By Valerie Yu, Special to the Independent
Rain or shine, the Gate hangs aloft outside Laguna Beach’s Chantilly Ice Cream, greeting newcomers and locals alike with welcoming words hand-painted on its seashell-white wood. Almost a century ago, in the early 1900s, this very gate hung in front of another ice cream parlor on the meeting corner of Coast Highway, Forest and Park Avenues.
It was 1915. Carl Hofer had just opened an ice cream shop in the Van Sycles building on Forest Avenue where Tuvalu Home Furnishings operates today. According to historians Merle and Mabel Ramsey in their 1967 book “Pioneering Laguna,” Hofer had put up the gate his father had made, the poetic lines, “This Gate hangs well and hinders none. Refresh and rest, then travel on,” painted on it in black script. In need of a name for his shop, Hofer had offered a leather pillow as a prize for the person who could supply him with the best one. Promptly, a little girl by the name of Isabell Muchet stopped by, and suggested he name it “The Gate.” She said that her Englishman father had seen the same sign in front of a pub in London. Isabell won the pillow, and the fitting name was taken on.
As the Ramseys documented in “Pioneering Laguna,” shortly after the legendary contest, Hofer and his parlor “moved to the Elmer Jahraus building at the corner of Forest and Park Avenue,” bringing the Gate along. After it was taken down briefly by Perry Warren, who had transformed the parlor into Easton Drug Store, D.L. Rankin, the next owner, re-erected it in 1921. Since then, neither the Gate nor its Dr. Suess-like poem has left the corner.
Jane Janz, born and raised in Laguna since the 1930s, remembers the Gate well. Janz, whose family arrived in Laguna in the 1880s, regards it as a fixture of her childhood. “It’s always been there, a friendly greeting to me and to people coming to town,” she mused. “It’s so unique, it’s so Laguna—it’s a sign I’ve never seen anywhere else. I’m sure it puts smiles on people’s faces.”
For the town children, other landmarks in the day include the now-gone Eucalyptus trees on Temple Hill and the tree gum groves that were visible from town, Janz recalled. Despite the many structural changes she has witnessed over the years, the spirit of Laguna remains alive, one made visible through the Gate’s words, which have touched locals and tourists alike.
Of the gate, one resident, who moved here just a year ago, said, “It welcomes you. It’s the first thing you see going downtown.” On a trip to the city, she fell “completely in love with Laguna…I just [couldn’t] leave this place.”
But it’s not just the breathtaking beaches that captivate. Laguna’s history is no boring book either. Laguna Historical Society treasurer and 26-year Laguna resident Gene Felder embraces it. “It’s worth noting the people who were here before us, and gathering as much information as we can find about them because there certainly are interesting stories,” he said.
Stories like the Gate’s. Hung diagonally across from beloved greeter Eiler Larsen’s trademark corner, this time-honored landmark has greeted thousands in its own way for so long. May it remain one constant for a hundred years more.