The Way We Were
The pandemic has necessarily stifled our social life. Yours too, I bet. I’m not the most social guy, but the Beautiful Wife loves people. Reading about Laguna’s social life in the mid-1920s left me in a wistful mood. I thought you’d enjoy it also.
Laguna was coming alive in 1925. There’s a newspaper, “Laguna Life,” and a boardwalk from Heisler Point to Joe Yoch’s Laguna Beach Hotel where Duke Kahanamoku, a five-time Olympic swimming medalist, is visiting. The Duke will later introduce surfing and volleyball. A motorcycle hill-climbing event in the canyon is expected to draw an incredible 50,000. Laguna is getting on the map.
And it’s getting the modern amenities. The people, just 352 voters, approved a water system bond and a sewer system will follow. The town has electricity, the Laguna Beach Telephone Company is building its first facility, and there’s a town meeting to discuss piping gas to the homes. Things are happening fast and the Chamber of Commerce wants Laguna to incorporate.
Transportation is improving too; the County has promised to grade and oil Laguna’s dirt roads. The state has started work on Coast Highway, linking Laguna to Long Beach and San Diego with a concrete road. There’s even an airport, a dirt strip down on the Moulton Ranch, along Salt Creek. T. Claude Ryan’s nascent San Diego-Los Angeles Airline is stopping for passengers and a Navy plane has paid a visit.
But it’s the village’s social life that catches my attention. Investors are building the “best dance hall in Orange County” on Main Beach, with a 100 by 100-foot dance floor costing $60,000. The whole town comes to the grand opening; the newspaper says over 1,000 people were there to celebrate and dance the night away (at five cents a dance).
There’s more dancing going on. Catherine Skidmore Brooks, a Laguna founder, twice a widow, and in her sixties, decides to throw a party. They roll back the living room rug, hire a jazz band, and everyone dances their hearts out. There was a grand dinner, then all gather around the piano and sang songs. The reporter observes, “It is striking what a kick people get out of singing in chorus.” The good times are rolling in Laguna.
At the recent Christmas tree lighting I learned Laguna has an orchestra. I didn’t know that. Chatting with a member, we spoke of times past when people got together to dance to live music. When the pandemic’s status is reduced to endemic, why don’t we get back to dancing? Like in the song by Cher, “I Saw a Man and He Danced with His Wife.” We’ve got an orchestra and we’ve got places, like the social halls of our churches, or the Susi Q Center. Let’s get together and dance. If tiny Laguna mustered over 1,000 dancers in 1926, what could we do now? Then we can gather around the piano and sing. Being social is what makes us a community. 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]