“What, me docent?” That was my thought a few years ago when I responded to “gentle persuasion” and agreed to serve as a docent for the Laguna Beach Charm House Tour. And I have to admit that I was surprised to discover that people – Lagunans and out-of-towners alike – would pay good money for voyeurism in other people’s homes, albeit for an extremely good cause. After my first experience as a docent, at Xanadu, a 1920’s cottage in Bluebird Canyon, I got it. The Charm House Tour showcases the best of Laguna, not real estate but real lives.
This year’s CHT, featuring the Canyon Acres neighborhood, was particularly poignant because of the devastation wrought by the ’93 fire and the can-do spirit of the residents in re-building out of the ashes. The lovely gardens, the art, artifacts and memorabilia make these homes so characteristically Laguna Beach. In the house where I was posted, aptly nicknamed Stairway to Heaven for its outdoor stepped garden and indoor spiral staircase, homeowner Stephanie Nelson was on hand throughout the afternoon to welcome visitors, answer questions (we docents have a limited fund of information, after all) and share reminiscences.
“Every picture tells a story,” as they say. A black-and-white photo taken in 1975 by Laguna artist and photographer Doug Miller shows Stephanie and husband Mike twirling to bluegrass music at a festival in Idyllwild. The couple had just met, and the photographer just happened to be there. The original photo hung in the Nelsons’ home but, with the home, was destroyed in the fire. By luck, the photographer had the negative, and the photo now hangs in their re-built home.
It was a privilege to be invited into the homes in this unique, colorful and oh-so-Laguna neighborhood, a village-within-a-village in our community. The residents of Canyon Acres were willing to allow strangers to troop through their homes because they care deeply about their neighborhood and way of life. Having known loss, they are mindful of the preciousness and fragility of what they have, and they are determined to preserve it not only from natural depredations but those of human making. Let’s work together to save the canyon.
Priscilla Lloyd, Laguna Beach