Category Archives: Laguna Beach Real Estate

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Film Plays A Starring Role In Smithcliffs’ History

A rare early 1920s image showing the promontory now known as Smithcliffs and Seal Rocks, as seen from Emerald Bay. On the point is the Dobbins’ house, Dos Rocas, and behind it the Lowe house, later moved to McKnight Drive.
Photo courtesy of First American Title Corporation.

Barbara Isch, an 18-year old native daughter of Laguna wrote in a 1926 letter to a friend, describing to him a situation that made her unhappy. “Saturday night we went to the local hop and the movies were there.  First National Company is shooting night scenes and we will probably have to put up with them for another two weeks.”  “The movies” was the name locals attached to the cameramen, stars, directors and crews involved in filming.  Laguna saw a lot of the movies.

In April of 1944 the movies were in town and filming at one of the most beautiful oceanfront estates in Laguna, what was then known as Howardcliff, which is today called Smithcliffs.   The crew set up housekeeping temporarily at the Coast Inn, Hotel Del Camino, and Sea Cliff apartments, and enjoyed meals provided by Hotel Laguna. The Columbia Pictures crew of 50 were at work shooting “Shadows In The Night,” starring Warner Baxter and Nina Foch.   This was the third in a series of ten Crime Doctor films.  Basically, it is about a criminal psychologist who tries to help a beautiful heiress   who is going mad in a haunted mansion.  Yes, it is a B movie.   According to one Los Angeles critic, “characters were added to thicken the plot.  It gets thick to the point of becoming all but ludicrous at times.”


Although it is unclear if the interiors were made at the studio, all of the exterior shots were made in Laguna on location. There are scenes of Seal Rocks, the two large rocks in the ocean off of Crescent Bay Park, and a few shots to the north that show a hugely empty Emerald Bay.  The movie portrays the magnificent grounds, the paths down to the sea, the rocks below, and a sense of the scale of the large house.  And this is a house with history.


An aerial view of Howardcliff in 1941 as it looked during filming of “Shadows in the Night.”
Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach Historical Society.

In 1915 wealthy Pasadena resident Caroline Dobbins fell in love with Laguna and bought 20 acres of land just south of Emerald Bay.  In 1917 the local newspaper reported that “ plastering of the Dobbins house will begin next week.”   She named her estate Dos Rocas for the Seal Rocks, just south of her house.   She then built a house behind hers for her daughter Wilhelmina Lowe.    When Wilhelmina died, her daughter Florence, better known as Pancho Barnes, a famous aviatrix, inherited the second house.  The noise of Pancho’s wild parties was intolerable to Caroline Dobbins so she had the Lowe house moved to the point of what is now McKnight Drive.

The Howards Of Howardcliff

In 1929 the local newspaper carried a story about the sale of the Dos Rocas by Caroline Dobbins to wealthy Oklahoma oilman Oscar Howard.   He bought the 10 acre ocean-front property, and she built a house for herself above the highway on another part of her 20 acres.    Oscar Howard renamed the property “Howardcliff,” and he and his wife Inez would use this as their summer home for the next 22 years.  Inez in 1925 published a book she wrote called “Chrysalis of Romance.” Oscar had made a fortune in the oil business.  He started in Tulsa by investing his savings of $100, and then participated in the rapidly expanding oil business in California.   The Los Angeles Times of the 20s, 30s and 40s have numerous articles reporting on the progress of his wells.  They moved to California around 1919 and in 1922 bought in Los Angeles as their permanent residence an estate in Fremont Place, an exclusive enclave whose residents included over the years many famous names. Their home, 56 Fremont Place, had in the past been rented by both Mary Pickford and Mary Miles Minter, two names who have connections to Laguna also.

After purchasing Howardcliff, they re-landscaped and built a fence on the property. They furnished the house and cut 100 steps into the cliff for access to the cove below.  I don’t know if a planned swimming pool in the rocks below was ever built.  Oscar Howard died in 1950, and by 1952 Howard’s widow Inez had sold the property to Lon Smith, who renamed the property “Smithcliffs.”  After Lon Smith’s widow died in 1989, plans were filed for a 26-home gated community, which retained the Smithcliffs name, and the old Dobbins house was subsequently torn down.

In the movie the house is called yet another name, “Rocky Point,” and in a scene where a car pulled up to the front of the property a sign on the gate said “Ravencliff.”   Perhaps the director was trying to set the mood for a Poe-like story?    The original house is long gone, but at least we can glimpse what was originally on the property because the images were captured on film.

Barbara Isch may have been unhappy, but I am glad the movies were in town

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San Juan Capistrano: 1910

A familiar scene for many of us looking towards the Mission and the scene of an almost riot by the locals when seeing the first film being made in OC by the then not-so-famous D.W.Griffith.


