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Laguna Logo 2022

In creating The Salt Horse, Sam Savage Breit pays homage to back-to-the-land lifestyle


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The Salt Horse, a farm-to-table specialty grocery store, may be the best kept secret in Laguna, but hopefully for owner Sam Savage Breit, it won’t be much longer. Open since October 2022, it shares a building (that previously housed two plant nurseries) with Business and Pleasure. The names of both shops – Business & Pleasure (which sells unique beach accessories) and The Salt Horse – are mysterious and could represent a multitude of endeavors.

However, the focus of The Salt Horse is not at all secretive – the main goal is to serve the community by sourcing the freshest and most sustainable, nutritious, organic and seasonal produce from California family farms. At its core is a farm-to-table concept for down home living in a modern world and the celebration of the stories behind the food – the people who grew it, raised it, caught and created it. 

in creating sign and cactus

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Sam Savage Breit opened The Salt Horse in October 2022. The logo was designed by local artist Gulliver Farnan.


The name of The Salt Horse has special meaning to Breit, one that she was unaware of until she started researching the name.

“I did a search of the name to be sure it wasn’t being used anywhere else,” she said. “The salt represents the essential seasoning that can make or break a dish and salt to the earth people who I have the pleasure of working with. The horse represents the farm, the original way food was delivered, and hard- working people, which you have to be to be in this industry. I discovered that it is an Irish nautical slang for corned beef. 

“Immediately I knew this was serendipity and must be the name of my dream business. You see I was named after my grandfather, Samuel Savage, a deep sea diver from Ireland. Family is a huge inspiration for also why I founded The Salt Horse. Inspiring people to gather, tell stories and create food memories.”

in creating interior

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Hand-curated artisan goods and specialty foods. The beautiful macramé pieces hanging from the ceiling were made by local artist Jim Olarte. 

When entering The Salt Horse, it’s obvious the space is all about food – but on a deeper level – its benefits, where it came from, the story behind it, its relationship to health and well-being, how it affects the planet and how it connects families around the dinner table. 

Sounds like a lot to ask of food, but Breit breaks it down. “We are what we eat. Food affects the mind, body and mood. It either energizes or depletes,” she said. “We need to get into a ritual of recognizing the value of health and the choices we make and what are we going to grow, because we’re stripping the earth.” 

However, according to Breit, there is a solution – sourcing local markets.

“When I select a vendor, I want to make sure the farm is using organic farming practices, taking care of the environment and not spraying pesticides,” she said. “It makes a difference, and we have to be conscious of our decisions. It’s a very important question, because it affects our health and well-being. Over the years, how food is produced has drastically changed, it’s full of chemicals and artificial ingredients. Once people become educated about organic food, they can taste the difference – it’s a sensory experience.” 

The Salt Horse carries other items such as salsa, fresh goods, dips and they offer charcuterie boards.

in creating at door

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Breit created her dream business

Pursuing a dream

“My passion is to create a more sustainable food system for our local communities and transform the grocery business through mindful and valuable innovation,” Breit stated on her website. 

How did this vision become a reality? 

“I wondered where I was going to start my startup business,” Breit said. “I emailed Business & Pleasure and said, ‘I’m very passionate about food, I’m trying to create my dream business, can I sublease part of this beautiful building?’”

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Laguna Logo 2022

Barbara and Greg MacGillivray: a passion for the planet, cinema and community 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Much has been written about Barbara and Greg MacGillivray, MacGillivray Freeman Films and the couple’s philanthropic and environmental endeavors, however, there may still be a few things that might come as a surprise. 

It may not be widely known that until 2006, Barbara juggled dual careers.

In addition to her role as Director of Partner Research with the film company, she had a long career as a licensed clinical psychologist. With a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, Barbara worked for 25 years in Children, Youth Services for the Orange County Health Care Agency. 

“Over the years, they kindly accommodated me and had someone take over my clients so I could travel to film locations,” she said. “They also accommodated my bringing to the office both Corgis we had over those years which the kids loved. I retired in 2006 in order to work full time at our film office on our new campaign, ‘One World One Ocean’ dedicated to making films to raise awareness about the importance of the ocean and working to protect it.”

Barbara and couple closeup

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The MacGillivrays met at Newport Harbor High School

One wonders what other career path Greg might have chosen if he hadn’t gone into the film industry. 

“Physics, math and architecture have always fascinated me,” was his immediate answer. 


