Category Archives: Laguna Beach Real Estate

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Cafe’ Frankenstein

 “What I remember about the Frankenstein,” said artist Leonard Kaplan, who died in 2008, “was the taboo that the community of Laguna felt about it.” Kaplan, who lived behind Café Frankenstein during and after the coffeehouse’s existence, was no stranger to controversy.

An intensely private man, Kaplan was a dealer in pre-Renaissance art and a painter of haunted and erotic canvases that mixed the traditional world of oils with elements of taxidermy to create portraits of psychological terror, doubt, lust and violence. It is little surprise that Kaplan’s work was only assessed after his death (an exhibit was held at the Laguna Art Museum in 2009), but not surprising at all that he was associated with the Café Frankenstein.

“At first,” Kaplan related, “I thought these guys were a bunch of hucksters, ballyhoo and all. They were into jazz, I liked classical. But despite Laguna Beach being a supposed ‘artists town,’ I sensed in them a genuine outsider spirit.” Kaplan wasn’t alone. In fact, the Frankenstein became a literal mecca for area artists whose work was on the fringes.

Don Karwellis, who later became head of the art department at the University of California Fullerton, created Toulouse-Lautrec style paintings of the Café Frankenstein scene. Tom Holste, whose later works were hung at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC, cut his teeth early on at the Frankenstein, painting airbrush portraits and abstracts on stretched canvas.

“Laguna Beach had a number of artists at that time,” remembers Lewis Baltz, an important figure in the New Topographic movement of the late 1970s, who was a regular at the Frankenstein during his teenage years. “[These were] overwhelmingly seascape painters whose work seemed destined for furniture stores. There was also a very small group of ‘serious’ abstract painters. They were counter-culture avant le mot, but not exactly beatniks.”

“The only artist who looked like a beatnik,” continues Baltz, “was Andy Wing, a tall, gentle and shaggy man whose skein-like paintings showed a distinct influence of Pollock.”

Many of Wing’s murals can still be seen all over Laguna Beach today. Besides painting abstracts and making collages at Café Frankenstein, Wing turned his own Laguna Beach home into a folk environment of assemblage art in a similar style to Albert Glade’s Enchanted Garden (1927-35) in Chino, CA, Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers (1921-54) in South Central Los Angeles and Grandma Prisby’s Bottle Village (1956-81) in Simi Valley. To this day, Wing’s house — with its strewn pieces of colored glass, walkways of assembled broken pottery and strange collage paneling — sits back amongst tall-growing weeds along a back street just off the beach. Inside, a TV is constantly running, but no one ever answers the door.

Besides its collective of regularly-attending artists, the Café Frankenstein also boasted its share of quality bohemian music. Irishman Michael Gaffney, whom Baltz describes as “a petty thief and small-time drug dealer who had been in and out of jails since he was old enough to steal,” played a particular brand of acoustic blues inside the Frankenstein.

“It depends on what your definition of ‘performance’ is,” says John Merrill, who played guitar in a psychedelic rock group dubbed the Peanut Butter Conspiracy from 1966-69. “I mean, the place was so small there wasn’t even a stage. People would just sit on couches or sing from the corner of the room, real loose and all.”

Other musical artists who played Café Frankenstein include future surf instrumental giant Dave Myers, folk chanteuse Judy Henske (who dated Woody Allen during the early ’60s and inspired Allen’s Annie Hall character) and Lee Mallory, a runaway from the Inland Empire who later became guitarist of psych-pop act, the Millennium. Steve Gillette, who placed two songs on the first Linda Ronstadt/Stone Poneys album and played guitar on the second, wrote of Café Frankenstein in the liner notes to his 1967 solo album:

“It was while I was working at the doughnut shop (the hours were 3 a.m. to 10 a.m.) and living in Whittier, California, that I used to drive down to a little coffee house — now defunct — at Laguna Beach to listen to folk music.”

At other times, jazz guitarist Johnny Saint and flamenco guitarists such as Lenin Castro and a young Jose Feliciano played at the Frankenstein. “We also had a black conga drummer named Bob Collins,” remembers Michael Schley, “and this guy named Philipo, who walked around with a typewriter and would type a bio or personality sketch for a buck.” Philipo was actually Jack Phillips, a would-be TV personality who also called himself “John San Felipe.” But more often than not, it was Doug Myres, co-owner of the Frankenstein, who provided the entertainment.

