By Allison Jarrell, Special to the Independent
An often overlooked commercial strip in Laguna Beach’s art festival district in Laguna Canyon is getting a makeover, with swaths of color beginning to dapple the sides of buildings to kick off what organizers are calling the Summer of Color.
The blooming murals represent a new chapter for the 805-856 Laguna Canyon Road property, formerly known as the Festival Center but recently rebranded as The Hive. The 20,000-square-foot property, previously owned by resident Mark Orgill and recently acquired by resident Mo Honarkar, was originally constructed in the late 1960s and was developed by Orgill about 20 years ago.
Orgill said Honarkar appreciated his vision for a vibrant contribution to the arts district and offered to partner with him to make it a reality.
“Originally what was envisioned was pretty vague; it was supposed to just be a platform to accommodate all things creative,” Orgill said. “But now it’s just going to kind of morph and grow organically.”
Currently, the commercial center is home to eight local businesses, with room for 12. Tenants include Kitchen in the Canyon, a satellite location for Laguna College of Art and Design’s virtual reality department, and Laguna Beach Beer Company, which anticipates opening late this month.
Orgill would like to lure other creative businesses to the district and triple the amount of housing available for students and artists. Currently, there are 50 LCAD students housed on an adjacent property.
The college would welcome housing for another 20 freshmen students who each year end up on a waitlist, LCAD President Jonathan Burke said. Extra housing for other artists would help foster a “vital and creative” community in that area, he said.
Zoning presently only allows artist live-work housing in the area, but a review underway of the city’s downtown specific plan could include recommendations to allow other housing types, said Greg Pfost, the city’s community development director.
“The Planning Commission has expressed a desire to see more housing in the downtown area,” Pfost said. Land use revisions in the area would need approval by the City Council and Coastal Commision.
To generate some excitement about the rebranding of the plaza, Orgill, his wife Dora Wexell, Honarkar and his daughter, Hasty, approached local art experts Torrey Cook and Ben Rubin to curate and commission a series of murals within the area.
The murals are privately funded by the Honarkars, who are longtime residents of Laguna Beach.
Mr. Honarkar is the founding chief executive of 4G Ventures, which in recent years liquidated its holdings in cell phone stores to invest in other real estate ventures. Honarkar’s holdings include multiple properties in Laguna, including Royal Hawaiian restaurant, Seven Degrees event center, 14 West Boutique Hotel, Holiday Inn, several multi-unit vacation rentals and Art-A-Fair,according to 4G Ventures’ online portfolio.
In 2016, Honarkar bought an apartment building at 694 N. Coast Highway and caught the attention of the community as renovation included painting over the “Charming” mural, done by British street artist Ben Eine. Honarkar said at the time that he was working on replacing the mural with new art.
Honarkar is also the founding chief executive of Laguna Creative Ventures,with Orgill as a managing partner and Hasty Honarkar as vice president. Their task is managing the Art-A-Fair building and Hive commercial center. Their efforts to dress up the exterior with a series of temporary murals received the approval of the Arts Commission on March 26.
Cook, founder of the now-closed contemporary art gallery Artists Republic, and Rubin, owner of fine art print studio Elephants and Castles, used their connections to attract muralists.
“I wanted to have a variety of artists that have styles that I think would fit the area, but also push the envelope a little bit,” said Cook.
“Mo and Hasty are trying to infuse vibrancy into the art scene and bring it up to date,” Rubin said. “It’s not the normal art you’d expect to see in Laguna.”
Hasty Honarkar said she’s happy to give local and global artists a canvas to work on.
“I want to inspire the locals, but I also would like to see more people come and visit and see that Laguna is still very much an art colony and open to all of these different styles of art,” Ms. Honarkar said. “I’d love to see more artists relocate here and know that there are people who are going to support their work.”
Brent Reynard and Rob McClaire, of the Laguna Beach Beer Company, said they’re excited about the mural artist Beau Stanton created on their building. Stanton, a Dana Point native and ’08 LCAD graduate, completed the piece this past Saturday, April 28.
With a vibrant blue and orange color scheme, Stanton said he wanted his Laguna mural to reflect the sea. The multifaceted piece incorporates some Art Deco and historic references and offers different experiences as viewers move around the building.
Stanton’s mural joins other recently completed works at the center, including an abstract, minimalist mural by San Francisco-based artist Chad Hasegawa, which was inspired by a large boulder in Laguna Canyon, and a floral portrait painted by San Clemente-based artist Brett Crawford, which is meant to convey the relationship between humanity and nature.
Another work in progress belongs to artist James Thistlethwaite, of Chester, England, who graduated from LCAD last year. Thistlethwaite has been working on his all-charcoal piece over the last month, and when it’s completed, Cook said it will be one of the largest hand-drawn murals in the United States.
Residents and tourists can expect to see more murals popping up within the next few weeks. Eventually, the Art-A-Fair building will also be painted by renowned Spanish artist Okuda as part of the project.
The May 4 article, “Murals Remake a Hidden Streetscape,” about a commercial center in Laguna Canyon recently renamed The Hive, incorrectly reported who was responsible for a mosaic on the building’s façade. The installation took place under the previous owner, Gary Sauter.