In fact, it was math that brought the couple together. Born in Washington D.C. at a Naval Reserve Hospital, Barbara’s family came to Newport Beach when she was a high school freshman. 

“I was 14 years old, and I met Greg in an accelerated math class at Newport Harbor High School,” she said. 

“Barbara was the only girl in the class who was pretty and athletic but also smart,” Greg said. (And wildly adventurous as he would later find out.) So, he did what any boy would do in that situation. “I sat behind her desk and pulled her hair to get her to notice me.”

 “I eventually asked him to the Sadie Hawkins girl-ask-boy dance, and we started dating,” Barbara said. She also sold tickets at his first surfing movie. “When I went back to the East Coast to go to Cornell University, we stayed in contact. Then we really reconnected when I began my Ph.D. studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. As luck would have it, he was planning on showing his new surfing film in Santa Cruz at the same time that I needed to drive up, so we drove up together and have been solidly together ever since.”

Turns out she’s very good at math, “My father was a scientist, an electrical engineer/physicist and worked on developing the atomic bomb during WWII. I used to call him from college to help me with calculus and I ended up getting an A+.” 

“The guy was a genius,” Greg added. “He worked for Ford Aeronutronics and had a vast collection of electronic engineering magazines as well as fascinating stories about testing the first atomic bomb on the island of Enewetok.” 

Barbara and surfboards

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Surfboards at the beachfront home they have lived in since 1973 

Greg was born in a San Diego Naval Hospital. His dad was a summer lifeguard, high school woodshop teacher and then a builder of custom homes. The MacGillivray family lived in Corona del Mar and at 12, Greg learned to surf at Little Corona. At 13, his life changed forever when his parents used three Green Stamp books to “buy” him a Brownie 8mm movie camera.

“In 1963, I went to the University of Santa Barbara, started a surf club and was working on my first surf film when I met Jim Freeman, who would become my partner for 12 years,” said Greg. “I was trying to finish my film and this guy (Jim) was at a screening of his 3D surfing film, Outside the Third Dimension. He was narrating it because he didn’t have enough money to put a soundtrack to it. There was one sequence in the film with dune buggies that was beautifully photographed, it was like Lawrence of Arabia with dune buggies. We exchanged numbers.” 

At the time, Greg explained that he was living in a dorm that was actually an old Quonset hut with about 50 other guys. “It was the best place. There was another Quonset hut across the way that housed 50 girls, and we got to know all of them and showed surfing films at the mixers. It helped with the films – we found out where they laughed and where they got bored.” 

Barbara and staircase

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Staircase carved by Jon Seeman

In November 1963, while Greg was finishing the first film, President Kennedy was shot. “You learn life fast when something like that happens,” he said. “I kept wondering ‘why I am so sad?’ It was an interesting time for everyone. We had started out only three months ago as freshmen and were beginning a new life. It was a pivotal moment that shaped everything.”

Greg said working with Freeman was like spending six months at film school. “I learned a lot about film from Jim and I finished my movie and did one more after that. Then we teamed up and made three surfing films together [Free and Easy, Waves of Change and Five Summer Stories]. We spent three months filming in South America going from country to country, finishing in Hawaii.”

In 1966, they founded MacGillivray Freeman Films and their first office space was in the old Pyne Castle in Laguna, now called the Villa Bella.

In the mid-1970s, they turned their attention to Hollywood and commercial films. But, a 1976 request from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air & Space Museum to create the first film for its five-story-tall IMAX® theater, changed the trajectory of the company again.

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A dog’s life, but not just any dog: Laguna Beach Police Department’s K-9 Rudy 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

A catchphrase supposedly attributed to the 1951 television police show Dragnet – “just the facts, ma’am,” applies to the Laguna Beach Police Department’s K-9 Rudy and his handler Corporal Thomas McGuire. Both take their jobs very seriously, and the Q&A style used to question witnesses seems tailor-made for their story only the “bare bones” facts. 

a dogs closeup McGuire

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Corporal Thomas McGuire

History of K-9s

For more than 100 years, law enforcement across the world has utilized the skills and agility of canines through police K-9 units. The skills military dogs used back in the day are similar to the skills dogs learn in law enforcement today, as they can undergo K-9 training for everything from bomb detection to patrol.

In 1888: The first uses of police dogs can be traced back to the British, who used bloodhounds’ amazing sense of smell to search for Jack the Ripper.

