Hundreds give last respects to Claes Andersen

Claes Services Photo 1

Staff photos by Cliff Getz

Georgia Andersen (with Dr. Jerry Tankersley looking on above) described her life and love with Claes to the many who attended his memorial service Saturday afternoon. She said he told her not to be sad for they would one day be together in heaven and that he would meet her at the wine bar. She told him don’t worry I’ll find you! In addition to a filled Laguna Presbyterian Church both inside and outside, more than 300 attended a reception celebrating Claes Andersen at his Hotel Laguna following the services.

Claes Services Photo 2

Claes Andersen - Laguna loses a very good friend

Claes Andersen, one of Laguna’s most benevolent persons and owner of Hotel Laguna since 1985, passed away at his home early Wednesday morning after a long battle with cancer. He was 63.

There will be a service at Laguna Presbyterian Church on Saturday, Aug 21, at 2 p.m. A public reception will follow at Hotel Laguna at 5 p.m.

His wife Georgia, son Stefan of Boulder, Colorado and daughter Katie, a student at Laguna Beach High School, survive him.

Interviewed in 2005 by Laguna Life & People magazine, Claes commented: “Laguna is a giving community,” he says. “It has always been that way; everybody helps everybody.”

The article went on to add, The Andersens lost their home during the 1993 firestorm. With it went a treasure trove of early California Plein-Air paintings and Claes’ cherished wine cellar that, he says, just blew up in the inferno. Yet, keeping his loss in perspective, he opened the hotel to neighbors in similar straits and offered the premises to firefighters, to eat, shower and sleep whenever and wherever they could. “There were firefighters everywhere,” he recalls.


A telling comment by Charlie Quilter who was the President of the Patriot’s Day Parade Association in 2008 when Claes was the Citizen of the Year:

Born in a foreign country, I think he taught us all what it meant to be a real American.

Charlie Quilter

The biography from the patriot’s Day Parade Association:

2008 Citizen of the Year  

The Citizen of the Year honor is given to a person from Laguna Beach who has contributed significantly to our community.  As hotelier, master chef, and restaurateur, Claes Andersen needs no introduction to the people of our community.

He was born on September 10, 1946 near Odense on Denmark’s central island of Funen.  After completing high school, he underwent the rigorous six-year program of Odense’s Hotel- og Restaurantskolen (Hotel and Restaurant School), graduating with honors in 1969.  Imbued with a sense of adventure, he emigrated to America to embark on a career as an executive chef first at Taos, New Mexico’s Ski Valley and then in Los Angeles.

In 1985, Claes had been serving as the longtime general manager of the Westwood Plaza Hotel when he and his wife, Georgia, made the decision to settle here and buy the Hotel Laguna.  Since then, he has not only preserved the community’s iconic landmark, he has created within it three delightful and well-known restaurants and bistros, Claes, The Lounge, and The Terrace Café.

Over the years, Claes Andersen has been generous in providing venues for fundraisers to many of the civic organizations of the community.  His activities on behalf of the community are legion:  he founded the Laguna Beach Hospitality Association – now the Visitors Bureau – and has served as a trustee of the Laguna Playhouse and SchoolPower.  He has been active as well with the Laguna Art Museum, the Pageant of the Masters, and the Laguna College of Art and Design.

The Laguna fire of October 27, 1993 when 366 families lost homes, still sears memories here.  Many will never forget Claes’ gallant gesture in opening the doors of the Hotel Laguna to those who lost homes, even as his own home was being destroyed along with precious family heirlooms.  He repeated these unselfish acts in the El Niño floods of 1998.

He has also contributed mightily to the culinary profession by serving over 29 years as a member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the international organization of gastronomy whose roots go back to 1248.  In addition to serving in various leadership positions of the organization, he has mentored young people coming into the profession by organizing and also serving as a judge in numerous cooking and sommelier competitions.  Claes also maintains memberships in other organizations promoting the culinary arts such as the Friends of d’Escoffier Society and the American Academy of Chefs.

One of the consequences of his passion in this field may be seen in the ever-rising level of excellence of the cuisine of Laguna Beach’s restaurants, which has brought much favorable attention to our community.

Claes Andersen’s awards include the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Gold Medal, L’Ordre Mondial Gold Medal, and a number of awards of merit from the Southern California Restaurant Writers group including its Humanitarian of the Year Award.


This was received from the Laguna Canyon Foundation this week:

“Claes served on the 1991 LCF board of directors and then as part of the first listing for the Advisory Council.  We used to have our early board meetings at the hotel.  Claes is part of LCF’s history.”

Claes was much more than one of the leading businessmen in Laguna Beach; he was also a visionary that loved his adopted community and was front and center when it came to helping the nonprofit community.  As founder and president of the Laguna Canyon Foundation, I will always remember the many events Claes underwrote for our foundation, especially in the early years when we were just beginning.  In addition to the underwriting of events, including the celebratory affair at which we toasted an agreement with the Irvine Company that led to the preservation of our beloved Laguna Canyon, Claes also donated the use of a suite for the newly formed nonprofit Laguna Canyon Foundation.  He has been there for us, not only as a successful hotelier but as an individual who, with his wonderful wife Georgia, made a significant financial commitment to the fledgling Laguna Canyon Foundation that helped form the basis of our future financial success.  We will miss him dearly.

Michael Pinto

Lots of great memories of that larger than life person. My time at LCF when we used a hotel room overlooking the parking lot as LCF’s office gave me an opportunity to see his gracious and engaging ways. (We kept the filing cabinet in the shower.)  LCF’s beginning owes a great deal to Claes - he was always there for us. Michael sent me some notes, but he has many more.  He had lunch there at least once a week for many years.

Mary Fegraus

Amy’s home planet…

I am now thoroughly convinced Amy Kramer lives on another planet. In fact I looked through my telescope and found her living on the planet Terra Hypocritacus.

Earlier this week, in her new column in Stu News Laguna, Amy took umbrage with Michelle Obama’s vacation with one of her daughters and a couple of friends to Spain. Amy groused on and on about Mrs. Obama staying in five star hotels and flying around in $11,000 per hour jets on the taxpayers dime. Then ol’ Amy takes a right turn and starts grumbling about Al Gore living in a 10,000 foot mansion and flying around in a private jet while preaching, “...the sky is falling….” WTF?

