Two Lives Unbury Local Treasures


By Donna Furey | LB Indy

Bill Dolby carries his mother past the shore break for her commemorative swim.
Bill Dolby carries his mother past the shore break for her commemorative swim.

Lucille McElroy, 92, and Sylvia Dolby, 85, can tell stories about Laguna Beach before it was beset by parking problems, astronomical rents or crowded beaches.

Even so, their own stories are equally remarkable, revealing women of determination.

Sylvia Dolby, who lost her right leg below the knee several years ago, remains an ocean swimmer, because “in the water she gets her freedom of movement back,” said her son, Bill, of Laguna Beach.

To celebrate her 60th wedding anniversary and her 85th birthday, which both take place this month 11 days apart, Dolby plans to swim out to the buoy at Emerald Bay beach, as she does many days. She does not use a wet suit to swim the 200 to 300 yards, but these days her son carries her into the water and past the shore break. She has a prosthetic leg but mostly uses a wheelchair to get around.

Seemingly neither resentful nor self-pitying, she and her son like to recall a day when a lifeguard warned them away from the water due to a shark sighting. “A shark’s already taken one leg,” joked Dolby. “She’s not afraid!”

A lifelong Laguna Beach resident, Dolby can recall her sixth grade teacher, Marie Thurston, of one of the early homestead families, her childhood home on Mountain Road and how her widowed mother supported the family working with Louise Turner at Goode Realty.

Born Sylvia Rhoads, she was introduced to her future husband, Norman Kenneth Dolby, by his UC Berkeley roommate at Wood’s Cove. Their first date took place at Hurley Bell, now the Five Crowns Restaurant in Corona del Mar. They married in 1954 and settled in a home they built on land sold to them by Sylvia Dolby’s mother, who specialized in selling properties in Emerald Bay and Irvine Cove.

Lucille McElroy at her WaterColor Gallery.
Lucille McElroy at her WaterColor Gallery.

On June 12 the couple will celebrate with friends and family, including their three children Anna, Bill and John, back at the Five Crowns.

Mountain Road and homestead ties also play a role in McElroy’s life as the location of her first job with the Watercolor Gallery in 1971.

She and her husband Bob had re-located to Dana Point from the San Fernando Valley. Wayne Bender, a principal in the Watercolor Gallery, needed a sales person since the artist owners would take off for the cliffs to paint whenever the light was right. She held the fort. McElroy began selling the work of artists she loved: David Solomon, Rex Brant, Pat Short, Marilyn Maxson and Rosemary Bird among others.

When the gallery on Mountain Road was slated for demolition in 1985, the founding artists chose to move on. On a tip from her friend Mabel Special, who ran the Cove Gallery, McElroy found a new space at the Art Center on 1492 S. Coast Highway.

At the original gallery, during the 1980s remodeling of the Surf ‘n Sand hotel, McElroy decided to inquire about historical photographs of William and Nate Brooks that had hung on the hotel walls. When she explained that her mother-in-law was the homesteaders’ granddaughter, she was allowed to retrieve the photographs from the basement. McElroy deposited them with the Chamber of Commerce.

From the time she married, McElroy remembers hearing tales about the pioneers William and Anna Brooks taking a stagecoach to Santa Ana for supplies. Getting fresh water was difficult, she was told, and everyone appreciated the fresh vegetables and watermelons brought to town by the Thurstons from their Aliso Creek ranch.

McElroy’s own enterprise continues to flourish. The oldest working gallerist in town continues to accepts new artists. On Art Walk, Mc Elroy and neighbors often accommodate as many as 400 visitors to the Art Center, which includes the Cove Gallery, The Vintage Poster and Silver, Blue and Gold Jewelry.

Like Dolby, McElroy has an ambition of her own: find out what happened to those paintings of her ancestors that she rescued from the Surf ‘n’ Sand.

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