Opinion: Village Matters – Laguna Beach Local News
The truth of the matter
For years, I and other members of the South Laguna Civic Association Historical Committee have been working on a book about the history of South Laguna. This is especially difficult because the government records prior to the 1987 Laguna Beach annexation represent only a small portion of the Orange County records. To complicate matters further, prior to 1889 when Orange County was established, our area was in Los Angeles County. We have the map of farms compiled and drawn by Beryl Wilson Viebeck documenting early land holdings after 1870. Earlier historical work is limited in scope—Joe Thurston‘s “Laguna Beach of Early Days” focuses on homesteading in Aliso Canyon, and Karen Wilson Turnbull‘s “History of Three Arch Bay” features this community, which is only 20% of South Laguna.
So we had a challenge: to reconstruct South Laguna‘s story from the only documents we could find, mainly the microfilm copies of old newspapers from the Laguna Beach Library. The volunteers went through them, looking at a list of names of personalities and places that we had pieced together and making copies of the relevant pages. (Even now, these microfilmed Laguna Beach records are not searchable by computer.) I have compiled them by year and summarized the information. Then a real historian told me, “Newspapers are considered secondary sources. Why? Sometimes their interpretation of primary sources is incomplete or even wrong. The stories are not‘t checked like they might be for a history book. Even if the article publishes a correction, the likelihood that we will find the correction with our method and correlate it with a previous story is minimal.
How do errors creep in? Just last week, the Register article about saving the historic Laguna Beach lifeguard tower mentions “Fred Griggs” who designed the modern rescue tower that was rejected in the early 1970s. “Fred Briggs” was the architect – it was just a typo – but it could be forever. With the internet, mistakes can go on forever.
When I searched the Internet for Fred Briggs in connection with the tower, several entries indicated that he designed the current historic tower. False, the tower dates from the 1930s or earlier and was moved from a petrol station across the coast road in 1937, according to detailed research by Jane Janz. Maybe Briggs worked on remodeling the interior of the tower, but he didn’t design it. Getting to the bottom of all these details and ensuring accuracy is a time-consuming challenge.
Sometimes the more we looked, it seemed we uncovered more mysteries than answers. The farmer for the central part of South Laguna, from Camel Point to Three Arch Bay, was Leon W. (Lee) Goff. He sold his 153-acre farm for $13,000 in August 1888 to three Illinois men. A little over a month later he died aged 38, leaving his wife Nettie and four children. There is an impressive tombstone in Santa Ana‘s Fairview Cemetery, causing us only to guess at the emotions that must have played into his erection. What caused his death? I ordered a copy of his death certificate from the Los Angeles County Archives – it’s an incomplete story that I’m dying to tell.
Lee‘Franklin’s brother‘The 136-acre farm was north of Aliso Creek. Thurston says Franklin sold his property around the same time Lee sold his to a syndicate that planned a resort where the Montage now stands. The development was to be named “Santa Catalina on the Main” and was to be accessible from a train that was to travel up the Aliso Canyon. In her History of Laguna Beach, Josephine Yoch says the sale was to Raymond Whitcomb, a major Eastern travel agency. But Los Angeles County records in Norwalk revealed no sale by Frank Goff of that farm. A sales contract that has never been consummated? Everything fell of course, the railroad was never built and the housing boom collapsed. The history of the resort project‘the abandonment told in the logs years later implicated another company altogether. Another mystery.
Small-town self-censorship also comes into play. “What no one wants to say does not‘is not written”, even if it‘it is true. Information about the character and qualities of people who influenced our city is rarely documented. What were these important characters in our history really like?
Issues raised by local traditions need to be explored. Maurie Beaumont on Sea Cliff Drive said her house once belonged to Charlie Chaplin who partied there with Douglas Fairbanks and Hollywood friends. He said the house was originally built on the land below, but when Charlie and his wife Lita Gray divorced and she and her mother got that land, he had the house moved with horses. and sleds to the property he still owned, leaving him empty space. parcel. What a colorful story. I read Chaplin‘s biography, books written by his wife—nowhere was there a mention of his even being in Laguna. No title documentation either.
But just because we don’t‘I can’t find something he can’t find‘I do not think so‘is not there somewhere. The more we watch and the more we learn, the more fascinating our community becomes, even if the truth is elusive.
Ann is a landscape architect and former mayor of Laguna Beach. She is also a longtime member of the board of directors of Village Laguna, Inc.
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