Puncturing a Community Dream
Destruction and death can happen in an instant, while growth and improvement can take years of effort and investment.
In the midst of the Great Depression, Elmer Crawford, William Crockett Watkins, and Dan Rowlands of the South Coast Improvement Association (SCIA) saw an opportunity to beautify Coast Highway and other South Laguna streets with tree plantings. As reported in the South Coast News (1933-1935), they applied to the State Emergency Relief Administration (SERA), an agency formed to find work for the unemployed. SERA would supply the labor of 10 men to dig 350 holes and plant trees if SCIA furnished a truck and $200 for redwood stakes and fertilizer. Trees were purchased through community donations. Robert Anderson, a homesteader who lived where Hill Haven is now, collected $16 as part of the contribution for the (Tract) 849 Club. It took over two years to coordinate this project, and the trees were finally planted in 1935.
Crawford, a banker and real estate manager of Coast Royal, and a key person in the establishment of the South Coast Water District, promoted the tree-planting project, saying that, “a view of the ocean glimpsed through a few trees afforded more beauty than such a view with no trees at all.” Rowlands, one of two managers at Three Arch Bay, had a horticultural background, and maintained a nursery there where he grew the trees that became that community’s street trees. He gifted some of those trees to screen the South Laguna water tank, encouraging, “He who plants a tree plants joy.”
While the state committed to maintain the trees on the highway for two years, the trees planted on the smaller streets were watered and cared for by residents such as Harriet Wolf and Crawford. The beautiful red flowering gums on Monterey Street and Eagle Rock Way are some of the results of that effort. There are a few remaining sugar gums, mainly in the Coast Highway corridor, but many have been cut down, one by one.
Whether the sugar gum at Eighth Avenue and Virginia was one of the trees planted in the 1935 project or not isn’t known, but it is of that era. Now we are losing that one too, killed as a result of 30 copper nails pounded into its trunk. That not being enough to assure its demise, the perpetrator poured poisonous fuel around the base for good measure. The attitude that produced this destruction would have been incomprehensible to those community-spirited volunteers of 1935.
Another later beautification project, the planted median on Coast Highway near Third Avenue, is in full bloom now. Three types of aloes, jade plant and bougainvillea are all making their holiday show. For years that area was solid asphalt. Couldn’t something more beautiful be done there?
The first plan for the median was approved in 1983 when South Laguna was still in the county. Are you expecting me to say that it was planted in 1984? No, it didn’t get planted until 2003, 20 years of planning, public meetings, grant applications, working drawings and finally construction. Step by step, persistence, patience, never giving up.
The purchase of Main Beach Park in 1968 had been discussed since city incorporation in 1927. Bond issues to buy the property had failed in 1955 and 1959. The park wasn’t finished and dedicated until 1974.
The village entrance project has been planned for more than 30 years. This week the Council saw the latest version, which seems to be closer to implementation than any of the previous proposals.
It takes much community desire for beauty and goodness to break through the inertia, the natural tendency to do the minimum to get by, to go beyond into the realm of inspiration and loveliness. Thought, effort, hours and days away from work and recreation on the part of volunteers is freely given to make these projects come about. A few nasty nails and toxic fuel not only kill a magnificent city historical tree, but they puncture and poison our dreams of a community united in creation and preservation of our paradise by the sea.
Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor and city council member. She has been a community volunteer since 1971, and is involved with Village Laguna and South Laguna Civic Association among others.