But I’m not going to disagree with Amy because right here on Earth she is absolutely correct. Michelle, Al, Barack, Dubya, Boehner the Tan, Hillbilly Mitch, Reid, Cheney (the entire family) are all charlatans and frauds because they belong to the ruling class and that is what the ruling class does. That entire strata of people including their puppet masters in the corporate world lie, cheat, conceal, trick, steal, and two-time everyone around them.

The wanna be president Newt Gingrich repeatedly cheats on his wives before divorcing them. Bill Clinton doesn’t just smoke cigars and Meg Whitman molled for Goldman Sachs. So what’s new?

According to our extra terrestrial pal Amy, the good guys on her planet are “ corporate businesspersons...(because they) contributed to the overall big picture by providing jobs, livelihoods and future opportunity for many people. Yes, rich people are not so bad after all.” You’re killing me Amy! I need to move to your planet.

Back here on Earth, in the thirty years of Reagan’s Trickle Down Economics, the richest 10% own 70% of the nation’s wealth, the middle class shrunk in size, the national debt rose by 1400 percent, consumer debt rose from 2 trillion dollars to 14 trillion dollars while wages stagnated and the unemployment rate is officially ten percent but the real unemployment rate is closer to 20%. And let’s not forget, it’s the Earth bound businessmen who own that debt.

Conversely, we have some of the wealthiest Earthlings, including Warren E. Buffett, George Soros and Ted Turner, warning that such a concentration of wealth can turn a meritocracy into an aristocracy and ultimately stifle economic growth by putting too much of the nation’s capital in the hands of inheritors rather than strivers and innovators. Those rich Earth guys need to take a trip to Terra Hypocriticus.

A few nights later I got access to a radio telescope, which I pointed at Amy’s home planet.  As I listened to rich businessmen talking about being benevolent job creators, politicians bragging about the moral life they lead, and Michelle Obama swooning over her crown, I heard something that made my heart swell with pride and joy. The people of Terra Hypocritacus were referring to themselves as Republicans!! Amy, can you get me a ticket to your home planet? It really seems like a great place!

T.C. Borelli
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If you didn’t read it…

The…[column]…about Ms Obama going to Spain was so long and such a diatribe I refused to read it. George Bush left Obama an almost impossible bunch of problems. I am always suspicious when people rant and rave about Obama.

The writer of the…[column]…should join the Tea Party.

I believe George Bush is a criminal and should be tried by the world court in Holland for starting two illegal wars, which have caused harm to millions of people and the death and serious injuries to thousands of men, women and children.

Roger Carter

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Obituary Golda M. Lang

Golda Lang Photo

Golda M. Lang passed away in her sleep on July 31.  She was 91.

She operated the Lang Photo store on S. Coast Hwy for 40 years. She was a fixture in the Old Art Center with a nice word and a smile for everyone. Before that, she ran the lunch counter at the drug store on the old boardwalk.

She was preceded in passing by her husband of 63 years, L.E. Lang. They settled in Laguna Beach in 1958 with son Rick and owned and operated a motel.

Inspired by Laguna’s beauty, Golda Lang began photographing the area and doing postcards and brochures. She opened her little shop in 1970 with Laguna photos and gifts.

Rick and Cheryl, Laguna Beach, grandson’s Chris and family (Hawaii) and Josh and family (San Clemente) and four great-grandchildren survive her.  A memorial service for both Golda and L.E. will be held in December.

Amy Kramer

Paying for Spain

Just recently I traveled with my family to Mammoth Lakes for a summer vacation. The mountains are beautiful and the fishing, mountain biking and hiking are unbeatable. We have vacationed up in Mammoth for a few summers and this summer was one of the busiest I have ever seen. The spaces in the condo garage were completely full and the restaurants and stores were packed as well. That’s a good thing. But it’s also indicative of how people are spending their money: staying closer to home, no flying and less grandeur are part of the recessionary vacation experience these days.


But not for the first lady.


Okay, I realize that she is entitled to go on vacation. She should travel and experience different places as an ambassador of the White House and for a little R&R. But is a $200,000 plus trip to Spain really necessary especially in these tough economic times? From different reports it appears that she has paid for part of her expenses personally. But that’s only “part of” and the rest is paid for with your money and mine including fine dinners, 5-star hotel rooms and an entourage that only rivals Madonna’s.


Sometimes, when politicians try to go about their business as “normal people” it does not always go over well. Because let’s face it, when you are flying on a private jet that costs over $11,000 an hour to operate, that’s not normal. And yes, the Obamas did have their own personal wealth prior to entering the White House, but not that kind of wealth. Here’s the deal, people are losing jobs, the oil spill in the Gulf is monstrous and killing not only the environment, but jobs too. People are losing their homes, their savings, and their pride. So, does this trip to Spain deserve the criticism it has received - yes!


Recent headlines have dubbed Michelle Obama as a modern day Marie Antoinette and the New York Times’ Peter Baker and Raphael Minder wrote that perhaps her glamorous vacation was “ill-timed” considering all those struggling right now at home. Whatever happened to the whole campaign tone Obama preached about spreading the wealth and making the rich pay for their sins? Does this mean him or just everyone else?


It’s the classic liberal attitude of do as I say, not as I do. So while people like Al Gore go around telling everyone the sky is falling if we don’t stop driving, stop using plastic bags and stop ruining the earth, he’s out there in a 10,000 square foot mansion and flying on a private jet all over the world putting out more carbon emissions than most small states. As President Obama is berating the oil mavens and touting the great effects of his stimulus-cum-deep-water-deficit plan that ‘should’ be working by now, he sends his wife off to another country to spend even more of our hard-earned tax dollars. Hello! Does anyone get this?!


If a rich, corporate businessperson wants to spend his or her hard earned cash on a glitzy vacation, that’s fine. That corporate person has also contributed to the overall big picture by providing jobs, livelihoods and future opportunity for many people. Yes, rich people are not so bad after all. A rich person’s trip would be a vacation paid out of the pocket of a private person’s account, not the U.S. Treasury.