By the time Café Frankenstein opened in 1958, Myres had already been a member of the Gateway Singers, a racially-integrated folk group who in 1950 were investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), alongside New York City’s the Weavers (featuring Pete Seeger), both bands accused of communist sympathizing (both cases later dismissed). After that, Myres became rhythm guitarist for the Easy Riders (featuring Terry Gilkyson, who wrote the huge-selling folk hit, “Marianne”), before opening the Frankenstein, where he would show up for performances in a hearse.

“It was a way-station between insanity and sanity,” says Michael Schley, “a portal of life that people passed through. It was supposed to close at 4 a.m., but it rarely did. Burt and Doug also didn’t shy away from controversy. They invited it.”

From the outset, Café Frankenstein seemed to be a target for local police scrutiny. In an article titled “The Café Espresso Kick,” the June 1959 issue of Rogue magazine declared: “The local ladies’ church league later complained of the use of stained glass in such a macabre undertaking, but withdrew their objections hastily when Frankenstein’s owner threatened to erect a full-size cross bearing the unhappy monster.” That incident merely scratched the surface.

On March 10, 1959, Laguna police hauled George Clayton Johnson, model Freda Kellogg and photographer Ron Vogel off to jail after receiving a tip that a group of kids saw Kellogg posing nude and playing bongos against the coffeehouse’s interior mural artwork. The kids had apparently been peeking through the window cracks and reported their guffaws to local law officers, who also seized the photography negatives (which were later used in Escapade magazine’s December 1959 issue). Said Judge C.C. Cravath at the trio’s hearing bearing indecent exposure, exhibitions and willful and lewd actions, held Tuesday April 14th: “I see a willful act, but don’t see anything lewd involved.” Case dismissed.

“That wasn’t the first time we’d gone to court,” insisted Sid Soffer, Café Frankenstein’s manager from 1958 to the summer of ’59, who passed away in 2008. “I got arrested for supposedly selling alcoholic beverages without a liquor license.”

According to reports in the Laguna Beach Post dated June 26, 1958, Judge Cravath also heard this case. “Basically, I was putting a little brandy extract in the Cappuccino Royal,” recalled Soffer. “It was so little that the alcohol pretty much evaporated when it was steamed. They tested it and everything in the courtroom.” The case, again, was dismissed. “They were out to get us from day one,” insisted Soffer. “We didn’t stand a chance.”

Despite not being a co-owner, Soffer was there from the outset. As part of the Laguna Carpentry Company, Soffer helped build the structure. Once he came to manage Café Frankenstein, Soffer cut a wall out on the south side of the coffeehouse and built a doorway for the patio. “I was the cook too,” Soffer remembered fondly. “We served sandwiches, Italian water ices, French pastries from the Sarno Bakery in Hollywood, Dutch pastries from Almondas, lots of great little bistro items.”

A few months after the nudity case, the Frankenstein again saw trouble. The Laguna Beach Board of Supervisors declared the coffeehouse outside the defined entertainment zone, thus rebuking their license to allow live music, accepting only solo piano or organ.

“I got them to allow one instrument,” said Soffer regarding the ordinance. “That was my last contribution to the café. It was passed that only piano and organ were allowed, but by getting it to be any one instrument, we could keep folk singers and bongo drums going.”

By the end of the summer of 1959, Soffer left Café Frankenstein to start his own coffeehouse, the Blue Beet, at 460 S. Coast Boulevard in Laguna Beach. By 1960, Soffer moved his café out of Laguna, up to the nearby town of Newport Beach, where Sid’s Blue Beet still operates near the Newport Pier to this day.

With the 1950s coming to a close, so too came the time for Johnson, Myres and Shonberg to move on. The trio sold Café Frankenstein to Michael Schley, who by that time was married to Constance Vining.

Vining had been running a sandal shop behind the Frankenstein (at 866 S. Coast Boulevard). Designs in Leather opened first in 1952 out of Vining’s home in the Treasure Island Trailer Court, but moved into the Frankenstein building in 1958 and featured Shonberg mural art, as well.

