By SAMANTHA WASHER
Photos by Mary Hurlbut
If you have any interest in architecture, or you are simply looking for a group to mingle with, realtor Sean McCracken has one for you: Laguna Friends of Architecture. In two years the group McCracken started has grown to over 1,000 members. With meetings twice monthly that have anywhere from 60 to 120 people in attendance, it’s clear this was an idea whose time had come.
“The original members of the group were really dedicated to architecture. Now people are coming for the community and learning about architecture,” explains Sean.
The basketball courts at Main Beach are a draw
An east coast transplant, Sean received his MBA from USC. Finding Los Angeles to be “too smoggy”, he looked up and down the coast, from San Diego to Santa Barbara, for a place to settle. The year was 1978 and he chose Laguna Beach. The 6’5” McCracken remembers, “Laguna was the best place I’d seen. I saw those basketball courts and I really like to play basketball…” Having chosen his home he now had to find a way to make a living.
“Coming from the east coast, prep-school world, I didn’t understand the real estate economy. At ‘SC everyone’s father seemed to be involved in real estate, but I went into software technology, real estate software. It was a lot of planes, trains and automobiles. Then 9/11 happened. And the software business isn’t really much of a relationship business. I liked hanging in town so in 2006 I went into residential real estate. It allowed me to do more of the kind of projects that I like to do,” he explains.
A career change allows for more community involvement
With his business travel over, Sean unleashed his civic involvement with a vengeance. Tapping into his environmental interests he organized the first toxic waste pick up, then the first city-wide “green” shopping bag (the “Laguna bag”) and followed that with the first water-wise expo.
Finding these events to be “all one shot deals” (although the toxic clean up and the water expo are still going in different formats), Sean came to realize that “what gets people excited is being introduced to people with the same passions. People feel disconnected. As a realtor, when I talk to people about why they’re moving they say they have troublemaking friends here. You drive up your hill, shut your garage and you’re shut out from what’s going on. I came up with this concept of getting people out of the cyber-world and bringing them together for a common interest.”
From this, Transition Laguna was born.
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Apple trees and strawberries at Bluebird Canyon Farms
Transition Laguna and the importance of wine
Transition Laguna merged three things of importance to Sean: food, water and energy use with the idea of local sustainability. Incorporating the idea from World War II “victory gardens” along with cooking classes and potluck dinners, the group grew to 1,400 members and 60 back yard gardens. McCracken has a secret for good meetings, calling food and wine “the back bone”.
“There’s a reason Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine,” he says with a laugh.
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Sean with Dr. Dave
Dr. Dave retired from practicing medicine to focus on healing with food and to work with the Tenneys at Bluebird Canyon Farms
With Transition Laguna thriving, Sean took some time to really pinpoint what he wanted to do next. He decided on a concept: “Friends of…” – a group of like-minded people who come together for a common purpose. When an architect-friend mentioned he had just put together a presentation on another architect, John Lautner, the format was set and Laguna Friends of Architecture was born.
Next up, Laguna Friends of Architecture
Two years in from the start, the group meets at LCAD, in people’s homes (July 19 there is a tour of the famous compound at Rockledge) and takes tours to places like Los Angeles (“that’s where true friendships are made, on the bus over a beer”). There’s something happening every two weeks, in addition to a newsletter.
If this seems like a lot, it is. Luckily, Sean has a lot of help. In the beginning he did the bulk of the organizing himself, but now there is a core leadership group of 12 people who “are all about building friendships – and there’s something magical about that,” Sean says emphatically.
Stories, people and community are always front and center
True to his Irish heritage, Sean is a storyteller whose enthusiasm is infectious. “I’m an Irish guy who loves people and history”, he says. He can weave stories about the Smithcliffs socialite, Pancho Barnes, with a tale of the Halliburton House in South Laguna in between an anecdote about his attempt to visit every beach in Laguna, from El Morro to Three Arch Bay after work. If not a realtor, one could easily envision McCracken as an owner of a local pub, reveling in his patrons and their stories.
When asked what his next “Friends of…” venture would be if there were to be one, he doesn’t hesitate, “I’d like to do one on international real estate or living internationally; how people share houses and things like that. I don’t know if there’s a group in that, but it’s a big interest for me,” he says. A member of the Laguna Beach Business Club who participates in a lot of city planning groups, McCracken is a very busy guy. He says it is “important to give back to the community, plus building trust and putting people together is part of what I do as a realtor.”
He just can’t help it. “I have a tendency to meet people, say at Dizz’s. We start talking. Then it’s ‘Hey, let’s hold some local events and have a good time’. There are so many great stories out there.”
Sean McCracken is on a mission to hear them all.
Ed. Note: Special thanks to Scott Tenney and wife Mariella Simon for photos taken at their Bluebird Canyon Farms