Aside from the fact that spending all this money during one of the worst economic times in our nation’s history is in bad taste, why would the first lady go to Spain? Seriously, right now we need to focus on America - land of the free, home of the brave. Where’s the American pride campaign? Why is there no emphasis on how great our country is and how much we have to offer when it comes to tourism, natural beauty and amazing sites? Could Michelle Obama not have settled for a few more trips to American cities and states? How about Alaska?! Better yet, what about Laguna Beach - the Montage is absolutely gorgeous and would certainly satisfy Michelle’s 5-star tastes.


When the rest of the country is struggling to get by, banks are behaving badly and Wall Street gets a bailout while American families get locked out of their homes and futures, I would think that perhaps Mrs. Obama could have waited until all those “shovel-ready” jobs had been underway and the economy was more stable before she set out on an expensive, taxpayer paid trip abroad.


Amy Kramer is a wife, mom, president of Laguna Beach Republicans, and facilitates a conservative women’s group. Send comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A skateboard ban will never work in skateboard heaven

Laguna Beach is more than a  “skateboard park.”  It is a skateboard heaven. The whole town is up and down, and people have been skateboarding here from the beginning when a skateboard was a piece of wood with a pair of old skates screwed on the front and back.

Certainly we need some good ideas in relation to safety on the really steep hills, but a ban will never work. Like one writer said it’s part of our culture and it ain’t going away.

Walking is not only great for the body but good for the spirit. Laguna’s neighborhood gardens, public parks, beaches and more than twenty canyons are a walker’s paradise. Try walking through Diamond Canyon on Diamond St. At the top of Diamond, a verdant, green garden grows just before you take the turn north and downhill. The trails in the greenbelt and Victory Walk in Laguna Canyon are great too.

Some of our canyons [are] Hobo, Diamond, Bluebird, Laguna and Boat canyon. Great destination parks and beaches include Crescent bay, Shaw’s Cove, beautiful Heisler Park, Main Beach, Bluebird park, Thalia St.,  Brooks St., Oak St. overlook, Mountain Dr., the “grand staircase” to Wood’s Cove, Aliso beach, West St. beach, Secret Cove, the Village Green in South Laguna, and Thousand Stairs.

Eat, pray if you like, love – but whatever you do, consider walking and skateboarding. It’s a way of life in Laguna Beach.

Roger Carter

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Looking down…not out

The photo on the front page of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot of August 6, 2010 was shot in such a manner as to maximize the visual impact of my solar electric panels. It was taken by standing up close to the bedroom window, looking down at the panels, not out at the view.  Most folks, when in their own bedroom, are actually sitting or lying down.  In which case, the subject solar panels or not blocking any ocean view, as there is no ocean view in these conventional positions, as the bottom windowsill is chest high.

On three different occasions I personally tried to invite [a neighbor] to participate in the pre-planning process before moving forward on the solar electric panel project.  She was the only neighbor whose ocean view might be affected and only partially from one window in her upstairs bedroom area. None of her ocean view was affected in the downstairs bedroom/living/deck area. Every time I attempted to converse with her on the topic of the solar electric system, it ended up with her yelling at me, cussing at me, and telling me “to shove the solar panels where the sun doesn’t shine.” During the actual installation of the system, [the neighbor], or her mother…yelled at, cussed at, harangued and insulted the installation crew at least every other day

Regarding her use of the term “platform,” there is none.  The panels sit on a racking system, a series of joined and connected 1¼” steel pipes.  The bottom edge of the lower portion of the panels is 1’2” above the level of our tar and gravel flat roof, and the top edge of the highest portion of the panels is 2’2” above the level of our tar and gravel flat roof.  Of the five different racking systems that were thoroughly explored prior to construction, two of them would not work with our roof joist/rafter system, a third system was too heavy for our roof, and of the remaining two, we purposely picked the lowest profile one out of concern for the [neighbors]. This particular racking system was also most costly to install of the five racking systems.

[The neighbor] contends that a 15% pitch of the panels (their amount of slope) is unnecessary.  First, the optimum slope for this part of the world is 20 degree, anything less reduces the overall performance of the system.  Again, entirely voluntarily, our panels are set at a 10 degree slope, thus reducing their height impact by about 10” and concurrently causing about a 5% reduction in performance of the system. [The neighbor] made a statement to the City Council that she talked to a solar “expert” who said that these panels could have been laid flat on the roof and still accomplished the same energy results to the homeowner.  These statements are not correct, nor are many other of her assertions.  Laying the panels flat or reducing the slope further would eventually create zero energy after about three to six months, due to local airborne particulates totally attaching/covering the solar panels’ surfaces and blocking out the sun’s rays.  This proposed “solution” is the equivalent of a permanent cloud cover.

The Federal and State governments have both created significant financial incentives to get homeowners to participate in this type of solar electric system.  It greatly reduces the amount of carbon dioxide dumped into the environment, reduces the demands on the current electric grids, and reduces the overall electric energy needs of states, cities and local communities.  People of Laguna will have to decide if all of these benefits and incentives outweigh the partial loss of a view corridor from one bedroom of one resident.

Jim Mouradick

Laguna Beach


Don Williams photoDon Williamson

Former Pageant of the Masters Director and noted architect

A memorial service to celebrate Don’s life will be held on Friday, Aug 6 at 11 a.m. at the Forum Theater on the Festival grounds with a following reception at Tivoli Terrace. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to the Sawdust Festival Benevolence fund and/or the Festival of Arts Scholarship fund.

Photos courtesy of Sharbie Higuchi

Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters

click on photos to enlarge



A Memorial to her Dad – by JENNIE RIKER

In the fall of 1913, deep in the heart of the Mexican Revolution, my father, Donald McLean Williamson, was born in Mexico City. Pancho Villa rode down their street, hell-bent for the Capitol, singing songs of rebellion. Ten days later, my grandparents, Marjorie and Richard, took him to a local police station to be registered as an American citizen. My father and his brothers and the generations to come would forever be bound by history and by love to Mexico.

