By Allison Jarrell | LB Indy
Chip Harrell was a brother, a husband, a son, a father figure, and a friend to pretty much everyone he met.
So when The Sandpiper Lounge announced last week that Chip had passed on Sept. 4, it should be no surprise that more than 100 community members and Sandpiper patrons from across the state, and the country, expressed their sorrow over the loss of a friend and a true fixture of the Laguna Beach community.
Chip and his brother Chuck had owned the Sandpiper—known affectionately by locals as the Dirty Bird—since 1969. And if you ask Chuck, he’ll tell you that Chip attracted a diverse, fun crowd to the dive bar and was known for his quick wit and sense of humor.
“He was a character,” Chuck said with a grin. “He had great little sayings, ‘Chip-isms,’ like, ‘You can go to jail for lying just the same as you could for stealing.’ Or, ‘Nice talking to me.’”
Longtime friend Cal Hutchinson certainly remembers Chip’s jokes, since they were often aimed at him whenever he came around.
“He became a great teaser and would harass me continuously about my having been in the Marine Corps and him having been in the Army during Vietnam,” Hutchinson said with a laugh. “There was never a time that I didn’t see him that he didn’t say something about that—never.” Hutchinson recalled that even during his last visit to the hospital to see Chip, he called him a “jarhead.”
“We were friends who were always after each other, so to speak. When I would see him, it would be who could say something the worst about the other guy first.”
But it was always in good fun, Hutchinson said. He describes Chip as a very generous and friendly person who didn’t have a single enemy and “always had a smile on his face.”
Hutchinson said Chip brought a lot of “joviality” to the Sandpiper and was always working hard managing the place.
“I don’t know too many people who would not have absolutely loved him,” said Chip’s childhood friend Donnie Crevier. “He was a very easy guy to be around. He cared for other people. He was a friendly, upbeat guy who we all enjoyed hanging out with.”
Crevier and Chip went to school together in Laguna, and the two bonded quickly. Crevier said they were both raised by single moms, who happened to waitress together in town. They played football together in high school; surfed Brooks Street, Oak Street and St. Ann’s; and went to college together at Monterey Peninsula College. And of course, the two SoCal natives even braved the frigid temperatures to enjoy some surfing while they were up there.
In their later years, they bonded over thoroughbred horse racing, as they owned a couple horses together and enjoyed going to the track.
“He was a great athlete, a good competitor, but most of all a great friend,” Crevier said. “I feel very lucky to have had him in my life. We loved each other. We truly did, so I feel lucky to have had that.”
Francis Lightfoot Lee Harrell III—a.k.a Chip—was born on July 30, 1945.
Chip’s uncle opened the Sandpiper in 1942 and owned it for about 12 years. The bar was sold and changed hands four times before Chip and Chuck purchased the establishment in 1969. The brothers had just come home from serving in the military that year and were encouraged by their mother to “try the bar business.”
“We figured we spent enough time in ‘em, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to maybe own one!” Chuck laughed.
Chuck, Chip and their mother, Jeana, ran the bar from then on. They worked on expanding their live music offerings from twice a week to nightly, and they learned the ropes from veteran Sandpiper bartender Tommy Auble, who had been working there since 1955 (and stayed there until 1988). “He was kind of like our mentor,” Chuck said, adding that as a waitress, their mom knew quite a bit about the restaurant business, too.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to be in business with anyone else in the world other than [Chip] and my mom,” he beamed. “There’s nobody else I’d rather be in business with.”
Chuck said he’s been getting calls from across the country with condolences, as far as New York. Chip attracted good people, he said, and he had a local entourage of friends who appreciated his quick “Chip-isms.”
And if you’re wondering how Chip got to be so quick-witted, it all goes back to being a diligent notetaker.
“When he was younger, he’d go around hearing jokes, but he wouldn’t remember them,” Chuck recalled. “Then he started taking a little notepad around with him and he’d start writing. Got to be one of the best joke tellers around.”
A celebration of Chip’s life will take place Sunday, Sept. 23, from 3 p.m. until dark in the courtyard area near the Sandpiper.