By Hunter Fuentes and Jon Stordahl
We all know the idiom, “It never hurts to ask.” That is exactly how Clark and Greg Collins acquired the place they’ve called home for the past decade. The two men had long admired the striking home, which sits on a large lot near the corner of El Bosque and Wilson. The house had been a rental for several years, so they decided to reach out to the owner to ask if she might be interested in selling. It turns out she was.
Clark has built a successful business both constructing new and restoring vintage homes. His work can be seen all over town and in other Southland communities. His real love is preserving classic structures by sensitively updating features to meet modern expectations without sacrificing character. He brought this philosophy to his service on the city’s Heritage Committee as well as to his personal residence. In a 2016 interview in the Orange County Register, he pondered, ‘How could we make this a house that would work in the 21st century without destroying the 1940s look?’ He and Greg sure found a solution.
The home they share with their two sons, Jackson and Sawyer, is affectionately called the “Barn.” You approach the front door by strolling through a large garden space that feels almost rural, an appropriate setting for a barn. You pass through the entry and step into the namesake space, a redwood-paneled room with beamed ceilings soaring to seventeen feet high. The family lived in the house for a year to think about what adaptations were needed to preserve the home’s integrity while making it suitable for modern needs. In their remodel, they relocated the kitchen to the heart of the house, creating a great entertaining space. The old kitchen and a small bedroom became the primary suite. An old cast iron tub, original to the home, was relocated to the master bath. New bedrooms and bathrooms were carved out of the old primary bedroom for the boys. In 2019, Clark and Greg voluntarily placed their restored home on the city’s Register.
The controversial mid-century poet Ezra Pound once noted, “Owning a home is like crafting your own personal masterpiece.” Clark and Greg wanted to raise their family in a home with history. The house was built by Isaac J. Frazee, the man credited with being the first artist to commemorate Laguna on canvas. Born in Indiana in 1858, his family moved to California in 1873 when the West was still a little wild. They settled in San Bernardino. In 1878, at age 20, Isaac found his way to the Laguna coastline and made a series of sketches. It was a short visit, but it created a lingering memory.
The Frazee’s built three very unique residences, each a masterpiece in its own way, that captured their free-spirited nature. Isaac and his wife, Bettie, settled on an isolated, expansive property in Moosa Canyon in north San Diego County around 1890. Both eccentric, they eventually built a 3-story stone castle, perched high on a granite outcrop, reminiscent of Scotland. They raised seven children there.
In the early 1920s, Isaac and Bettie felt they were too old to maintain the Moosa castle and decided to relocate to Laguna Beach. The art community immediately embraced them, and they became friends with all the early artistic luminaries of the town. They presented the “Peace Pipe Pageant,” a play written by Isaac Frazee that celebrated the culture of the native people of California in both 1921 and 1927 to help raise funds for the construction of the Laguna Art Museum. Staged in the Fairy Woods of Laguna Canyon, the performances drew hundreds of spectators. Its success led to the development of the Pageant of the Masters in 1933.
Isaac and Bettie spent the 1930s in a cottage on Lombardy Lane. He wrote poems that appeared regularly in the old Laguna Beach Life and later a regular column called “Lombardy Lane” in the South Coast News. In 1940 he commissioned Ernst Zepelin Springe, a local civil engineer, to design a barnlike structure on a large lot that is rumored to have been donated to him by a grateful community. It is that house that the Collins family now calls home. Joseph Kleitsch painted a portrait of Isaac Frazee. Clark and Greg purchased the work from Isaac’s grandson, and it hangs in the Barn once more.
This home is again alive with art and creativity, be it the residential design work of Clark or the boys’ thriving Christmas ornament firm, Iconic Ornaments. Jackson and Sawyer even donate part of their profits to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, giving back to the community. It truly is a masterpiece. We think Isaac, who lived a life focused on beauty, family, and service, would like that.
Hunter Fuentes is a local resident and realtor with Compass in Laguna Beach, specializing in historic architecture. Jon Stordahl has lived in Laguna for over 20 years and is a retired history teacher. You can reach Hunter and Jon at [email protected] and [email protected].