They lived in the Capitol until the boys were ready for college, which for my Dad was the University of Wisconsin. After a stint there in the frozen northland, he ventured into Texas and Rice University, studying architecture, which had become his life’s passion. (But he hadn’t met Mom yet!)  Destiny would take the family to Pasadena, and the City of Angels, where Dad reaffirmed his true calling and graduated from USC School of Architecture. The first home he designed was for my grandparents right here in Laguna on Arroyo Chico.

Grandma had accepted the position of managing director of the old Laguna Playhouse on Ocean Ave. While Dad was still at USC, she was directing a play called “Outward Bound.” She had cast a beautiful young actress, who was earning a living as a bank teller at the Bank of America. (Frank Cuprien had a crush on her and brought her small paintings!). Grandma convinced Dad to come down and meet her leading lady, Josephine, destined to be my mother. They were married in 1940 and lived in Eagle Rock. During the war, Dad’s training brought him to Lockheed where he worked on the design of the revolutionary jet fighter, the P-80 Shooting Star.

In 1949, Don and Jo loaded the Ford station wagon with me, my little brother, Doug, and everything a young family gathers around it. They hit the old Pacific Coast Highway, bound for the town that would become their destiny. When Dad arrived, there were only a three architects here! It was a young man’s dream, with everything before him. A landscape to frame beautiful homes, a town to be loved and well tended.

His first architectural job was the Security Pacific Bank on Forest Ave. Soon to follow were many private residences, the El Morro School, the stage building, administration offices and Forum Theater at the Festival of Arts. In 1957, Dad’s vision for the Festival of Arts dining pavilion (now Tivoli Terrace) featured a dramatic hyperbolic paraboloid roof. It became a soaring reality that embodied his dreams, solid like the concrete from which it was made, but seeming to fly.

During these years, Don served on the City Planning Commission, the Playhouse Board of Directors, and the Festival of Arts board. He and my Mom, often under the direction of my Grandmother, acted in many memorable productions at the old Playhouse. As events came to pass, it was inevitable that Dad would finally take the reigns of Laguna’s emblem, the Pageant of the Masters, which he produced from 1964 to 1978. Under his innovative direction, the legendary show evolved.  It kept its charm, but was on the road to becoming the stunning attraction that we know today.

After a lifetime of inspiration to the town and it’s citizens, it was no surprise that [in 1993] Mom and Dad’s home would burn along with the hundreds of others…after all, they were here when our town was a fledgling village, and would remain an integral part of her rebuilding.  After the fires, Josephine left us, and not long after that, my brother Doug’s untimely death saddened the community. Then in 2005 it was Dad’s great honor to be selected “Citizen of the Year.” Riding through his beloved town was indeed a splendid event.

And with the dawn on Friday, July 23, 2010 in the final beautiful home he designed, his mighty heart at last gave ‘way to the mysteries of paradise.  We miss you already Dad, but imagine the joy you bring to those who were waiting for you.

Dad is survived by me (Jennie), as well as four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

A guest column

Focusing on the Pageant Binocular Concession

I have to admit that I battled a sick feeling in my stomach as I walked on to the Festival of Arts grounds a few weeks ago. Until this summer, my family had owned and managed the Binocular and Blanket rental concession that serves the Pageant of the Masters. Last fall we got a letter in the mail from the President of the Festival of Arts board thanking us for our steadfast and good work, but that the Festival of Arts had decided to take over our business and run it themselves. The decision they said was a financial one. Since times where hard, they needed the money. After 45 years of serving the Pageant Of the Masters, this summer is very different for us. I was walking to the Art-A-Fair when my curiosity got the better of me, I had to go and see how the Festival was managing our Binocular Concession.

It was my brother Wally Wethe who started the Binocular Concession in 1964. He was the Student Body President of Laguna Beach High School that year. Jobs were hard to find for baby boomers then and like my parents had done, the Wethe kids were expected to earn their own way through college. It was my Mom, Joyce Wethe, who finally gave the sage advice to think about “providing a service” rather than “getting money”. Wally’s Sunday school teacher was the one who gave him the idea of renting binoculars for the Pageant of the Masters. Wally thought it was a great idea.

When Wally approached the Festival of Arts about the idea however, they turned him down because they were afraid the binoculars would ruin the effect of the show. Not being a quitter, Wally went to the mayor of the city to ask if he could rent property outside of the grounds to run the concession. The consent was granted. The first Binocular Concession was erected where the Festival ticket office is now. When the ticket office was built on that spot, the booth was moved to the parking lot across the street from the Pageant. The booth was constructed to look like Lucy’s booth in the Peanuts cartoon. It had a sign on the front reading, “The Keeper of the Glasses is In”. My brother wore a white shirt and black bow tie.

Robin Altman PhotoWhen Wally finished college in 1968, my brother David bought the Binocular Concession from Wally. He ran it for a few years and then I bought it from him in 1971 when I was just 16. I was lucky that I was the youngest child in the family. I received the same lecture from my Dad that the boys had heard, “Be businesslike, respectful to the customers and above all, be honest and pay your taxes.” In 1972 I was granted an art Scholarship from the Festival of Arts. The scholarship was granted to me for four consecutive years increasing each year because of my good grades. I also got my first booth at the Sawdust Festival in 1972 and began selling my paintings and shell necklaces. I’d be at the Sawdust all day and the binocular concession every night. I was able to pay for my entire college tuition outright with those three sources of income.

In 1973 we heard a rumor that the binocular concession was on the agenda of the city council meeting. The person said we better show up if we wanted to keep the concession. Someone on the city council had the idea of taking over the business and letting council members take turns running it in order to raise money for their annual party. I was trembling as I stood in front of them that night explaining that I needed my business to earn my way through college. My Dad sat in the front row giving me the thumbs up. I guess they didn’t think it would be good PR to take a business away from a kid earning their way through college in order to fund a party, because they voted that idea down.

