Hotel Laguna Makeover Showcases Pageant’s Backstage Magic

Hotel Laguna’s makeover artists, from left, Sharbie Higuchi, Georgia Andersen, and Evalyn Daniel-Putnam.

Friendship, community and local history are playing parts in a major renovation underway at Hotel Laguna, one of Laguna Beach’s best-known landmarks. It’s a result of a collaboration between friends inspired by a sense of history, tradition, and cooperation where neighbors helped neighbors that was at the heart of life in early Laguna a century ago.

The hotel’s owner, Georgia Andersen, together with her husband Claes, bought the 65-room establishment in 1985. After Claes’ death last summer, Andersen concluded that the hotel needed some serious improvements. “I’ve heard the hotel called ‘the grand lady of Laguna Beach,’” she said. “This is her facelift.” Following some additional storm damage this winter, plans for a major renovation were set in motion.

In its various incarnations, the iconic Hotel Laguna located at 425 S. Coast Highway dates back more than a century. Its rooms overlooking the Laguna shoreline have provided idyllic getaways for foreign dignitaries to Hollywood’s brightest stars. It is the oldest and easily the most recognizable establishment in town. In 1930, it was rebuilt in the style it maintains today, a California Mission-style with Spanish arches and its signature bell tower.

As part of the remodel, Andersen turned to friend and art consultant Evalyn Daniel-Putnam for assistance determining the amenities that would create the hotel’s new look. With input from others, she suggested using photographs taken behind the scenes at the Pageant of the Masters as design accents in public spaces and in the hotel’s rooms.

Once the alliance was approved, a series of color photographs was selected from the Pageant’s archives and printed on fine art paper in large scale. The photographs showcase the stage magic that goes into transforming three-dimensional sets and costumed-and-made-up cast members into artful illusions.

 “There’s something magical about the images,” Festival of Arts marketing director Sharbie Higuchi said. “They make you aware you’re in the presence of Laguna’s art and history.”

“We make a good team,” Andersen said of the collaboration with Daniel-Putnam and Higuchi.

The hotel’s facelift is expected to be completed by early fall, culminating with an open house and celebration. Andersen is also planning a conceptual makeover for the hotel’s Claes Restaurant, which will be renamed Claes’ Ovation. It will now feature small plates and a three-course prix fixe menu especially designed for visitors on their way to the art festivals and the 8:30 p.m. pageant, where performances begin July 7.

In another nod to tradition, Andersen’s son, Stefan, who recently received his undergraduate degree in hotel management, will be returning to Hotel Laguna to carry on in the family business.

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