Whatever attempts Laguna had made to kill off the monster, by the end of 1959, the town’s youth was swept up in a more innocuous version of the bohemian phenomena. On December 10, 1959, the sophomore class at Laguna High School collectively decided to have a “beatnik day,” sporting berets and sunglasses with black turtlenecks for the guys and black leotards for the girls. The Laguna Beach Post was again there to capture the moment with a front page snap. In early 1960, even the Laguna Playhouse was putting on John Osborne’s disaffected play, Look Back in Anger, with its announced cast of “angry young men.”

From 1960 to 1962, Michael Schley and Connie Vining ran Café Frankenstein simply as the 860 Club. “We lasted for a little while,” laments Schley. “But once Shonberg was gone, everything that made the place unique went with it.” Asked why that was, Schley suggests several reasons: “For one, Shonberg kept it edgy. But, see, he was getting steady movie work and commercial work in Hollywood. With the way the town of Laguna was harassing him, you could hardly blame him for leaving.”

After the 860 Club closed in 1962, Vining’s Designs in Leather continued. But by 1964, both were gone, the building then razed and turned into a parking lot. Schley moved up to Hollywood for a while and ran the Xanadu Coffeehouse on Melrose Avenue, near Los Angeles City College, which hosted no less talent than bluesman John Lee Hooker, folk legend Pete Seeger and poet Charles Bukowski.

As for George Clayton Johnson, he began writing for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone (eight episodes in all), as well the original Rat Pack vehicle, Ocean’s Eleven (1960), the first episode of Star Trek (1966) and the classic science fiction novel, Logan’s Run, which became an MGM film in 1976.

Burt Shonberg, by far the most interesting of the artists surrounding Café Frankenstein, continued creating commercial illustrations, mural commissions and fine art during the early 1960s. His album artwork for Ron Goodwin’s space-age bachelor pad LP, Music in Orbit (1958), features a pen and ink drawing of an Oz-like craft whose physiology combines a floating balloon apparatus with attached woodwind instruments and preternatural symbols, operating like a steam era piece of machinery. Childlike and esoteric at once, Shonberg’s imaginative genius saw its full consummation of influences in one fell swoop: Outer-space, inner-mysticism and bohemian abstraction.

His portrait of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, used on the cover of Capitol Records’ 1960 Pathetique, 6th Symphony, seems emblematic of Shonberg’s style from 1960-62. Melding 18th Century impressionism with hints of cubism, the canvas becomes all Shonberg with the use of three dimensional splashes of casein color. Symbolic imagery bursts from the Russian composer’s head like living spirits of creativity. The burgundy, mustard yellow, black and powder blue hues were shades that Shonberg utilized heavily during this period, also creating a haunted portrait of Jesus Christ, who in the hands of Shonberg looks like a deeply tormented humanoid. Christ’s bald cranium is enlargened and his hallowed-out eye sockets speak a kind of expressionistic terror.

Shonberg also created similar portraits for Roger Corman’s American International Pictures film of Edgar Allen Poe’s The House of Usher (1962). Indeed, Shonberg’s Usher paintings live and breathe horror, like everything in the house, the results for its characters being catastrophic. Shonberg also created a grand canvas titled “Premature Burial” for a 1960 film of the same name. The painting views like a complex rendering of Hell as described in Dante’s Inferno. Previously, Shonberg had been the art director on such B films as Code of Silence (1957) and The Brain Eaters (1958).

He’d also kept busy creating murals for other coffeehouses and bohemian emporiums throughout the Greater Los Angeles area. Among these were: Cosmo Alley in Downtown Hollywood, Sandalsville on Fairfax Avenue, the Seven Chefs and the Bastille (both in West Hollywood), the Purple Onion on the Sunset Strip and the 40 Thieves Café in Venice Beach.

In 1963, Shonberg moved to Paris with Valerie Porter, who introduced him to Pablo Picasso. From Paris, the three of them went on to Ibiza, where Shonberg was then introduced to Salvador Dali by Porter. Shonberg returned to the U.S. in 1965 and settled for a while in Greenwich Village, where he took part in a group art show titled “Psychedelic Art” at the Coda Gallery in nearby East Village. By year’s end, Shonberg was back in Southern California.