Those years renting binoculars and also blankets out on the canyon road were interesting. I was like a sitting duck to all sorts of characters that roamed the canyon back then. I often did feel like Lucy. Sitting under my kerosene lamp, I was preached to regularly by evangelists. I was given free dinners from the Harikrishnas and I would explain to tourists which Festival was which. One night a very angry young man sat on his bike telling me his tale of mistreatment while repeatedly throwing his switchblade into the telephone pole that my booth was anchored to. I listened very patiently. Donny, the local motorcycle cop, loved to hide next to my booth waiting for drivers who would race through the crosswalk while tourists crossed.  Once I was a witness for him when he ticketed a person. But the most common question asked me was, “Why in the heck are you renting binoculars and blankets out on a busy street?” Many people who pass the Festival don’t have a clue as to what the Pageant is. I was “Ambassador of Festival Information.”

In 1980 the concession was threatened again. Someone else wanted to have a summer business in the city parking lot and I was setting a precedent. By this time the Festival of Arts knew that their patrons wanted Binoculars and Blankets available. It was Sally Reeves from the Festival Board that paved our way on to the Festival Grounds. After 17 years the patrons would no longer have to leave the grounds and cross a dangerous street to rent their binoculars and blankets and I would no longer have to breath exhaust from all the cars.

By this time my business had become truly a family affair. My husband Dan and I took turns running the business so that our children could be looked after too. When each of our three girls was old enough to stand still, they became Pageant volunteers in the show.  As well as volunteering they eventually got jobs selling programs, ushering and working at the “Tivoli” restaurant. It felt good to have them gainfully employed and within our site every night. In 1993 I became an artist on the grounds and remained so for 10 years.  They put my booth right next to the Binocular Concession so we could mind both businesses.

That brings me back to my visit to the Binocular Concession this summer. As I walked on the grounds several sympathetic eyes greeted me. We have lots of friends there. They have been like family to us. People are aware of the fact that we’d lost our business. “How are you doing Robin?” “How are the kids?” “What are you doing now Robin?” Their eyes were sympathetic; this was tough. The binocular concession was our main source of income. My heart beat louder the closer I got to where the booth stood. I rounded the corner and there it was. The signs were different, the counters were rebuilt, and the blankets had the Festival of Arts Logo on them. I recognized the woman who was running the booth. She apologized for taking the job of managing our business. She logically explained that if she had refused the job, someone else would have taken it. I told her it wasn’t her fault and I understood her desire to have a job. She was training a young helper and nervously said to the girl, “This is the woman I was telling you about that used to own this business”, the girl looked at me uncomfortably. We exchanged a few more sentences before I said I had to be going. She went back to sorting the binoculars and I turned and walked away, after almost 50 years of serving the festival, that door had closed.

It was hard getting the letter saying they were taking over our business. Harder still that the board would not meet with us to discuss the matter or even return our calls. As a member of the Festival of Arts, I went to the annual meeting hoping to question the board and see if there could be any sort of compromise. I had to at least try to communicate. Alas, there was no allotted time for any questions or complaints from the members during this meeting. I was in awe of the fact that the meeting was about how well the financial situation was for the Festival even though times were hard. When the meeting was adjourned I stood in a daze. Not willing to give up, I stood outside the forum waiting for the board members to come out so I could have a chance to talk to them. I spoke to a few of them as they exited and they seemed quite sympathetic. One of them said the person I actually needed to talk to was the Festival President. He finally came out. He didn’t know who I was so I introduced myself. Recognition finally swept over his face. I asked him personally if we could have the chance to meet with the board to discuss the matter of our Binocular Concession. After all of these years it seemed to me like a fair thing to do. We felt there were things they had to know about the managing of the Binocular Concession. He confirmed that a meeting was not going to happen and then he turned away to join the others for cookies and coffee.

I struggled painfully over the next few days. I worried about my livelihood. Finally I resolved that I had a choice; I could be fearful and resentful, let depression overwhelm me or I could choose to focus on the positive and even find an “open window” somewhere. It wasn’t easy, but I chose the latter path. I made a decision to focus on the fact that we had 45 great years with the Pageant of the Masters that benefited our family and them greatly.  We were a part of a great community of friends and family there as well. I also console myself by knowing that the Pageant of the Masters is continuing to be supported by a great service that my family and I carefully grew and nurtured from a $1000 a summer endeavor to almost a hundred times that. Patrons of the Festival came to know and trust us and in 45 years of Pageants and we never missed one night of service.


Robin Wethe Altman grew up in Laguna Beach from the age of 5 years. Her father Lt. Col Wallace Wethe was an Ace Fighter Pilot in the Marine Corps, her mother an artist, writer and homemaker. Her Grandmother Grace Wethe was one of the DAR members who started the Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade. Robin is a Laguna Beach Entrepreneur, Festival of Arts Scholarship recipient, and full time local artist at the Art-A-Fair Festival and Watercolor Gallery. Her new series of paintings called her “She” series honors the role of women in society.

Make traffic, not skateboarders, the PTC priority

Sometimes I wonder about the priorities of our city’s government.

Our P.T.C. [Parking, Traffic, Circulation Committee] holds public hearings and debates over what to do about skateboarding on city streets while there seems to be no plan under consideration or being developed to better accommodate our worsening traffic problems. It’s not just in the summer season anymore. Traffic snarls have become a daily nightmare.

Traffic management seems non-existent, excepting when the Police Explorers direct traffic on summer weekends (and they do a commendable job). The summer time trolleys are a great help but the daily passing thru traffic increases year after year. Look at how many cars are passing over our streets in peak traffic hours with only one occupant, the driver. Passing thru traffic is killing our town.

What can the PTC do? For starters, banning or restricting skateboards will never solve our traffic problems. Considering that PCH, Broadway and Laguna Canyon become nearly impassable (or impossible) in rush hours, shouldn’t the PTC be paying more attention to how to move the “passers thru” traffic over our narrow streets and thru town?

There are just three surface streets exiting to the north off of Broadway and three to the south. In each case an already over crowded PCH is one of these, leaving residential streets as alternatives to the north. Narrow Glenneyre and the steep Third Street hill are available to the south. Again, both routes lead into residential neighborhoods. Our residential streets were never designed or intended to accommodate this sort of vehicular traffic volume.

Cal Trans one day will expand the two-lane Laguna Canyon Road into four lanes, but you just can’t fit a size 14 problem into a size 10 shoe. The problem becomes even worse, so we have to plan ahead for the expected.

