Craving for Community: Park Plaza
Taking action to improve our town is key to our heritage and essential to the character of Laguna. The “Laguna character” in this case is not outward appearance of quaint buildings we associate with our town. Here I am referring to our internal character, our soul, strength and integrity. We can say “I want” or “there should be,” or we can make that “should be” happen. It is in the process of making that wish or vision become reality that true community spirit and character-building comes about.
The vision of fostering more community interaction in Laguna’s public spaces is not a new topic. Drip, drip, drip … the idea is raised over and over. The Downtown Specific Plan public outreach process talked about it. The consultant even raised the idea of moving the library, creating a park overlook on the library site, and restoring the historical continuous vista down Park Avenue to Bird Rock.
Now we have a collaborative of dedicated citizens proposing to convert the small fragment of Park Avenue oceanward of the library into a downtown plaza.
Park Avenue is one of the few streets in town that run exactly east-west. All of Laguna’s homesteads were laid out in squares and rectangles with true north-south/east-west boundaries. Within those squares and rectangles the property owners built streets however they wanted—straight grids like Brooks and Oak Streets or curving like El Camino del Mar. Now many of the homestead boundaries have become obscured by later tract decisions. But not Park Avenue. It was built on the boundary between the Damron homestead (1878) and the Henry Goff homestead (1880) creating what appears to be a diagonal cutting right through from the hillsides to the ocean. A vista worth celebrating and a history worth memorializing.
Early Laguna artist Frank Cuprien designed the Chamber of Commerce building, erected in 1925 on the north side of Park Avenue between Glenneyre and Coast Highway. Next to it, facing Glenneyre, was the old library. Both these buildings were demolished circa 1970 to make way for the Fred Briggs-designed library and parking lot we have today. All these were community projects with hard working advocates generously coming together to realize what they believed would be community assets benefiting the people of the town then and into the future.
As quoted in Laguna Beach Life in their 1925 story about the cornerstone laying ceremony for the Chamber building, Elmer Jahraus, owner of Laguna Lumber, spoke of “Just a handful of men who could visualize the future had banded together to help the town grow. He declared that the Laguna citizens of the future would look back with pride on the men and women who are constructing this building . . and that it would not be long before Laguna Beach would take its place as one of the leading cities on the Pacific Coast.” Roy Peacock suggested, “The Chamber of Commerce building will be a monument to the fact that the community spirit does exist among the business men of this town as it exists among the artists and in social circles.”
Transition Laguna, the Chamber of Commerce and the Laguna Beach Beautification Council have come together with a vision for Park Plaza. Members have not only been advocating at the City Council and getting their cooperation, but they’ve been on the plaza site working with enthusiasm, installing planters, placing tables and chairs, decorating and arranging for community events. They have sought participation and the community has responded.
Something more has grown from the Plaza idea, the magic of working together, the feeling that we are building a space for interaction with friends who have the best interests of Laguna at heart. Ideas flow and the character-building continues.
Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former councilmember who is grateful for the assistance of Jane Janz, who supplied historical information for this story.