In San Juan Capistrano it was 1910 and the rural locals, mostly Spanish Americans and Indians, barely knew what movies were no less how they made them.

D.W. Griffith, the later famous director, was to film The Two Brothers but were delayed due to rain and all the crew stayed at a hotel about 3 buildings down from the mission (in the picture above on the right hand side).

While in the lobby waiting for the rain to stop they were all entertained by an Indian funeral procession passing by their windows on the way to services in the mission.

Since most of the films in the day didn’t have scripts (no dialogue) D.W. would make the movie up as they went and in this case he decided to incorporate the touching procession into the film. So the next day the sun burst through the clouds and the cast burst forth from the hotel in Spanish costumes. The first scene involved the religious parade, with a number of actors dressed in ecclesiastical vestments loaned by the priest. It all looked realistic – too realistic for the local’s tastes.

A large crowd of Spanish-Americans had gathered to watch the ‘movie peecha’ actors, and as the scene opened the crowd began to grow sullen, resenting what must have seemed a mockery of the previous day’s funeral. The resentment built as the parade moved toward the mission. The crowd suddenly broke and rushed the actors, aiming their fury particularly at the elderly character actor, who, in his role as the priest, was carrying a cross.

At this onslaught the actors broke and ran for the safety of the hotel. From the windows they could see the local parish priest attempting without success, to calm the angry crowed.

The mob advanced on the hotel, until finally the hotel proprietor came out on the balcony and spoke to the mob in Spanish. He apologized for the actors, explaining that they had not been mocking the funeral procession. After much shouting back and forth, an agreement was reached. The crowd would be mollified if the ‘cowboys’ in the company would put on an exhibition of riding and roping. The ‘cowboys’ were invited to begin by riding a bronco selected by the mob.

Fortunately, Griffith had hired some real cowboys to double in the riding shots; and he sent the leader of the real cowboys, who was an experienced rodeo performer, to ride the selected horse. The ride was successful, and the other cowboys put on an informal exhibition of riding and roping tricks. The crowd’s hostility was converted into enthusiasm, and Griffith was able to resume the filming.

But they couldn’t find 16 year old Mary Pickford, later a darling of Laguna having cut the ribbon for the opening of the Coast Hwy in town, and she was discovered in a shaded nook of the old mission courtyard making real love, instead of reel love.

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Cool Pics of Early Movies in Laguna

 Fisherman’s Cove w/ movie set.

Errol Flynn, during filming of “Captain Blood”. *3 Arch Bay

“Max Sennett: Bathing Beauties”. LB: 1936

1926 Press Photo- Shooting a Scene at Laguna Beach California -The Rough Riders

How do you think Treasure Island got its name (Now the Montage)

“Give Us This Night”

Gladys Swarthout and Jan Kiepura starred in the 1936 Paramount Pictures film “Give Us This Night”, filmed against the cliffs of Shell Cove in Three Arch Bay.
Shell Cove was perfect for the recreation of an Italian fishing village where the story takes place.


Slim Summerville

Built in 1925, what is now the Beach House Inn restaurant at 619 Sleepy Hollow, was originally the home of western comedian and actor Slim Summerville. The American character actor, known as the gagman for Mack Sennett, was born George Summerville in 1892. While he played in dozens of movies, he claimed Laguna as his primary home. Some of his most notable film credits include The Beloved Rogue (1927, All Quiet on the Western Front(1930), The Front Page (1931), White Fang (1936) and Tobacco Road (1941).


The original “Mark of Zoro” (1920) was filmed in San Juan Capistrano.

“Bobbed Hair”

William “Hoppy” Boyd, resident of Laguna, in the 1921 movie “Bobbed Hair.” One of the great things about this promotional still is it also features Laguna’s “Crooked Tree” . This wind-twisted cypress clung tenaciously to a knoll overlooking Arch Beach. This tree has been called the most painted tree in the world and has been seen in several films, such as the mostly forgotten 1922 Forget-Me-Not.

Forester Harvey lived in Laguna Beach. *here he is with Laurel & Hardy in “A Chump at Harvard”.

“Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

filmed in Laguna: 1922


“The Queen of Sheba”

Filmed in Laguna in 1921: “The Queen of Sheba” was a silent film produced by Fox studios about the story of the ill-fated romance between Solomon, King of Israel, and the Queen of Sheba. Written and directed by J. Gordon Edwards, it starred Betty Blythe as the Queen and Fritz Leiber, Sr. as King Solomon. The film is well known amongst silent film buffs for the risqué costumes worn by Blythe, as evidenced by several surviving stills taken during the production. This was a rarity in mainstream Hollywood films at the time. Only a short fragment of the film survives.