I’m no traffic expert by a long shot, and I have no idea how to address our terrible traffic problems, and the options are limited because of the city’s layout. It just seems to me that our PTC should be holding public hearings on how to resolve our worsening traffic problems particularly with no improvement on the horizon. The skateboarders are not the problem. Let’s get our priorities straight.

Don Knapp

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Mission Hospital – one year in Laguna Beach

A letter to the community from Michael Beck

It has been one year since Mission Hospital became your new neighbor in Laguna Beach. Time has flown by since we moved in last July, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share our progress and our vision for the future. I also want thank those of you who have shared your experiences with me, introduced yourselves and taken the time to speak with us about your healthcare needs and opinions. Without your open feedback, navigating through this first year successfully would not have been possible.

Following our $3 million commitment in renovations prior to occupying the 50-year-old facility, we tackled an additional $8 million to $10 million for refurbishments. As these improvements help ensure the best and safest environment for our patients, their families and our employees, we also focused our attention beyond the hospital’s walls and into the community.

With the invaluable help of 400 Laguna Beach residents last fall, we identified the health and quality of life needs of the community. This past spring, we shared those results with you through a variety of forums and worked with community members to prioritize and select the highest area of needs. Our primary focus in the community will be on the prevention of alcohol and substance use among youth. Furthermore, we are working with community partners to determine resources in the areas of mental health and depression, as well as job skills for the homeless. Though it isn’t possible to successfully tackle every identified need, we feel we can make the greatest impact by narrowing our efforts where they can be most effectual.

We are now embarking on the second phase of our journey: strategic planning. Over the next several months, we will be working with key stakeholders in the community to form collaboratives and develop strategies that address these issues. As we move forward with purpose, we will continue to seek ways to collectively work with you to ensure our efforts remain focused and effective.

With this, we hope that our long term commitment to the coastal communities is evident. Mission Hospital has spent nearly 40 years caring for south Orange County residents and investing back into the communities we serve. We are dedicated to serving south Orange County’s beach cities with the same passion and attention.

We understand that there is still a lot to learn from our new neighbors, and we will continue to seek opportunities for open dialogue with residents, our affiliated physicians, employees, volunteers and donors. From the polling process for our new name to multiple neighbor forums we have hosted, we hope that you feel welcomed to share your input with us. Already, it has been both humbling and rewarding to hear staff, volunteers and patients share their positive experiences with our hospital. We hope that our culture of providing advanced care and advanced caring will continue to resonate with those whom we’ve had the privilege to serve.

In the years to follow, Mission Hospital is committed to establishing an enduring presence in the beach cities and continuing to provide residents with the compassionate, high-quality care you have come to expect from your local community hospital. We are admirably appreciative for the community’s support in welcoming us to this neighborhood and hope to discover new opportunities to work in partnership to enhance the quality of life in our beautiful beach communities.


Michael Beck serves as Vice President, Operations at Mission Hospital Laguna Beach. In this role, Beck will oversee all hospital operations, programs and activities of MHLB. He will also be responsible for aligning MHLB with Mission Hospital’s core values and business objectives as part of the St. Joseph Health System (SJHS). As a member of the St. Joseph Health System, Beck is also responsible for implementing health system goals and initiatives within the hospital ministry.

To reach him visit

Don Williamson: The Master of the Pageant

A Tribute

Contributed by the Pageant of the Masters

Architect and former Pageant of the Master Director Don Williamson passed away on Friday, July 23. He was 96.

Williamson will go down in Festival of Arts history for his many accomplishments and innovations that helped to shape the Festival/Pageant into the success that it is today.  He provided the original architectural designs for the Irvine Bowl stage house, only slightly modified since its construction in 1953. He also designed the Tivoli Terrace restaurant with its futuristic “hyperbolic paraboloid” roof, the permanent Festival grounds exhibition area and the Forum Theater. In his many capacities, including serving as Festival board president and Pageant director, Williamson was an innovator whose involvement with the organization spans more than six decades.

Pageant director Diane Challis Davy is quick to acknowledge her debt to Williamson. “Don was the Renaissance man,” Challis Davy stated. “He was an award-winning architect who did all his own research and came up with great ideas. He knew a lot about theater. He knew how to touch the audience. I really admired his work and the fact that he was also very much an innovator. We still use the same techniques of set building and set design that he established in the ’60s. Don will be missed”


Don Williamson was born in Mexico City and lived there for the first seventeen years of his life. He came to Southern California to study at USC and pursue a career in architecture. He formally moved to Laguna Beach in 1950 when he received a commission to design a new bank building. Set design for the theater became a logical extension of his architectural skills, and Williamson’s willingness to pitch in, both backstage and onstage, earned him the respect of his peers. Don’s mother, Marjorie, had deep roots in the theater, first at the Pasadena Playhouse, then in Laguna, where she was instrumental in the development of the Community Players. Williamson’s name can be found among the cast lists of some of her early theater productions in Laguna. He met his wife, Jo, in a play at the Community Playhouse, where he later served as a board member and president.

The Pageant souvenir program in 1938 listed Don Williamson as assistant to director Roy Ropp, “the father of the Pageant,” helping to build and paint sets. Nearly three decades later when Williamson became Pageant director, his appointment was the logical culmination of that apprenticeship with Ropp.

In 1951, Williamson was elected to the Festival board. That same year, his mother was appointed as director of one of the three Pageant programs presented in repertory that summer. Marjorie Williamson therefore holds the distinction of being the first woman to direct the Pageant, with the caveat that she was one of three serving under producer Clarence Upson Young.

With the added involvement of Jo and Don’s children, Jenni and Doug, the Williamson family had three generations devoting their efforts to the success of the Pageant. And in 1978, Williamson’s last year as Pageant director, when his grandson Juan came to spend the summer working backstage with his grandfather, a fourth generation briefly joined in.

Don Williamson Time Capsule PhotoDirecting The Pageant

As Pageant director from 1964-1978, Don Williamson was always searching for new ways to enhance the inherent theatricality of the Pageant while remaining faithful to its artistic intentions. He utilized every possible staging area, including the roof of the stage house and created some of the most memorable moments Pageant audiences had ever witnessed. His thematically linked Bicentennial program established the precedent for today’s themed Pageants. And his tribute to the Civil War art of Gettysburg became a moving and oft-repeated Pageant special.

