Opinion: Left of Center

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Not Going to the Dogs At All: Arnold Hano’s 99th

By Jean Hastings Ardell

Arnold Hano has been in the news lately. Trudy Josephson’s guest column in last week’s issue acknowledged his role in re-educating the town’s whites-only barbershops about its anti-discrimination statute, which meant the Black residents no longer had to drive to Santa Ana or Long Beach for a haircut. Truth is Hano has been in the news ever since he, his wife Bonnie, daughter Laurel, and beagle pup Cleo settled here in 1955.  That’s why a proclamation in his honor has been submitted to City Manager John Pietig. And that’s why birthday cards have been accumulating from longtime friends, neighbors, and colleagues, including one from Bob Gentry, Laguna’s mayor 40 years ago, and his husband Dennis, from Hawaii. Having received their second COVID-19 shots, the Hanos are now freer to do what they enjoy—socialize around town. On Tuesday, they were surprised by friends with a luncheon celebration on the Promenade on Forest for Arnold’s 99th birthday. Newcomers to town and curmudgeons might ask, “Why all the fuss? Plenty of nonagenarians around these days.”

But not like Arnold Hano. I believe this because each Saturday my husband and I read this newspaper to the Hanos. When we’re done reading the news stories, letters to the editor, and columns, we talk… and talk. Arnold remains passionate and knowledgeable about what’s going on in town and in the world. On our last visit, he reminisced about his 65 years in Laguna. Arnold is above all a writer, having started out young on the streets of New York City publishing and distributing rewrites with his elder brother Alfie of the lurid mob murders that frequently made the tabloids. He made his name as a sportswriter to the extent that I’ve seen venerable sports historians rise up and applaud when they find out he is in the room, because they recall reading and being influenced as kids by his work. His book, A Day in the Bleachers, an account of Game 1 of the 1954 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and his beloved New York Giants, is considered a classic. How fitting that Arnold’s birthday coincides with the first week of Organized Baseball’s Spring Training games.

Arnold quickly fell for Laguna’s village atmosphere and spoke with the editor of the Laguna Beach Post, Bud Desenberg, about writing a regular column. “That’s going to be tough,” he was told, “because people see you as Jew out of New York, and that makes you a Communist.” Maybe that’s one reason God invented pseudonyms; hence in 1961 “Woody Cove” began publishing his observations about what was happening in town. And plenty was happening. Like the rest of Orange County, Laguna Beach was poised for growth. Arnold wrote against the eyesore of billboards posted on bucolic Laguna Canyon Road; a proposed marina; and the plan to run the Coast Freeway through town. Let’s remember that Arnold was instrumental in preventing Laguna’s oceanfront from becoming Miami Beach West. “The City Council, Planning Commission, Chamber of Commerce, and the Board of Realtors envisioned rezoning for high-rise buildings from Broadway to Bluebird Canyon Road,” he said. “All we had on our side was the people.”

So the people organized, creating an initiative to establish the 36-foot height limit we have today. The turnout was 3 to 1 in favor, carrying every precinct. As Arnold later wrote, “I went home [and] mixed myself a very dry martini.” The next day the Los Angeles Times reported that Laguna “had become the first city in America to use the initiative process to establish a citywide building height limit.”

What many of us don’t know is how the group was able to mobilize voters for that initiative. It had to do with dogs. According to Hano, Councilman Ed Lorr detested the hippies and their dogs that frequented Laguna in 1970 and got the City Council to pass an emergency ordinance banning dogs from all city parks and beaches.

“We had tried to get him off the council for opposing the Laguna Greenbelt, but what galvanized people was the ban on dogs,” Hano said. The people gathered signatures for a referendum and a reasonable compromise was reached. It was that list of people—the dog lovers of Laguna Beach—that became the base for Village Laguna, founded in 1971. Those who rail against Village Laguna today have only their dogs to blame, so no more picking on Arnold.


The Dog Parade at Main Beach in September 1970. Courtesy of the Richard Challis collection.
Richard Challis and Evelyn Munro during a protest at Main Beach. Courtesy of the Richard Challis collection.

Many of the issues Arnold faced back then remain with us today: Undergrounding telephone poles; “stagnation” downtown; historic preservation, and, sadly, bigotry. I celebrate Arnold and his dedication to keeping Laguna a village. May he inspire a new generation of activists who understand the wisdom in this. The dogs of Laguna need that. So do the people.

Happy Birthday, Arnold.

Jean is a Laguna Beach resident and member of Third Street Writers.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Bravo to Arnold on his accomplishments and for reaching such a ripe old age. And bravo to Jean for such a lovely story!

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