Signs Point the Way to Town’s History

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Art colony street sign organizers, from left, Betsy Jenkins, Bill Atkins, Bob Whalen, Genny Boccardo and Malcolm Warner show off one of the replacement signs. Photo by dondee Quincena.
Art colony street sign organizers, from left, Betsy Jenkins, Bill Atkins, Bob Whalen, Genny Boccardo and Malcolm Warner show off one of the replacement signs. Photo by Dondee Quincena.

Six Laguna Beach streets named after some of its early artists will soon be marked with signs distinctive from any other in town, displaying a vintage look, lettering that reads “Historic Laguna Beach Art Colony” and including the dates of the artists’ lifespan.

The road signs are part of the Laguna Art Museum’s 100thanniversary and were conceived by its executive director, Malcolm Warner, to inspire visitors and residents to learn more about the town’s history and the roles the artists played in the city’s development and culture.

Other streets in town also owe their origin to the area’s earliest settlers and inadvertent mistakes, according to a historian consulted on the museum sign project.

Besty Jenkins, co-chair of the museum’s centennial committee, brought the street sign idea to City Council member Bob Whalen. “He thought it fit in with the signage projects the city was already doing,” said Jenkins, who turned for design help to Bill Atkins, a graphic designer and Sawdust Festival exhibitor. The city is footing the $4,589 bill to make and install the 29 signs, Shohreh Dupuis, the city’s public works director, said.


The Artist Pioneers

Two of the streets slated for new signage are Cuprien Way and Hill Street, formerly Hills Street. Their namesakes, artists Anna Hills and Frank Cuprien, along with Edgar Payne in 1918 founded the organization that gave rise to today’s current museum, the Laguna Beach Art Association.

Payne served as the association’s first president and drew other artists to the community.  Hills succeeded him and led fundraising to build the permanent exhibit space that remains the museum’s central gallery. Developer Howard Heisler sold the association land on Cliff Drive at half its market value and many artists donated the proceeds from their paintings for the construction costs. Cuprien, who died in 1948, donated his estate to the cause.

Replacement signs will soon be installed on several streets named after early artists
Replacement signs will soon be installed on several streets named after early artists

A new sign will also embellish Wendt Terrace. Claire Marie Vogel calls plein air painter William Wendt the “dean of California artists,” in her book, “Images of Laguna Beach.”

Galen Drive, named for William Galen Doss, a contemporary of Wendt and Cuprien, will receive a new sign as well. Doss’s obituary, written by early art colony members, recollects his many walks with Cuprien. “The two often argued about art in loud and sometimes angry tones,” it said, “but they always remained good friends.”

William Griffith, for whom Griffith Way was named, was another contemporary of the association’s founders. He served as its president in the ‘20s.

The sixth tribute sign marks Hinkle Place, named for Clarence Hinkle, who taught painting in 1922 and maintained a studio and home here until 1935. “We chose the most well-known artists,” Jenkins said.

A few other streets in town also are named for artists, though the museum signage plans don’t extend to them. Nyes Place and Osgood Court are named for artists, watercolorist Vernon Nye and Ruth Osgood, respectively. Osgood was president of the Laguna art Association in 1964 and helped create the Art Institute of Southern California, now Laguna College of Art and Design.

The Homesteaders

Some residents may know that streets named Brooks, Goff and Thurston are attributable to the early homesteaders, who settled in Laguna before the artists arrived. Perhaps lesser known is L.C. McKnight for whom McKnight Drive, near Crescent Bay, was named. He along with Heisler developed the 1906 subdivision known as Laguna Cliffs, Laguna Beach Historical Society member Gene Felder said.

Along the coast bluff top in North Laguna, 18.5 acres were planted areas, meandering paths, viewpoints, gazebos and access ways to the ocean. By 1929, Heisler was re-considering his offer to dedicate the land for a park. Entrepreneur Elmer Jahraus, owner of Laguna’s lumberyard, filed suit against Heisler to stop the proposed development. He won and a smaller park nearby bears Jahraus’ name. A bronze sculpture by Anna Hills tops a stone drinking fountain at the foot of the park.

Wilson Street is named in honor of George Wilson, an early elected official. He owned  Aliso View Grocery and tent camp, located at the present site of the Montage resort. Thomas Cummings, Laguna’s first mayor, lends his name to Cummings Place. He helped establish the Laguna Beach Water District and an entrance to Laguna Coast Wilderness Park also bears his name.

The Esteemed

Local history buff Eric Jessen, who Warner consulted to catalogue streets bearing artists names, discovered a “gold mine” of street information in a 1945 document unearthed by the city clerk. It lists streets named for artists, some of which never actually visited Laguna Beach. The art colony artists named streets for peers they admired, Warner explained. They include Frank Brangwyn, Anthony Van Dyck, Frank Drummond Allison, James Ward, Rosa Bonheur and Thomas Gainsborough, for whom a drive, a way and a place are all named.

A Road by Any Other Name Would be as Clogged

Jessen also postulates that the town’s main artery, originally christened Coast Boulevard, was inadvertently renamed North and South Coast Highway by Caltrans staff when ordering new signs. “Ordinance No. 0249, Section 149, names it Coast Boulevard,” Jessen said. “These are the official names, not Coast Highway.”

Museum Anniversary

The new street signs await installation, expected sometime before the museum’s anniversary bash Saturday, Aug. 25, marking the exact day of the association’s founding a century ago. The museum will host a free day with art activities, exhibition tours and cake, of course.


In the June 15 edition, the story  “Signs Point the Way to Town’s History,” the designer of a bronze sculpture in Jahraus Park was incorrectly identified. The sculpture was designed by Ruth Peabody and cast by Italian sculptor Guido Neill.


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