Opinion: The Painting Postman of Laguna and His Neighbors 

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By Annlia Hill

Situated on a knoll above Park Avenue, Manzanita Drive overlooks the ocean and Laguna Beach High School. It is just a few minutes walk from the beach and downtown. But one feature most loved is the sense of community. 

One of the oldest houses on “the hill” is 739 Manzanita. It appears in an old (about 1927) photo with only three others: 731, 769 and 791. This was the home of Roscoe Lloyd Babcock, the Painting Postman of Laguna. A Kansas native, Colorado cowboy and WWI army private, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before coming to California in 1920. In the mid-1930s, he settled in Laguna Beach and furthered his art studies with Laguna artists, including William Galen Doss (“Dean of the Laguna Beach Art Colony”). Employed as a letter carrier, he painted in his leisure time and then full-time after retiring from the Postal Service in 1960. In addition to solo shows, he exhibited at the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts (1936-1973). His works are held by Laguna Beach American Legion, Laguna Beach High School and Hoag Hospital Newport Beach. In 1978 the house was purchased by southern Californian Jack Watson and his wife Marilyn, who lived here until 2008. 

The four oldest houses on Manzanita Drive circa 1927. Submitted photo

Babcock’s neighbors were Thomas and Maybelle Mills, who retired in the late 1930s to Laguna Beach at 769 Manzanita. A former orange grove rancher in Redlands (1920s) and a wholesale candy merchant in L.A. (1930s), Thomas and his wife’s time here were short, dying in the early 1950s. The current owner, June, has lived in the eclectic two-story house with its steeply-pitched roof, wooden shingle siding and wooden stoop entry for more than 40 years. 

731 Manzanita sits high on the steeply-sloping hillside and is hidden behind an arched gate. Thirty-some steps through the garden lead you from the street to the house. The house has a large front-facing gable with sweeping eaves. Babcock’s neighbor here was Joseph Bishop, an insurance appraiser, who lived here until his death in 1948. Following several other owners, the Alan Boudrot family purchased the property and, in the late 1980s, refurbished the house, maintaining its cottage charm. 

Previously mentioned (June 16 Indy edition) as living at 791 Manzanita was artist Norman Chamberlain. Joyce Hoffman, a later owner, is a surfing star, winning honors at an early age. In 1966, at only 19, she was voted the best women surfer in the world by the International Surfing Hall of Fame. Hobie Surfboards introduced the Joyce Hoffman signature model in 1967, while Triumph gave her a Spitfire coupe. She was the first woman to surf the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii (1968). A life-size statue and mural in Dana Point (her birthplace) honor Hoffman. “I hope I just keep surfing into the sunset. As I like to say, my wave is getting a little smaller, and it’s a little closer to shore, but I’m still riding it as much as I can.” 

Those are the four oldest houses on the street, but all are less than 100 years old. Not to be outdone is the oldest resident on Manzanita ‒ 102-year-old Velma Sun Fletcher. Velma and her daughter Kaiyu Sun reside at 816 Manzanita. Kaiyu is the great-granddaughter of Sun Yat-sen. A Chinese statesman, physician and political philosopher. Sun Yat-sen served as the first provisional president of the Republic of China (1912). Kaiyu grew up in Laguna with her mother and father, Tse Kiong Sun, who graduated from LBHS and moved to this address in 1972. Destroyed in the 1993 Laguna firestorm, the house was rebuilt with portions, literally done by Kaiyu herself. 

Manzanita ‒ a special place with special people. 

Annlia is a 50-year resident of Laguna Beach and married to a fourth-generation Lagunan. Having walked nearly every street and alley in town, she has observed firsthand the artistic charm and imagination of residents.

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