In 1899: In Belgium, police started the formal K-9 training process for law enforcement dogs. 

a dogs training at Susi Q

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Cpl. McGuire and Rudy training 

In addition to the skills needed for apprehending uncooperative individuals, the new K-9s (there are now two in enforcement) are trained in narcotics searches, locating missing people and helping officers encourage intoxicated people to comply with directions. It’s a big job and Rudy and Cpl. McGuire are most certainly up to the task.

A trio of K-9s

K-9 Rudy was introduced to the LBPD in June 2022. Laguna Beach had been without a K-9 officer for a year since Ranger, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, was humanely euthanized in June 2021, due to a long bout with cancer.

With the help of generous donors, in December 2021, the LBPD restarted their K-9 program. The Offield Family Foundation donated $75,433 and pledged another $44,207 in the first quarter of 2020. The Crevier Family Foundation and Bob and Bobi Roper have each donated $13,320 as well. 

a dogs Rudys closeup

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Rudy is ready for his closeup 

In December 2022, the LBPD welcomed its newest staff member, Support Service K-9 “Cooper.” His handler is Community Services Officer Rosie Santana. His training and personality comfort those exposed to trauma, help ease the stress victims and witnesses feel during criminal investigations and promote employee wellness. 

In January of this year, the LBPD added a second patrol K-9 “Bear.” Bear’s handler is Cpl. Priscilla Angeloni and he joins K-9 Rudy in protecting the community. For the first time, the department will have two K-9 enforcement teams providing coverage seven days a week.

Corporal McGuire and Rudy

Corporal McGuire has been working for the Laguna Beach Police Department for nine years. He started as a Police Aide in July 2013 and became a Police Officer in September 2014. McGuire also served as a detective from October 2019 through January 2021 and was promoted to Corporal in November 2020. He became the K-9 Officer in March 2022.

a dogs best friends

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A close bond 

Rudy is a Belgian Malinois, a breed frequently selected for K-9 dogs, and, along with Cpl. McGuire, he went through extensive tactical training at Adlerhorst International. Since 1976, Adlerhorst International has provided quality Police Service Dogs to more than 500 law enforcement agencies in the United States and several foreign countries. They have evolved into being one of the largest private Police Dog Schools in the world and have introduced many theories and techniques that are considered state-of-the-art todayAccording to, a Belgian Malinois is often used by police officers, who work in airports, train and subway stations, because he has perfect scent. His keen nose is able to find drugs and bombs, when trained to do so. He can easily smell and identify scents, because of his high level of “sniffling” drive.

a dogs waiting for a command

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Waiting for a command

Stu News: How long have you been with the Laguna Beach Police Department?

Cpl. McGuire: Nine years.

SN: What is your background?

Cpl. M: I have previously worked as a Detective and one of our department’s Drug Recognition Experts. 

SN: Have you always been a dog/animal person?

Cpl. M: Yes.

SN: Have you always wanted to be a K-9 handler? 

Cpl. M. Yes. 

SN: How does an officer become a K-9 handler? 

Cpl. M: I spent five or six years decoying for Sgt. Zachary Fillers and K-9 Ranger.

SN: Is this the first time you’ve worked with a K-9 dog? 

Cpl. M: Yes.

SN: Did you have an immediate connection with Rudy?

Cpl. M: Yes.

SN: How did his name come about?

Cpl. M: He came from Europe with his name.

a dogs looking at McGuire

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Cpl. McGuire and Rudy continue to train once a week with other K-9 units 

SN: Describe his training. 

Cpl. M: We spent six weeks training at Adlerhorst International in Jurupa Valley to become certified for patrol. We train once a week with other K-9 units from neighboring cities.

SN: What does Rudy like to do when he’s off duty, for fun?

Cpl. M: Running around the backyard with our other dog, a black lab. 

SN: What’s a typical day for you and Rudy? 

Cpl. M: We are assigned to patrol, so we train together in between responding to calls for service.

SN: What was Rudy’s last big assignment?

Cpl. M: Rudy was on scene to assist with a barricaded attempted murder suspect in September. He regularly assists on building searches, stolen vehicle investigations and other serious offenses.

However intense his day job, just like any other dog, Rudy has a favorite treat – his chew toys.