Only four commercial pieces of art by Shonberg are known post-1963. One is a silly advertisement for filmmaker Don Brown’s Surfhouse, a teenage surf movie theater that boasts a surfin’ woodie printed with Shonberg’s inimitable mystic symbols all over. The second is the cover to Arthur Lee and Love’s 1969 album, Out Here, which is really just a gatefold of Shonberg’s 1965 painting of the same name. The piece portrays a human figure sitting at the edge of a hill, when off in the horizon the sky opens up to him, striking a symbiotic relationship between the figure, the earth and the sky that is something of a psychedelic era rococo. Then there was an album cover for the Curtis Brothers’ self-titled debut on Polydor Records (1976), which utilized Shonberg’s 1965 painting titled “Seated Figure and a Cosmic Train,” described by Marshall Berle as “a self-portrait of Burt Shonberg sitting in his living room in Laurel Canyon during an LSD experience.” Finally, Shonberg created artwork for Spirit’s The Spirit of 76 – Tampa Jam – Electro Jam from the Time Coast album, based around a friendship that had blossomed between Shonberg and Spirit guitarist Randy California.

All throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Shonberg created wildly psychedelic and harrowingly spiritual artworks on canvas, wooden boards, music notation paper, napkins and just about any surface he could find. Sadly, very little of Shonberg’s art has been exhibited as of this writing, though those who own Shonberg’s artwork hold onto it dearly.

Marshall Berle has attempted to create a Burt Shonberg museum, but thus far has just gotten a web site off the ground. Ledru Baker Shoopman retained Shonberg’s personal portfolio, which contained hundreds of sketches and personal clues about Burt’s life. However, since Shoopman’s passing in 2007, his long-time girlfriend Joie has not returned phone calls. Shonberg did have one solo exhibition during his lifetime. Inside his portfolio was a poster for a 1967 show (sponsored by George Grief) at the Gallery Contemporary at 631 N. La Cienega Boulevard, in the central arts district of L.A.

Burt Shonberg died on September 16, 1977. His artwork has yet to be exhibited in a museum setting. Perhaps Shonberg’s full curatorial embrace is denied because the work stands too far outside the art/historical narrative. Indeed, despite a lavish use of pop culture iconography and skilled abstract brushwork, Shonberg considered himself an illustrator by trade and a classicist by temperament. His interest in courting the fine art establishment was perhaps latent and largely absent.

From today’s perspective, the centerpiece of all this remains the Frankenstein monster, a vernacular symbol of such pathos that its stoicism abides as a cornerstone for both pop culture fantasmagorians and literary elites alike. Shonberg chose to emblazon his own coffeehouse with the somber monster as a spokesperson for the entire arc of human experience, the same as Hephaestus, the blacksmith god of Ancient Greece, did for Achilles in Book 18 of The Illiad, commemorating with a shield the extremes of war and emotion in a richly detailed work of art. Life’s events, after all, are not ordered chronologically. They correspond rather to an inner architecture of collected experiences, rendered in art by those who live to tell the story. Burt Shonberg left his hidden, in plain sight.

NOTE: This article originally published in the Outre Gallery Journal (Sydney, Australia), issue #1, published July 2012.

Brian Chidester is the author of Pop Surf Culture: Music, Design, Film and Fashion from the Bohemian Surf Era (Santa Monica Press) and the co-editor of Dumb Angel magazine. He currently lives in New York City and writes for the Village Voice .

Quoted excerpts from the book Out Here have been reprinted by permission of the copyright owner at .

The name of the coffee house “Cafe Frankenstein” was created by George Clayton Johnson

©2012 George Clayton Johnson ©2012 – All Rights Reserved.

Music and clientele

Folk[6] and Jazz music[7] emanated from the inside out onto the porch, with singers such as Judy Henske, Steve Gillette (who later wrote songs for the Stone Poneys) and Lee Mallory (later with Sagittarius, Millennium) performing here during the early ’60s. Dave Myers sang folk songs at Café Frankenstein before forming his Del-Fi surf band, Dave Myers & the Surf-Tones. Comedian Lord Buckley performed here.[8] Famous photographer Lewis Baltz was also an early regular.

