Chief Creative Officer of Orange County’s largest independent ad agency, Schiefer Chopshop. Locally, he has taught professional studies for creatives at LCAD, has sat on the board of the Boys & Girls Club, the OC AAF board as the creative chair, and has, at various times, lived, worked, coached, volunteered and raised a family in Laguna Beach since 1999.View Our User Comment Policy