Letter: Good News for Hotel Laguna

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Good news! The Planning Commission insists on a comprehensive plan for the Hotel Laguna and more sensitivity to historic design.

On Jan. 4, the Planning Commission held the first public hearing on an application for work on the Hotel Laguna–after nearly five years of Honarkar’s Laguna Beach Company control of the hotel, and following numerous requests from the City and public for a comprehensive plan for its restoration. This application was for the partial treatment of the exterior—paint colors (gray and buff) and dark bronze anodized aluminum replacement windows.

Speakers Cathy Jurca of the Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition and Ann Christoph and Anne Caenn of Village Laguna urged the Commissioners to require a comprehensive review of all proposed work on the Hotel, objecting to the City’s piecemeal approach, which is in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. They urged the Commission specifically to reject the wholly inappropriate window treatment and to require design and materials that better match the original detailing of the building.

We are delighted to report that the Planning Commissioners politely but firmly refused to approve the application. They insisted that an overall plan showing all the elements of the proposed work is required before any decisions about the exterior can be made. They rejected the proposed contemporary-looking windows as inappropriate. They further established that the early views of the hotel as originally constructed (1930s) were to be used as the models and pointed out a number of details from early photographs that should be considered for restoration. The project was continued until Mar. 1.

We revere the Hotel Laguna as a community landmark, but it is also of national significance, and is listed on the California Register of Historical Resources and has been determined eligible for the National Register for its role in the history of Laguna’s development as a vacation destination and as the work of master architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who is best known for his national park lodges including the Ahwahnee Hotel at Yosemite.  

Designed in the Mission Revival style, the Hotel has undergone changes and additions, many of which have detracted from the original design. These include the replacement of the original wood-hung windows with aluminum versions, removal of arched windows and obscuring or removal of characteristic sculptural detailing.

After Mo Honarkar’s Laguna Beach Company negotiated a 99-year lease for the hotel, construction has been performed without permits, without a comprehensive plan, and without public discussion of the proposed alterations, despite the obvious historical significance of this property. Stop work orders have been issued, the Coastal Commission has intervened, and the Orange County District Attorney found that the City Council violated the Brown Act open meeting law.

We are grateful that now the hotel’s future is being reviewed in a public forum, and that the commission is carefully considering the important preservation issues at stake in this building. We hope that the City follows their direction toward a more sensitive and appreciative approach to historic preservation and that this process will broaden our community’s understanding and support of authentic historic preservation.

Anne Caenn, President, Village Laguna

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I am surprised about the lack of coverage of this hearing in the local papers. It was rather a big deal given community outrage over the developer’s and the City’s secretive handling of this historic property. The Commissioners did a great job providing feedback on the proposed work and advocating for a more sensitive treatment of this iconic building (in other words, just because the developer’s paid historic consultant says dark bronze anodized window replacements are just fine doesn’t mean they are). Their 5-0 vote not to require a comprehensive plan before approving more work was very welcome and something the city should have required from the outset.

  2. I don’t understand why Anne Caenn continues to repeat the falsehood that “the Orange County District Attorney found that the City Council violated the Brown Act open meeting law.” It is a matter of public record that neither the District Attorney nor his office did any such thing. An assistant district attorney made this allegation based solely on a conversation with George Weiss. Our City Attorney noted this fact in his response to the assistant district attorney in which also disputed the allegation. In the subsequent communications, no one asserted or admitted that the City Council had violated the Brown Act meeting law.

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