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Shelley Arends and Kelly Cornwell marry old and new in updating historic Spigot Liquor


Kelly Cornwell and Shelley Arends, the husband-and-wife team behind the transformation of Spigot Liquor, have lived three blocks from the historic store for 37 years. Before they bought the business in December 2021, it had sadly become an eyesore – with windows boarded up and pornography covering the Pearl Street window. 

“It was in a state of neglect and a blight on the neighborhood, but we never intended to be liquor store owners,” said Cornwell. “We heard it was up for sale and decided to purchase it and put a sandwich shop next door. We wanted to revitalize the corner.”

  Shelley Arends closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Kelly Cornwell and Shelley Arends

“Many people didn’t want to go into the store. By refreshing it, we wanted it to become a neighborhood store and part of the community,” Arends said. 

“Previously, only about 10% of the clientele were women, now it’s 50% and moms come in with their kids,” Cornwell said.

As the longest continuous running business in Laguna Beach, Spigot Liquor has an interesting and checkered past. It opened on October 1, 1933, two months before Prohibition was repealed on December 4 of that year. Originally a bottle shop, customers came in to refill their jugs from a barrel, hence the name Spigot Liquor. Ahead of its time, it was the first business in California to have stereophonic sound. A popular urban legend is that in the 1930s, they distilled their own liquor, carried it down to Pearl Street beach and loaded it onto boats destined for Santa Monica.

Shelley Arends historic spigot

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Courtesy of Kelly Cornwell

Spigot Liquor in the old days

Interesting facts: 1950 was the last time the store was robbed. “We installed security cameras,” Cornwell said. “The police used the footage to solve a hit and run in front of the store a while back.” They now have metal screens that roll down at night.

The Quonset hut behind the store was used to house World War II servicemen and many of their names are carved on the inside wall where the bunks were stacked.

“Spigot was owned by the Ware Family, who live in Riverside. We purchased the business, but they still own the property,” Cornwell said. “They were delighted.” The Ware family also owns Sea Horse, residential properties in Laguna and Bev Mo in Dana Point.

A family affair

Thirty-seven years ago, Arends and Cornwell ended up in Laguna due to a real estate upswing in Hacienda Heights. “Our property value doubled and we decided to sell. We looked around everywhere between here and L.A., and we fell in love with Laguna,” Cornwell said. “For 15 years, I drove to L.A. for work, five days a week, sometimes six, but it was worth it.”

Shelley Arends exterior

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Spigot Liquor 2023

They each brought a specific talent to the store update. Arends has a background in marketing (she owned Rhythmride, Laguna Soup Co., Laguna Magical Cottages and is the founder of beachBRELLA). Cornwell has a background in logistics and retired six years ago from UPS. They worked together to make Spigot Liquor a sought-after place for both locals and visitors.

Sometime in the spring, Arends and Cornwell’s son Zac, a certified financial planner, will launch Wigz, a sandwich deli restaurant in the existing retail space next door. Why the name Wigz? “The space was occupied by Charles Wigs,” Arends said. It was established in 1965. Wigz will have outdoor dining both in the front and the back, a hidden and enchanting area that will be a beer garden. 

Their other son, Zane, lives in Boise, Idaho, and is working to get his commercial pilot’s license.

Shelley Arends spigot

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Woodworker Roger Taft made a new spigot for the barrel. It had been missing for decades. 

Exterior and interior 

“A local woodworker Roger Taft crafted a spigot, which has been missing for decades, for the original barrel above the entrance and donated it,” Cornwell said. “The original exterior pecking wood was retained and windows of the era (which were previously hidden by wood) were uncovered above the door to Wigz.

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Mayor Bob Whalen energized about 2023 as he begins his fifth term


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The last time Stu News featured an in-depth conversation with Mayor Bob Whalen, it was January 2017. A lot has happened since then. (Stu News caught up with him again earlier this month as he traveled with his wife Kirsten to visit family in Northern California.) 

Whalen was elected to the Laguna Beach City Council in November 2012, and has served four terms as mayor, first in 2015, and again concurrently in 2019, 2020 and 2021. His current term runs until December 2024.

As he embarks on his fifth term as mayor, some priorities remain the same and – as would be expected – others are entirely new.

“Each term is different,” Whalen said. “It is driven by the issues the city faces. In 2020 and 2021, we were driven by the pandemic, which was unforeseen. Early in 2020, no one then suspected we’d have months and months of the pandemic. However, in retrospect, I’m very proud of how, as a city, we responded.”

