A retired Los Angeles police officer was parked in Laguna’s prettiest parking lot—it’s a nook surrounded with flowers, vines, an oak and a red flowering eucalyptus. Designed by local landscape architect James Dockstader, it is part of the South Laguna streetscape project advocated by the South Laguna Civic Association since the 1980s. The only planted medians on Coast Highway in Laguna Beach and the street trees are part of that project, too.
There is the bronze sculpture of early Native Americans by Jorge Fernandez. He imagined them seeing the coast after a long journey and saying, “Yes, this is the place,” as they gaze at the rugged landscape abundant with sea life. This is the same affirmation we say to ourselves every day, thinking that if we are grateful enough, perhaps we will be allowed to stay here tomorrow, too and many days thereafter. The sculpture has become something of a shrine. Passers-by show their respect by placing flowers in the arms of the figures. The flowers are always there no matter the season.
This space is an affirmation in itself—if you give people beauty, they will give beauty back.
We started chatting with the retired policeman who now lives in Laguna Niguel. He extolled the beauty of Laguna, but he, having seen the less well-behaved element of society his whole career, followed that positive view with, “It’s too bad the visitors leave trash everywhere and don’t respect the area.” I’m sure there’s truth in that because loads of trash are carted away every day, and not all of it has been carefully placed in the proper receptacles. The police blotter recites all manner of misdeeds.
But there’s another side, too.
The people who park near our house have been so happy to be here. They have made it away from the oppressive heat. On the way down the hill, they imagine the beauty, the cool breezes, waves and shining water. They take pains not to offend. “Is it ok to park here?” “Thanks for letting us park.” On Saturday, one young man was already a block downhill from his car when he passed me trudging up the hill. “I talked to Jon,” he told me. “And he said it was ok to park there. I don’t want to intrude.” (I hadn’t even asked!) He was so cheerful returning from the beach when we had just returned from the grocery store. “Can I help you with those bags?” he offered.
Alfredo asked his usual question of another couple, “Was the water wet?” “Yes, wet and cold and so clear,” she laughed. They loaded up their car, turned around and drove past us as we took the bags to our gate. “Is that your house? It is so beautiful. So perfect, it just fits like it is supposed to be there, the prettiest house in Laguna…” she smiled and drove out of our lives, leaving her thoughts behind to savor.
That 1933 log house saved and appreciated had told a story and perhaps had inspired someone to consider the beauty of originality and craftsmanship. With bedrooms that are too small and no dishwasher, the house doesn’t meet many of today’s “standards,” but it has a value – a soul that no “upgraded” home can create.
We have many houses that are just as pretty or prettier, that speak that caring message just as loudly.
But we are losing them. The darling shingled cottage with the catslide roof at 434 Aster was demolished last month. The half-timbered façade of the Tudor-style house at 1902 Ocean Way was removed last week. “Upgraded” buildings are projected to follow.
Laguna has lessons to share with the world. That small and creative is more livable and delightful than big and trendy. That treasuring the gifts of nature and history enriches the spirit. That community gives our lives value. We are the messengers, saviors and ambassadors to a world that needs these lessons now more than ever.
Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor. She is also a long-time board member of Village Laguna, Inc.