Goff Island: in the ’20’s they installed the walkway on the right so’s they could get movie props out to the island at low tide, then they’d film from shore when the tide was up and it looked like a water surrounded deserted island.


Peter Pan (1924) was an adventure silent film released by Paramount Pictures, the first film adaptation of the play by J. M. Barrie. It was directed by Herbert Brenon and starred Betty Bronson as Peter Pan, Ernest Torrence as Captain Hook, Mary Brian as Wendy, and Virginia Browne Faire as Tinker Bell. Anna May Wong, a groundbreaking Chinese-American actress, played the Indian princess Tiger Lily. *Trivia: the below scene was filmed at 3 Arch Bay.


Max Sennett’s “Bad Babes” at 3 Arch Bay. *mid 20’s


William L. Boyd, aka: “Hopalong Cassidy” lived in Laguna. He passed onto the big rodeo in the sky on 13 Sept 1972 .


This photo is from an unknown western flick shot along Aliso Creek in the early ’30’s. *we think the guy w/ the sticks in the background is Eiler.


Mermaids at 3 Arch Bay: “The Water Nymph” was filmed at Three Arch Bay in 1912 starring Mabel Normand and was the first production of the Mack Sennett Comedies, which went on to become the leading silent era film production company. “The Keystone Kops” were continuing characters in Sennett films with Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. Normand (inset) was Sennett’s fiance’ until he had an affair with one of her closest friends a few years after “The Water Nymph”. *Stu News Laguna



Loretta Young (Photo by: Irving Lippman, Laguna Beach, California). Anybody recognize the beach?



Woods Cove – Betty Davis’s house


‘Now, Voyager’, Bette Davis & Paul Henreid at Victor Hugo Inn, 1942.


“The Queen of Sheba”


Filmed in Laguna in 1921: “The Queen of Sheba” was a silent film produced by Fox studios about the story of the ill-fated romance between Solomon, King of Israel, and the Queen of Sheba. Written and directed by J. Gordon Edwards, it starred Betty Blythe as the Queen and Fritz Leiber, Sr. as King Solomon. The film is well known amongst silent film buffs for the risqué costumes worn by Blythe, as evidenced by several surviving stills taken during the production. This was a rarity in mainstream Hollywood films at the time. Only a short fragment of the film survives.



Crystal Cove Early Film Set


From “The First 100 Years in Laguna Beach 1876-1976″ by Merle and Mabel Ramsey

The Postman Always RIngs Twice, 1946 version, was partially filmed in Laguna Beach. Director Tay Garnett wanted to shoot in as many actual locations as possible for the movie, a rarity for MGM at the time. For the seaside love scenes, he took the cast and crew to Laguna Beach, where a fog made shooting impossible for days. After a few days, they moved to San Clemente in search of clearer skies, only to have fog roll in there as well. Then word got to them that the fog had lifted at Laguna Beach. By the time they got back there, however, it had returned.

The strain of waiting for the fog to lift caused the director, who had suffered from drinking problems in the past, to fall off the wagon. Garnett holed himself up in his hotel room, where nobody could get him to stop drinking. Concerned about rumors that he was going to be replaced, Garfield and Turner decided to visit him on their own. Garfield could get nowhere with him, but Turner managed to convince him to go back to Los Angeles for treatment. When he returned a week later, the fog lifted, and they all went back to work.

Another result of the location delays was a brief affair between Garfield and Turner, according to Garfield’s friend, Warner Bros. director Vincent Sherman. He said Turner was the only co-star with whom Garfield ever became romantically involved. There had been sparks between the two since the first day of shooting, and the delays had sparked a close friendship. Finally, they shared a moonlit tryst on the beach but that was their only night together. The two realized that whatever was happening on-screen, off-screen they had no sexual chemistry together. They remained friends nonetheless.
*TCM Frank Miller

Lana Turner and John Garfield with unknown soldier, in Laguna. Photo possibly by Ed Hobart (LB lifeguard, Police Officer, Journalist) and father to Carolyn Hobert Fisch.image063

John Garfield & Lana Turner: Woods Cove, during the filming of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” *Aug 1945

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Sterling Holloway: the voice of Winnie the Pooh, The Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland, the Stork in Dumbo and many others, lived in 3 Arch Bay.


La Casa del Camino quickly became a local favorite for the former Hollywood elite when it opened in 1929, making it a perfect coastal destination.




