Letter: Preserve the Historic Sewer Digester

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The mission of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy is to protect and preserve Laguna Canyon. Our board would like to strongly urge the City Council to do whatever possible to keep the oldest and most notable landmark that stands at the junction where the canyon meets our downtown—the digester.

Ever since it was built in 1935, this distinctive structure has served as a sentinel for both tourists and locals, and it has captured the interest of many of our world-class plein air painters who lived and visited here for decades.

The digester’s importance as a historic building is unparalleled in town, since it is not only on the City Historic Register, but was a PWA (Public Works Administration) project funded by the New Deal in 1933. With most of the country trying to preserve PWA structures, it would be unbelievable if Laguna Beach proceeded to demolish its PWA building.

We encourage the Council to shift its energy and resources away from finding reasons to demolish it and instead make a commitment to renovating and repurposing the structure into a dynamic part of our downtown. At a minimum, consider using the $90,000 the city is considering spending to justify tearing it down to instead paint and enhance the exterior until a lasting plan for the digester can be put into place. Our town, especially the canyon, is defined by its quirky and unconventional structures and architecture. If this landmark is destroyed, an irreplaceable piece of our identity and legacy will be erased.

Many residents support keeping this iconic building, and as those elected to represent their wishes, we believe it’s the Council’s responsibility to explore all options.

We are heartened to learn about a proposal by the MacGillivray family and Mark Christy to offer significant funds ($500,000) and services (managing the premises to the standard of The Ranch) to restore the digester and develop it into a sustainable project. And we hope the city will do whatever it can to contribute the necessary funds to make this successful.

As a community known for fighting to retain our unique soul and history, we expect the Council will find or support a vision and plan to keep the digester intact so future generations will never forget what Laguna Beach is all about. Let’s work together to restore and repurpose this building to be a commanding focal point for the canyon and new Village Entrance.

Harry Huggins, Laguna Canyon Conservancy President

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