Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Laguna Beach 1; Arch Beach 0

Here’s something I’ve often wondered: Why are we named “Laguna Beach” and not “Arch Beach”? It’s odd—if our coastline makes us special, Arch Beach had three times more (from Cleo Street to Upland Street). Arch Beach also had the much nicer Arch Beach Hotel (1887), the first fishing pier, and the first post office (1889). Even odder, the two towns were organized by brothers—Henry Goff (with George Rogers) in Laguna and Hub Goff in lovely Arch Beach. (Sleepy Hollow divided the nascent towns.) So, why did Laguna Beach prevail over Arch Beach? After appropriate head-scratching, here’s my conclusion.

First, a back story: There was a land boom in the 1880s driven by the arrival of the ATSF railroad. The Southern Pacific reached Los Angeles in 1875, but high fares stifled growth. The ATSF line reached the Santa Ana Valley in 1887 and competition triggered a fare war. At one point, you could buy a ticket west for a dollar. The result was a wave of immigrants seeking land with developers filing plats for “paper” cities.

It was intoxicating: Land was changing hands at ever higher prices and it seemed everyone would be rich. The bubble burst in late 1888 when nervous banks stopped lending, followed by the financial panic of 1893-1897. The two towns would slumber for a generation until Coast Highway opened in 1926 triggering another boom, but by then the winner was obvious.

Why did Laguna prevail over Arch Beach? I propose three reasons, in the order they appeared: Churches; Joseph Yoch, Laguna’s mainstay investor; and a newspaper, “Laguna Life,” founded 1915, to tell the story.

A church bonds people together. Laguna Canyon homesteaders organized the first church (1879-1896) that counted 60 members. In the 1880s, Riversiders formed a Sunday School that grew into the Laguna Presbyterian Church. Yoch bought the old Mormon Schoolhouse in 1908 for St. Joseph’s Catholic Church (later St. Catherine’s, after his wife). By contrast, no churches were built in Arch Beach. Christian Scientists gathered there in the early 1900s but their first building was in Laguna (today’s Hare Krishna Temple).

Investors build towns and Laguna had Yoch (1844-1926). Yoch immigrated to America where his family mined and shipped coal in Illinois. He moved to Santa Ana in 1878, reinventing himself as businessman and building a “spacious Italianate home flanked by orange groves and a grape arbor.” After the land boom, Yoch began buying Laguna properties, building a portfolio that included the Laguna Beach Hotel where he put his six daughters to work. Yoch, as much as anyone, could be considered the founder of Laguna Beach.

A newspaper is the heartbeat of a town, the first write and often the only record of its history. Our first newspaper was “Laguna Life,” founded 1915 and we’ve had one ever since; Arch Beach never had a newspaper. Churches, a patient investor, and a newspaper, that’s why we’re called Laguna Beach and not Arch Beach. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach”. Email: [email protected]

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