A legendary Beat era hangout in Laguna Beach, California, Café Frankenstein opened in 1958 under the stewardship of folk singer Doug Myres, writer George Clayton Johnson (of Twilight Zone fame) and artist Burt Shonberg. The building housed a “European” coffee shop, a bookstore and a leather goods and sandal shop.

Shonberg contributed an interior mural and a fabulous stained glass front window featuring the Frankenstein Monster. You can glimpse the window art in color, as seen from inside the club, in the picture here, if you can peel your eyes away from model Barbara Kellogg.

The nude photo session, in fact, brought charges of “lewd and obscene conduct” against the Café’s owners, just one of the many attacks by a very conservative community against the alternative club and its bohemian clientele of beatniks, surfers and folksies. It is said that two of the Café’s regular clients were undercover cops on the lookout for illegal activities and that both men eventually became supporters of the club.

Squaresville opposition to the hep establishment reached its hysterical apex when a local Church group protested against the window art on the grounds that stained glass was an art form exclusive to churches. Shonberg greeted them with a threat to erect a crucified Frankenstein.


Café Frankenstein was sold in 1960 and operated as Club 480 until 1962 when it was demolished, along with the Shonberg art, to make room for a parking lot.

The images here are from a wonderful article on early Pop Surf Culture posted on Dumb Angel. Click through to read the Café Frankenstein story in greater detail along with more pictures, including one of the building itself.

Burt Shonberg painted murals for coffee shops, bars, restaurants and Beat clubs up and down the coast. He contributed covers and illustrations to science fiction magazines. His art was also used on an album by Arthur Lee and Love and a commissioned set of paintings was famously featured in Roger Corman’sFall of the House of Usher (1960).

Here’s Shonberg’s website, with a gallery of paintings that includes the House of Usher art.


As tastes changed, a new scene grew up in Newport. O.C.’s first bohemian beatnik coffee house, Café Frankenstein, opened in Laguna Beach in 1958. A café employee, Sid Soffer, started his own place, Sid’s Blue Beet, and in 1959 moved it from Laguna to the peninsula. Everyone from Mississippi bluesman Son House to jazzman Art Pepper (who was busted for heroin outside the club) to future Monkee Peter Tork played at Sid’s.

However, it could easily have been a totally different story. It’s probably easiest to begin by explaining that McGuire stumbled into singing almost accidentally. Born in Oklahoma City in 1935 Barry’s background was decidedly blue collar. He remembers, “My life was kind of a mixed bag of different things. My stepfather was a construction worker so every time he would finish a job we would move to a different town and so I went to about five primary schools. Then when I was 16 years old I quit school and lied about my age and joined the Navy. Then they found out I was only 16 and they told me they appreciated my patriotism but told me I should go home and grow up. When I got out of the Navy I didn’t want to go back to school so I started working in construction, and I worked in commercial fishing for a while. Then I got into pipe fitting and put in overhead fire sprinkler systems for five years. Then one evening I just happened to stumble into a little coffee house in Laguna Beach, California, in a place called The Frankenstein Café. This was before hippies, back in the beatnik generation. It was kind of a Beatnik hangout where they would read poetry and there was a guy over in the corner playing classical guitar singing folk music – English and American folk songs. I just fell in love with it. I couldn’t believe how accessible the songs were and how they just resonated inside of me. I wanted to learn how to do that. So I bought a guitar and first thing I knew I was offered a job to go sing. I couldn’t believe it. It was like going to a party and getting paid for it! So I never auditioned for anything. I didn’t set out to be a singer, I just liked doing it and people liked listening to me.”



One of the Cafe Frankenstein players will be ’60s survivor Barry McGuire.


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Right Here in Laguna – Known as a ‘Landmark of Modern Architecture’ and the inspiration for Ann Rand’s Heller house in Fountain House – The Hangover House – An incredible Laguna Story

When you’re driving south on Coast Hwy and you go past the Montage and you dip down into Aliso Creek look up at the very top house on the steep hill on the left side and you can see the Hangover house. Called the ‘Hangover House’ since it hangs 400 ft. over a sheer cliff with views in all directions.

