Serenity Amidst The Changes
December 5th, 2004
The past few weeks have seen changes in my Sunday mornings in Laguna. As I walked back up from the beach recently and headed towards Haster Grove, the nursery where I buy my orchids, I noticed from a distance that the place had been deserted - not a flower or plant anywhere in sight; shuttered and gone with a For Lease sign out front. My heart went sad - visits to the nursery have been a staple in my Sunday morning visits to the beach for five years now. The closing of Haster Grove comes on the heels of the closing of The Pottery Shack, a sixty year old Laguna Beach landmark next to the Heidelberg Cafe` a couple of blocks up the road from where the nursery used to be. The closing of The Pottery Shack drove home the reality that things are quickly changing in this town I love so much.
The disappearance of the nursery along with the closing of The Pottery Barn and numerous other small businesses, have made it clear that the runaway escalation of real estate values in Laguna Beach is going to forever change the quaint and charming face of this coastal jewel. A small photography studio that once had portraits of smiling, beautiful people in its windows recently gave way to a convenience store whose garrish rows of sugared drinks and candy bars feel like alien invaders staring out at me from their glass-enclosed bleachers as I walk to and from the beach. How many more of the little Ma & Pa stores along Pacific Coast Highway will be pushed out is anybody's guess. It's probably just a matter of time before their leases are up for renewal and the quadrupling of their rents will seal their fate.
Change is a given as I know all too well and there really isn't much point in trying to resist the inevitability of an evolving planet. As resigned as I am to change though, there are times when it weighs on me. Two years ago I watched with sadness as my favorite little bookstore in Laguna Beach closed its doors when the rent was raised beyond the owner's reach. It was replaced by a rug vendor who's now also gone - and now the place sits empty. I wonder how much more Laguna can change before it's not Laguna anymore but a flavorless, colorless ghost of what once was.
Two thousand years ago the indigenous Ute-Aztecas Indians (later Shoshones) called the Laguna Beach area Lagonas, which was their word for lakes and referred to the two fresh water lakes in the canyon above Main Beach where they lived. When the Spaniards arrived they called the area Canada de las Lagunas (Canyon of the Lakes) and in 1904 the name was officially changed to Laguna Beach.
By the early 1900s the plein-air artists began to arrive and an artist's colony was born. Beach-lovers and other bohemian adventurers soon followed and in its early days Laguna's beautiful coved beaches were dotted with the tents and the sometimes fancy shacks of people who were determined to live there no matter how challenging it was getting in and out of the place.
Eventually the surfers arrived as did the rich and famous from Hollywood and a small but active gay community. Iconoclasts from up and down the southern California coast began to make their summer homes here and with time Laguna Beach became home to art galleries, antique stores, restaurants, bars and funky little shops of all shapes and sizes. When I first visited Laguna in 1983 there was still some of the flavor and richness of Laguna's past hanging on with the surfers, artists, bohemians, celebrities, shop owners and beach-loving itinerant tourists all living, working and playing together in this idyllic little stretch of southern California coastline.
I'm not sure if there is any one thing that's brought about these changes, but I suspect that it has a lot to do with the advent of the 73 Toll Road that made access to Laguna Beach a whole lot easier and faster. With the toll road in place, Irvine, which is home to thousands of large corporations, now had an ideally situated bedroom beach community for its wealthy magnates and CEOs who no longer had to battle the 5 Freeway to get in and out of Laguna. It may be a little simplistic to think that the toll road, which paved the way for the money to roll in, is the only catalyst for Laguna's sweeping changes, but I can't help but think that it was a major player.
Not all changes are problematic for me though. A couple of days ago my daughter Auri, her husband Trent and my grandsons Tristan and Aidan moved here to Newport Beach and into their new apartment just a few miles from me. I've been waiting for this day for a long, long time and though it hasn't totally sunk in yet that they're here for good, it's still a pretty wonderful change as changes go. The grin on my face is a mile wide and the happiness in my heart is deep and rich.
This morning, the five of us along with Auri's best friend Erica, all braved the rain and had breakfast in Laguna at the Heidelberg - a Sunday morning tradition of mine for many years now. The rain made it impossible to go for a walk on the beach after breakfast but it was still amazing to be sitting there on the deck with my little family eating scrambled eggs, sipping on cappuccinos and looking out over the Pacific Ocean. I guess Laguna will always be for me what I choose for it to be - and now it's a place that I can share with Auri and her boys as often and as easily as I choose to.
I'm not sure I have the patience to learn to surf at this point but I sure plan on getting my grandsons out there on skimboards or surfboards as soon as they're old enough to. The beaches in Laguna will be our playgrounds and as long as there's a surf shop or two still around, that's where I'll take them to buy them their boardshorts, flip flops and t-shirts. Auri, Tristan and Aidan may have all been born in Salt Lake at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, but southern California is their home now and Laguna Beach will hopefully be for them the same kind of idyllic sanctuary that's it's been for me, even with all of the changes that are going on.
For the time being I can still get my haircut in Laguna, get my tattoos worked on there, eat breakfast at the Heidelberg, shop in the surf shops and play on the beach and photograph clients there from time to time. For as long as all of that, or any part of it remains within my grasp, I'll be enjoying it and sharing it with those I love. Right now, right here in this moment, it's all good. I'll adapt to the changes as they come along and take the less desireable ones along with the good ones. I may have lost my favorite nursery a few weeks ago but almost in the same breath I got my little family nestled in close. One thing's for sure - it's a lot easier finding a new place to buy orchids than flying to Salt Lake to see my kids.
Whatever changes happen with the town of Laguna Beach itself, the Pacific Ocean rolling at its shores will always be the same. It was there when the Ute Aztecas lived here and it's still there now several thousands of years later. We're all just temporary residents anyway, making of this tiny paradise what we will during our brief time here. I like knowing though, that in addition to whatever else my legacy to Auri and her boys might be, Laguna Beach will be a part of it. Long after I'm gone Laguna will still be there for them as long as they need or want it to be. The town itself will be different for them I'm sure, but the Pacific Ocean will still be around giving them the same oppportunity for finding their serenity that she's given me.
From the water's edge as always,
(but now with Auri, Trent, Tristan & Aidan here to share it with me...)