In 1971, in a treatise he prepared for the Festival board, entitled, “Anatomy of a Pageant,” Williamson articulated his vision of the challenges and potentialities of producing tableaux vivants. His “Anatomy” still stands as a kind of “how to” guide and a passionate manifesto about the production he loved. Stressing the importance of original music and narration as key, complementary building blocks in the creation of vivid Pageant moments, Williamson applied his analytical skills to detailing some of the unique technical challenges faced in presenting tableaux on the Pageant stage.

The First Builder

Among his many innovations, perhaps the most enduringly popular one that is still in use today, was the presentation of the first “builder,” in which he opened the curtain and assembled a “living picture” in full view of the audience. Apart from its educational possibilities, a “builder” has the effect and impact of a magician showing how a trick is going to be performed, and then still managing to elicit a gasp when the trick is ultimately completed. As obvious as that may sound, it had never been tried until Don Williamson had the courage to ask his crew to give it a shot with the curtains open and see how it would go. The very first builder was presented by Williamson on July 8, 1966, as the opening tableau of the Pageant’s program. It was “Oarsmen at Chatou” by Auguste Renoir, and the overwhelmingly positive response from audiences that summer assured the reappearance of “builders” in future Pageants.

The Williamson Legacy

Unquestionably, one of Williamson’s greatest sources of pride was the work done by his son Doug, who began backstage as part of the stage crew and eventually took charge of, and dramatically improved, all sculptural construction and design. For a few brief years, father and son enjoyed a backstage collaboration that inspired them both.

When Don Williamson took over as director in 1964, volunteer involvement was languishing. Within a couple of years, he had completely turned this around as well. A true man of the theater who motivated those around him by his example, Williamson, along with the rest of his family, found themselves surrounded with intensely loyal volunteers who were inspired to care as deeply as their director did about the production they were creating together.

Under Don Williamson’s guidance, the Pageant was given the opportunity to grow into a thoroughly unique theatrical presentation. We offer our perpetual gratitude to Don Williamson for everything he has done for Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters.

Williamson is survived by his daughter Jennie Riker, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.


A memorial service to celebrate Don’s life will be held on Friday, August 6 at 11 a.m. at the Forum Theater on the Festival of Arts grounds with a reception at Tivoli Terrace immediately following. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to the Sawdust Festival Benevolence fund and/or the Festival of Arts Scholarship fund.


Laguna Beach Green Chamber of Commerce

Transition Laguna has accomplished a lot in the year or so it has existed, including the remarkable and very well attended ‘Unleashing’ this last spring.

Walk through Laguna Village and you’ll find signs marking Transition ‘pocket gardens’ on nearly every block. Chris Prelitz, author of Green Made Easy (Hay House, 2009) and one of the founders of Transition Laguna, bears much responsibility for that.

Chris has excellent green credentials, and he has opted in with the brand new Laguna Beach Green Chamber of Commerce. This sounds like a good idea to me. I know that the local chamber of commerce maintains a green stance and that’s admirable. There is a green page on their website that looks pretty good. But by definition the first priority of the chamber of commerce is business. For just one example, it will be a cold day in Uganda when the United States Chamber of Commerce adopts any stance in opposition to big oil, no matter what the oil industry may do.

In any conflict between promoting business and upholding green policies and values in such an organization, business will win out every time.

At the same time there is a quickly growing interest in conducting households, families, schools and business with a consistent eye on preserving our environment, and the specialized green chamber will address that. Just as the British-American Chamber of Commerce promotes British commercial interests in the area, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce advances Hispanic interests or the Disabled Chamber advocates businesses run by and for the disabled, you can anticipate that the Laguna Beach Green Chamber of Commerce ( will consistently advocate businesses seeking new ways to adopt sustainable business practices and green policies.

There is no conflict between the interests of the chamber and the green chamber. Any notion of competition between the two organizations is based on false assumptions.

Jim Rue

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Police Employee Association Board of Directors voted to oppose Proposition 19 – the legalization of pot initiative

Over the past two years, Laguna Beach Police Employee Association members have been trained in the detection, investigation and arrest of motorists driving under the influence of Cannabis.  As a result a slight increase in arrests for Vehicle Code 23152, specific to Cannabis influence, has been noticed.  As more police officers are training in detecting persons under the influence of Cannabis, the numbers of arrests will increase.  Unlike alcohol related DUI arrests, Cannabis influence DUI arrests are seen during the day and night time.

This will dramatically increase if people are allowed to legally smoke marijuana.  If Cannabis is legalized, as someone who has had a sibling killed by a DUI driver, I can only imagine the devastation this will have to our community.  LBPEA supports Public Safety First, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Senator Feinstein and many other law enforcement organizations and the public in opposing this proposition.

Let’s keep our families and roadways safe!

Larry Bammer
Laguna Beach Police Employee Association

Two ministers express their concerns about immigration enforcement in and out of Laguna Beach

We are writing to you today as local ministers and Laguna Beach residents. We are writing to you because we are concerned about the way immigrants are treated and spoken about in America today. Yes, this is an issue of Federal law, which Washington will one day deal with. But it is also an issue on the streets of downtown Laguna Beach. Here in our town, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers have detained several people suspected of being illegal immigrants.

We are concerned about families and those most vulnerable in our community. When immigrants are detained or deported, they are often separated from family members who depend on them for basic needs. Detention and deportation shatters families who have made America their home.

We are concerned about the safety of our community. In Arizona, and now, much of Orange County, laws are being written that require local police officers to enforce Federal immigration laws. To some that might sound like a move toward more security. However, those laws actually increase crime. Those laws make the entire immigrant community suspicious of the police. Without a relationship with the community they serve, the police find it nearly impossible to collect information necessary to prevent crime. Also, the additional burden of enforcing Federal immigration law distracts from the work of providing for basic public safety. Since the passage of AZ SB 1070, crime has increased significantly, not decreased.