The following is a summary of this incredible construction feat but with a tragic ending. Also view tons of pictures, a video and read the rest of the story.


  • In the 1930s Richard Halliburton, a travel journalist, was a rock star and as popular as Charles Lindberg and Amelia Earhart. He had swam the Panama Canal, (he paid 38 cents to go through the locks), crossed the Alps on an elephant, retraced the track of Cortez’ conquest of Mexico, went around the world in an open cockpit plane and much, much more.  The people of the time just loved these adventures.
  • Halliburton’s partner and ghost writer, Paul Mooney, decided to build him a home where he could get away from the spotlight. He hired a novice 28 year old architect, William Levy, who designed an ‘all concrete and steel’ house in a remote part of South Laguna which had views up and down the coast and up the canyons to the inland mountains, hence the ‘Hangover’ house which perched 400 feet over the Aliso Creek.
  • There were no roads yet on the hillsides to the location of the house so they had to carve out switch back roads to accommodate the cement trucks. The cement trucks engines were burning out, consequently they had to bring up the raw cement and mix the cement up on the hill and then pour the cement. The whole house (and I mean the whole house including the kitchen and fireplaces) inside and out is poured cement.
  • The tragic part is Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney hardly spent any time in the house since they both died on a poorly constructed Chinese Junk Halliburton had built and was sailing from Hong Kong to the San Francisco International Expedition in 1939 the same year the house was completed. They were 40 years old. A tragedy.
  • The house has gone through many ups and downs over the years but has been recently brought back to life.


More about the Hangover House on Wikipedia

About Richard_Halliburton


Click here to watch the video of the Hangover House Part 1

Click her to watch the video of the Hangover House Part 2

Read A Blog about the Hangover House

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Laguna Ocean Front Pocket Listing

I’ve an Ocean/Bluff front pocket listing in South Laguna that overlooks the beautiful Tablerock beach.

This house is 4 bdm, 4.5 bath, 3,853 sqft and an 8,165 sqft lot.

If you have a friend looking for something on the water please let them know about this since it’s not in the mls. These are not professional pictures. Please let me know if you’d like to see it.

It’s one of three house behind a gated entrance.

Priced around $6m.


image001 image002 image003 image004  image006  image008

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Laguna’s Bluebird Canyon is Home to a 1932 ‘Olympic Village’


    If you like a canyon rural setting with curvy dead end streets and houses that have a unique history to them, the ‘Olympic Village’ section of Bluebird is for you. After the 1932 LA Olympics, the cheaply built two-room cottages that housed the athletes were bought by the Laguna Heights Land Co. and moved to small lots in Bluebird Canyon and still exist today, albeit many  are remodeled, in the quaint ‘Olympic Village’

Click here to see the location in the map

    Street names such as Didrikson and Crabbe could give away the origins of the heights of Blue Bird Canyon. After all, track phenomenon Babe (Mildred) Didrikson and swimmer Buster Crabbe were the winners of their events in the 1932 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles.

In 1932, a village of two-room cottages with walls made of Celotex and roofs made from tar paper was built in Los Angeles for the Olympic contestants. These little huts were built as cheaply as possible, since they were intended to serve for the games only. Afterward, the cottages were put up for sale at very low prices.
The Laguna Heights Land Co. of Los Angeles bought them and brought the majority of them to Blue Bird Canyon in Laguna Beach, where they were put on land owned by B.O. Miller of the Hollingsworth Co. of Los Angeles. This little tract of small lots and streets as narrow as alleys named its passageways after track star William Carr, hurdler George Saling, divers Harold Smith and Georgia Coleman, swimmer Helene Madison and decathlete James Bausch. This gave credence to the name its brokers gave it, “Olympic Village.”
Houses sold at bargain prices, and the Taylor Brothers of Laguna Beach fitted the cabins to the lots. Fred Leech was broker for the sale of the properties and used one of the cottages as his office in the 1300 block of South Coast Highway.
Many of the homes remain on the original lots but are so remodeled that their origins are hard to ascertain. “Only the board-and-batten corners can be seen hidden in the trees” is how fourth-generation Laguna resident and artist Karen Wilson Turnbull put it. The Olympic cottage at 168 Mountain Road is today the most unaltered of those that still stand.