Marlo Thomas”, Laguna Playhouse


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Most of the Laguna sales activity in the $1m to $3m price range

What do you get for your money in Laguna in May:

(Of course it depends where in Laguna you buy)


$1m to $1.5m

5 sales, Avg price:$1.35m, 2 -3 bdm, 1-2 bath, Avg sqsf 1,500,  price per sqft: $1,100

View the homes sold in May:

$1.5m to $2m

7 sales, Avg price: $1.7m, 3 bdm, 3 baths, Avg sqft 2,000, price per sqft: $879, Days on market: 52 days

View the homes sold in May:

$2m to $2.5m

3 sales, Avg. price: $2.38m, 4 bdm, 4 bath, Avg sqft. 3,200,  price per sqft: $781, Days on market 27 days

View the sold homes in May:

$2.5m to $3m

7 sales, Avg price: $2.7m, 4 bdm, 4 bath, Avg. sqft. 3,700 sqsf, price per sqft: $762, days on market 128

Views the sold homes in May:

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Come join Laguna Friends of Architecture pot-luck celebration

Let’s have some fun at our LFA 3 year old ‘pot luck’ celebration

LFA has had great fun and success through simplicity.  No money, no politics, no business entity – just growing friendships around the common passion of architecture, a good time and a little wine.

We’ve 1,300 people who’ve joined the group and we range from 50 to 250 people who attend our monthly events.  Thanks so much to all of you for all the ‘word of mouth’ advertising you’ve done.

‘Pot lucks’ have been a big part of our events as you know. It’s a great way to build community.  So it’s fitting we celebrate with a pre-summer ‘pot luck’ bash at the beautiful canyon backyard of the Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) who has been so kind to offer their studios for our events.

So let’s beat the summer canyon traffic and have an early Sunday (this Sunday, June 7th) late afternoon party. Starts around 4 o’clock but come anytime and we can wrap up at around 7 o’clock so you can get home and ready yourself for the work week.

Bring your ‘A’ game food and wine. Try to keep the wine around the $8+ range.


The map shows where we’ll meet at the LCAD campus. We may have to park in the main campus parking if construction is going on.  LCAD is at

2222 Laguna Canyon Rd, Laguna Beach, CA 92651


Check out the video of our last event with Gene Felder, former Historical Society president and author on Laguna, give a presentation on Historical Architecture in Laguna.

Laguna Beach’s Historical Architecture

by Sean McCracken

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Take a look at the 1920’s Laguna classic Mission style home not in the mls

I had to share this 2,000+ sqft beauty on lower Bluebird Canyon that is on a flat 8,000 sqft lot.

It was one of the first homes built in the area (lots of photos to prove it) and has been expanded over the years but has kept its core with big think walls, a ‘Citizen Kane’ size fireplace, beamed ceilings, vintage Catalina tiles, and much more.

There’s a lot of room for remodel creativity in the house. It has a big front, side and back yard and a fairy tale Woods Cove view of cottages and the ‘jungle’ of Bluebird Canyon in the back.

You can walk everywhere from here – North and South.

These rough pictures were taken as landscapers were getting the place ready to put on the market and it was raining (yippee) so don’t be too critical.

As of yesterday no other agent but the listing agent has seen it, so there is a timing advantage for anyone that is interested. The owner shared tons of stories about the place.  I think it will go for around $2.1m. It’s by Catalina on Bluebird.

Let me know if you’d like to see it.









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‘Yours Truly’s’ Listing is the Featured Property in the Coastal Real Estate Guide

A Rare Triple Play: Luxury, Privacy and Views

    Watch the waves break on the sand from this stunning oceanfront home. Situated in an exclusive gated enclave with just three other homes, this four bedroom, five bathroom masterpiece provides the best of the Laguna Beach lifestyle. The main level offers an open great room with floor-to-ceiling windows capturing the ocean views, a fireplace, wet bar, view deck, and travertine flooring. Enjoy abundant natural lighting and a fabulous kitchen with Sub-Zero refrigerator, Wolf range and granite countertops. The upper level hosts a magnificent master suite with open beamed ceilings, fireplace, gorgeous Catalina Island view deck, spacious bath with Jacuzzi tub, and walk-in closet with built-in cabinetry. Three spacious en suite bedrooms are on the lower level, including a second master suite and deck with hot tub for relaxing and enjoying the sunsets. This peaceful oceanfront gem offers the ultimate in luxury, privacy and views

View website for more pictures

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Laguna Market Review as of April 2015


  • Laguna’s 2015 Sales Activity 10% higher ‘year to date’ vs. last year
  • Properties in escrow 20% higher than a year ago – shows the most current pulse of real estate activity
  • Multi offers for attractive properties that are priced to sell are starting to get more common
  • Inventory has had its Spring’s jump – same as last year at 220 properties

Closed Sales

Active Sales  Pending Sales

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