The Slant


Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Lawyers

By: Roderick Reed
By: Roderick Reed

The look on everyone’s face confirmed it. She looked sad as she said, “Laguna Beach has become Beverly Hills of the beach.” I thought about it for a moment. It does seem that things have changed for a ritzy side since the show “Laguna Beach” spread its cancer here about 10 years ago. One of my neighbors tells me in those days teenagers could be seen in Hummer limos around town while sporting Fendi bags on their shoulder. This is so “not” Laguna. Or is this what it has become? Those types of imagery were the thought of some producer wanting to inject their culture into the show for the sake of flashy story telling. Some of that culture stayed even after the show left. Newcomers don’t know any better.

This was no ordinary conversation I was having. I was attending a recent event at the visionary Bluebird Farms, owned by the Tenney family in Bluebird Canyon. The event was in honor of old school Laguna artist Roger Van De Vanter. Roger lived on Bluebird Farms for about 20 years in the ‘60s and ‘70s, back when it was just a piece of Laguna land where artists lived. The crowd was mostly artists, old friends and admirers of the inspired potter. I wanted to know everything; I found my way nosily into conversations and got to hear recollection of “the way it was.”

As the topic evolved, others expanded on the thought. Another said Laguna has become too perfect. “Staged” was the word he used. “Things now are too planned,” he added. Planned is a word I hate when used to describe a town. This is a word “visionaries” in Mission Viejo, Newport Coast and Irvine like. Laguna is great because it is unplanned, it has evolved and developed its unique patina and style over time. I wonder if some day we will look back on this town before the proposed gateway project and think about how “townsey” it used to be here. Will we look sadly at our town and reminisce at the way it was before our leaders hired out of town consultants to inject their version of our unique culture into the planning process? Don’t get me wrong; parking is a huge issue and needs to be addressed. I personally would like to discourage cars from downtown, period. We should charge a toll to drive a car into downtown for non-residents. Other cities do it. Park them in the canyon. Make a big gravel lot for parking. It doesn’t need to be perfect; just good enough. We can always evolve it to a cement Disneyland like structure later. Will the idea for curvy strolling paths fronting the Festival of Arts grounds, coupled with perfect plantings, indeed make it seem more like Beverly Hills by the beach? The rough around the edges quality we have is what makes Laguna Beach charming and real. Not a contrived version of a Southern California beach town. But I digress.

Old school artists and pals Jon Stokesbury, left, and Roger Van De Vanter, at the recent Bluebird Farms get-together.
Old school artists and pals Jon Stokesbury, left, and Roger Van De Vanter, at the recent Bluebird Farms get-together.

Many of the people attending the event don’t live here anymore. “Oh, full time artists can’t really afford to live in Laguna anymore,” one said. How sad I thought. I can’t think of one place I have ever been where there are so many talented and profoundly creative people in one place. All who have defected.

An election is coming. I would like our city leaders to ask themselves a core question. Are we a small coastal art town, or are we an aspiring Downtown Disney by the beach? If we are indeed a small coastal art town, we need to work with the reality of that. Consider limiting growth, understand that we have to manage autos and have the vision to limit them. We should encourage ventures that support and nurture art and our small town culture.

The day has come that we have let some of our best creative minds leave for bluer beaches. Where is the new younger generation of Sawdust Festival artists awaiting their turn at the art show throne? Most of the artists are old timers. Laguna Beach is slowly becoming a caricature of itself. Not only by the doing of Hollywood but by our own leadership.

Lagunans, don’t let your babies grow up to be lawyers. We need creative people. Perhaps one of your sons or daughters is the next Roger Van De Vanter. Maybe we can save the creative soul of Laguna Beach for them.


Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach. He lives in town with his wife Kathy and two sons Mason and Jack.

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