Starting at Cress Street as it enters Bluebird Canyon, September 10, 1948. More and more people were buying property in “Olympic Village”, now Bluebird Canyon, and it became necessary to cut a more direct route between this booming area and “the village”. Getting that job done were Carl Mansur, Johnny Verdugo, Doug Perrin, Cliff Hennings.
The little house up on the upper left hand corner belonged to Guy Skidmore. It still stands in the same spot, but across from it now is a charming little “Bluebird Park”.
Photo’s from the Carolyn Hobert Fisch collection.


A little 450 sq. ft. cottage in Hidden Valley, Laguna Beach. It was originally part of an Olympic village in L.A. in 1932.


The 1932 summer Olympic games held in Los Angeles offered a chance for athletes traveling from around the world to experience the very first Olympic Village since the ancient Greeks pitched their tents on the plain of Elis. Located in Baldwin Hills at the end of W. Vernon Place and west of Crenshaw Blvd, the Village consisted of 550 portable houses were designed and built by H.O. Davis, each measuring 24 by 10 feet. Each house contained two 10 by 10-foot rooms with a connecting shower. Each room housed two athletes, with two beds, two chairs, a dresser, and a lavatory bowl.

After the Olympics were over, the houses were sold for as little as $140. They were shipped around the world: Japan, Hawaii, one to Denmark, the U.S., and a few to Laguna Beach. In the neighborhood where these cabins were moved, the streets were named after some of the Gold Medal Winners. They all have been heavily modified, in some cases 2 were combined to make a larger residence.

Photo of Olympic Village being built. *Info copied from Kirk Juan







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Come join the Laguna Friends of Architecture (LFA) sponsored architectural tour of the historical Rockledge House

Come join the Laguna Friends of Architecture (LFA) sponsored architectural tour of the historical Rockledge House


Saturday, July 19th 10:00 to 12:00(come any time you like) – Take a free tour of Laguna famous 12 bedroom, 11 bath Rockledge compound. It been totally redone and is on the market for $30 million.  Go to to see the cliff hanging pictures of the estate.  It was built in the 1920’s and has a great history to it.
Villa Rockledge, originally known as Mariona, was built by Frank Miller, the famed developer of the Mission Inn in Riverside, CA. Begun in 1918, the major portion of Villa Rockledge was designed by architect Arthur Benson, who worked closely with Miller on both this building and the Mission Inn.

Miller brought the same architect, crews and artistic ideas that he had used on the Mission Inn to Laguna Beach, where he built his summer home in the then growing coastal resort and art colony. A one unit addition on the northern wing was designed by Laguna Beach architect Thomas Harper in 1929. Miller spent the years 1918 until his death in 1935 developing and evolving Villa Rockledge in much the same way that he had with the Mission Inn.

Roger Jones and his wife Sherill bought Villa Rockledge in 1973 and have meticulously restored the property to its original grandeur. Mr. Jones, a noted author and historian, is the author of the The History of Villa Rockledge: A National Treasure in Laguna Beach, as well as Laguna Beach: An Illustrated, Narrative History, and California: from the Conquistadores to the Legends of Laguna. In 1984, Villa Rockledge, then known as Mariona, was added to the National Registry of Historic Places by the State of California and the U.S. National Park Service.

Villa Rockledge is located in Laguna Beach on a 25,000 square foot oceanfront lot. It has panoramic ocean views from almost every room, including some closets and bathrooms. Villa Rockledge is one of the only homes in Laguna Beach with a private beach, which spans 120 feet. This estate also includes a saltwater pool that is easily accessible from the home. The compound has 12 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms and private parking for twelve cars. The main home consists of 5 bedrooms and 5 baths over 5,000 square feet. Including the accompanying six villas, the estate totals 8,064 square feet.

Location: 2549 South Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach
Parking: Parking is on the Coast Hwy and very limited so use your well-honed Laguna parking skills or take a trolley



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Sean McCracken: Helping to get people together


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