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Local group working on donating rainbow-colored lifeguard tower for Laguna’s “gay beach”


A community group is working on a grassroots effort to make one local beach a little more colorful.

Laguna Beach Pride 365 has proposed a rainbow-colored lifeguard tower for West Street Beach, often considered the “gay beach” in town. The group would fundraise, purchase and donate the tower.

The project also proposes a plaque and an optional foldable foot ramp. The plaque would honor Eldredge “Bud” Loewnguth, whose home near the beach started as a hub of activity with visitors and ultimately brought an avid LGBT group to West Street beach.

Laguna Beach Pride 365 estimates the total project cost at $38,911.

Craig Cooley, president of Laguna Beach Pride 365, presented the proposed “rainbow tower of pride” to city council on August 2 during public comments on non-agenda items.

If they get the green light on the project, they’ll quickly start fundraising for the tower, Cooley said.

“It’s really that simple,” he noted.

They should recognize the culture that has been part of that area for many years.

That beach has been a focal point that has brought people from around the world, said Cooley who has run “the last gay bar in Laguna,” Main Street Bar & Cabaret, for many years.

“People come to that beach…as a gay destination,” Cooley said.

West Street Beach brings people who stay in local hotels and enjoy everything offered in the city, he added.

“It is a win-win, I think, all the way around,” Cooley said.

He also floated the idea by the county, which operates West Street Beach.

They’re aware of some issues they may run into, like the California Coastal Commission, but Cooley believes it’s not insurmountable. The goal is to keep it simple, he said.

A precedent has been set, Cooley noted, with a rainbow-colored lifeguard station at three other locations in the state: Hermosa Beach, Long Beach and Venice Beach.

“Of all the rainbow-colored lifeguard towers on California beaches, I feel this one more importantly reflects and is deservedly appropriate, especially for the local community,” Cooley commented in an email to Stu News Laguna.

Local group working tower rendering

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Courtesy Craig Cooley/Laguna Beach Pride 365

The proposed rainbow-colored lifeguard tower 

They just started reaching out to the county on the proposed project, City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said at the August 2 council meeting.

“It may be more difficult than we think it is at this point,” Dupuis noted.

Dupuis recently asked Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow to look into a program to get an “overall permit” for all lifeguard towers. If that happens, that’s one way they could include the rainbow tower idea into an overall program, she explained.

Due to regulations, the process could take about a year to get the tower up, Dupuis added. She advised Laguna Beach Pride 365 to “go ahead with the fundraising” and they will work through the process with the county to get the permits.

West Street Beach is owned, operated and maintained by the County of Orange, not the City of Laguna Beach, Assistant City Manager Ken Domer explained in an email to Stu News Laguna.

Only city beach lifeguard towers require approval through the city’s Coastal Development Permit entitlement process, which includes potential approval from the California Coastal Commission, said Domer, who is working through the process with the county. The same entitlement process would be required for West Street Beach through the county, he added.

“Per our direction with the county staff, it is our understanding that the county is not opposed to the idea of the lifeguard tower project, but their donation policy is to only accept a standard tower that is the same as all other towers in their operations,” Domer said.

Although the proposal hasn’t gone far at the county level.

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Public Information Officer for OC Parks Marisa O’Neil said in an email to Stu News that OC Parks had been in communication with Laguna Beach Pride 365 regarding the donation of a rainbow-colored diversity lifeguard tower and a commemorative plaque.

“OC Parks’ practice does not allow for memorial benches, trees, plaques or other items to be donated to the parks,” O’Neil said. “In June, this information was relayed to Laguna Beach Pride 365 and there has been no further communication with this group.”

Although the idea to recognize the popular beach doesn’t stop there for the city. Domer is still working with the county and looking into the proposal.

“We are working with Mr. Cooley on another recognition feature for West Street Beach that is entirely within the city’s control, such as a plaque or other signage to accent the history and importance of the area,” Domer said. “The city is open to working with Mr. Cooley and supporters to recognize the history of West Street Beach.”

Local group working West Street beach

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo courtesy Craig Cooley/LB Pride 365

West Street Beach has long been known as the local “gay beach” 

Overall, Cooley noted that he’s heard a lot of passionate support for the project.

At LB Pride 365 meetings, they’ve discussed “topics about the tower regarding everything from the international recognition of the beach and LGBTQ attendees, (it is profound), its recent resurgence in popularity, the popularity of the beach year-round and the effect it has on tourism and bed tax revenue, the decades of involvement of the social culture of the beach from its initial inception, how it came about, to its current establishment as a premier LGBTQ West Coast beach and hub of activity...its history.”

Typically, the beach has a Memorial Day start of summer season and Labor Day end of summer celebration festivities, Cooley noted, often with a red carpet and drag queens sporting their bathing costumes as they parade into the ocean with a crowd cheering them on.

“To the local residents of Laguna Beach, these activities may go unnoticed, as the beach is somewhat obscured...but let me assure you, it is a big part of what Laguna Beach is and has to offer and has been for many years,” Cooley said, “it is deserving of recognition.”

There is very strong and vocal support for this project that is growing every day, Cooley added.

“A rainbow of diversity on the beach is simply a clear and powerful message of kindness and inclusion at a time in our world when it seems to be in very short supply,” Cooley said at the August 2 meeting and emphasized again in an email to Stu News. “It is a message to celebrate our differences, to bring everyone together in a community, and to celebrate what we have: Our beaches, our beautiful environment, our diverse and rich culture and the legacy that is the history of Laguna Beach being celebrated.


Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

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