We are concerned about families, we are concerned about the security of our community, and we are concerned about the type of world we build when exclusion is the order of the day. Immigration is not only a political issue, it is a moral issue as well.

Both Hebrew and Christian scriptures admonish us to welcome the stranger. Hebrew scriptures, recalling the oppression the children of Israel suffered as foreigners, teach us to love the stranger, the outsider. The Book of Leviticus instructs, “You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Jesus and his followers went beyond welcoming the foreigner to the more radical practice of welcoming the marginalized: children, women, tax collectors, the poor, lepers, prostitutes, even enemies. In Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God, there are no foreigners.

The Buddhist tradition arrives at a similar place by a different road. In some ways the Buddhist perspective is the most radical. Buddhism teaches that the very distinction between one group and another, between insider and outsider, between citizen and alien is an illusion.  We are all deeply related at the very core of our being, and the great end in religious life is to discover and embrace that connection.

Unitarian Universalists talk about the inherent worth and dignity of every person. They believe that every person counts, regardless of race, nationality, sexual orientation, physical ability, or any other contrived barrier. The religious journey is living a life that honors the dignity of the stranger in our midst.

As ministers and residents of Laguna Beach, we are deeply concerned about immigration enforcement. As the topic of immigration comes to the fore of our political consciousness, we simply ask you to keep your eyes and ears open.

Let us form our opinions based not on fear, but on fact. Let us listen not just to voices that echo our own, but learn from a variety of sources. Let us move forward not in fear and assumption, but in discernment and compassion. And together we can bring about a meaningful answer to the challenge of immigration justice.

Rev. Kent Doss

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Laguna Beach

Rev. B.J. Beu

Neighborhood Congregatioal Church

American Legion, VFW, appreciate Monday’s hospitality

Big thanks go to the Board of the Festival of Arts and June Neptune of Tivoli Terrace restaurant for providing a wonderful evening for a hundred veterans and their support staff on July 12.

This year the Laguna Beach American Legion and VFW Posts invited veterans from Long Beach, Loma Linda and San Diego Veterans’ Hospitals and from the Barstow and Chula Vista Veterans’ Homes to attend the famous Pageant of the Masters and have dinner at Tivoli Terrace.

Our fellow veterans never fail to be amazed and appreciative of this special Laguna Beach hospitality. Thanks so much.

Frank Daniel, Commander American Legion Post 222

Bill Sandlin, Commander VFW Post 5868

Could a new Boom make a lot of $$?

Laguna Beach Mayor Elizabeth Pearson’s statement that we as a town are tolerant is true, but her statements saying every bar and restaurant is a gay and straight bar is questionable. Ms Pearson and Mrs. Egly are slightly out of touch with reality. .

The Boom Boom Room and Coast Inn was a destination bar/cafe and inn. The ‘boom’ did $60,000 plus on big weekends years ago and gays, lesbians and others from around the planet enjoyed gathering in their own establishments and landmarks such as West St. Beach in South Laguna, another international destination which attracts thousands every year and brings millions into our economy.

Yes, whoever you are, you are welcome in Laguna, but with the hotel bed tax down nearly 20% and sales tax revenues down 25%, this is no time to claim we are beyond certain groups gathering in their favorite places. The Laguna Visitor’s Bureau, which takes part of the hotel tax, spends nothing advertising in national gay and lesbian magazines such as Instinct, the Advocate and the Lesbian News, and yet gay travelers are known as good spenders.

Mr. Hazy who bought the Coast Inn - Boom Boom Room said he didn’t close it - yes it was closed by men who had a lease with Hazy, but only after they ran and ruined the cafe and bar business.

The Boom Boom Room was the big, gay bar that could accommodate 200 + people and it was a magnet for visitors and locals. Its closure along with Woody’s (the Little Shrimp) is two major reasons Laguna is in the worst economic slump in history. It’s ironic that Aliso Creek Inn and golf course and the luxury hotel at Treasure Island, both of which are struggling financially, don’t have some $$$$ to spend attracting visitors to West St Beach - within walking distance of both properties. If what the mayor says is true, what are these two hotels afraid of?

“They kicked the gays out of town,” a visitor told me this week. Not quite, but they built Main Beach Park, many believe, to shut down and close two big gay bars - but then there was the Boom and our new, beautiful gay, lesbian and other folks’ own beach - West St., and maybe a smart business person will realize a new Boom could make a lot of $$ - for the owners and the city, if it was managed as Councilperson Kelly Boyd said, by someone like Syd Mead.

Roger Carter

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Prohibit skateboarding on steep and twisting hillside streets

A Parking, Traffic, and Circulation (PTC) committee meeting held on May 27th included a discussion of the skateboarder issue, and a subcommittee was formed to advise the PTC on this matter.  Two members of the subcommittee had already spoken; one regarding his fond memories of skateboarding as a youth, and the other explaining how she avoided skateboarders by “stepping up on the sidewalk”.

One can imagine what the report of the subcommittee will recommend to the PTC (and ultimately to the City Council).  The reality is that many hillside streets in Laguna have no sidewalks.  Children walking to the school bus stop, adults, joggers, and moms with strollers, etc. must share these roads with legitimate vehicles.  Skateboards, speedboards, and waveboards, which have neither brakes nor proper steering means, endanger everyone - not just their operator.  Skateboarders speeding down twisting hillside streets at 30-50 mph, especially around ‘blind’ curves, are in danger of colliding with vehicles backing out of driveways, pedestrian traffic, and even city busses.

Only recently we witnessed an out of control Morningside Drive downhill skateboarder coming within inches of going under the front wheels of an oncoming city bus.

Laguna Beach residents should be aware that a Huntington Beach teen, injured in falling off a waveboard in an alley, received a $30,000 settlement from the city because it was ‘cheaper to settle than litigate’ according to their City Attorney.  Laguna residents and their insurers can look forward to rising insurance rates if the situation is not controlled.

Malibu, with twisting canyon roads similar to ours, voted to prohibit skateboarding on 10 public streets in February 2009.  Laguna Beach needs to follow Malibu’s example by prohibiting skateboarding on steep and twisting hillside streets, and by mandating that they abide by the ‘rules of the road’ on all other streets.

Manfred E. Wolff

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