Whalen referenced the OC Register report that Laguna Beach had one of the lowest cases of COVID per capita in the county, which he attributes to early and proactive response. 

Unless one has a reliable crystal ball, looking ahead to what 2023 and 2024 hold remains a mystery.

“Each term brings new challenges – some are known and some we’re not aware of yet,” he said.

Mayor Bob closeup

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Bob Whalen begins his fifth term as mayor

Public safety and arts still top priorities

At the time the 2017 article was written, Whalen’s focus was on public safety and the arts, and little has changed in that regard. “Public safety is always our top priority,” he said. “In 2019, we were able to complete the Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Report. Thirty-six action items were recommended and carried out. Providing dollars for fire safety is always at the top of the list.”

Undergrounding utilities on Laguna Canyon Road continues to be a passion for Whalen.

“For 10 years, we’ve been working on undergrounding utilities and getting bike lanes, pedestrian pathways and road safety improvements,” Whalen said. “We made progress last year. We are still pushing it, but it is an uphill battle. Our recent $35M grant application to FEMA was rejected by CalOES because Southern California Edison would not commit to a specific cost-sharing dollar amount for the project, even though the city and Edison had agreed to match the grant by a shared percentage. We have another opportunity for grant submittal in December 2023, and we will be working with SCE and Senator David Min to hopefully get this to the finish line. Public safety is of utmost concern.

“Also in 2016, we increased the hotel bed tax by 2% to create a revenue stream to fund a number of public safety programs. It has generated $10-15 million and will continue to generate funds. Our most important asset is our people, and as one of our first actions this year, the City Council unanimously approved a new wage and benefit contract with our Police Department. At its core, the agreement is about supporting public safety, and offering the Police Officers and other employees in our Police Department a compensation package that reflects their level of dedication and commitment to this community. I’d like to thank our city negotiating team, City Manager Shohreh Dupuis and the Police Employees Association for diligently working together toward an agreement that is strongly supported by our police employees and offers them the elevated compensation and quality of life enhancements they deserve.” 

Home is where the art is

Whalen’s passion for the arts strikes very close to home. Kirsten is a long-time (14 years) Festival of Arts exhibitor and graduated from LCAD. “She loves the Festival and living in Laguna,” Whalen said. “She’s busy with art and enjoying time with our grandchildren.”

Mayor Bob in City Hall

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Whalen’s home away from home 

“The arts and its rich history, continue to be an important part of our culture and the city strongly supports our vibrant arts community,” Whalen said. “The Laguna Beach Arts Alliance is a membership organization of about 25 cultural arts organizations based and working within the city.”

The Arts Alliance publishes the quarterly City Cultural Calendar, supports collaboration and networking, and serves as an advocate for the arts and to ensure the inclusion of the arts in all city planning. 

“The Arts Alliance is really a key part of our community,” Whalen said. “The acquisition of the property at 30516 S. Coast Highway (formerly St. Catherine of Siena School) is an opportunity to provide more opportunities for the arts programs and the focus is on how it will benefit the community. We’ll have three public open houses and public tours available in February and look forward to hearing from the community on use preferences during the coming months.”

And there is something new on the horizon for the council.

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Laguna Logo 2022

Shelton Taylor and Scotty Wise make history with Club 222 by bringing ‘80s dance parties back to Laguna


Picture this – an over-21 crowd waiting in a line all the way down the block just to get into a dance venue – a scenario reminiscent of the infamous Studio 54 in the ‘70s and ‘80s. However, this particular crowd is anticipating entry into Sueños on Ocean Avenue for the inaugural event of Club 222 on August 12, 2022.

“Passionate” may be an overused word, but Laguna residents and brothers Shelton Taylor and Scotty Wise are nothing short of fervent about their new endeavor. As founders of Club 222, their spirited and heartfelt vision in bringing the dance scene back to Laguna materialized last year. Their business has gained momentum during the ensuing months by expanding to three venues. 

shelton taylor outside Suenos

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

(L-R) Brothers Scotty Wise and Shelton Taylor in front of Sueños on Ocean Avenue. Wise is wearing a shirt designed by Michele Lantz.

“The first event was crazy,” Taylor said. “There were around 1,000 people, and a line all the way to the Union Bank sign.” 

There’s no doubt that 22-year-old Taylor, who is a musician, and 24-year-old Wise, a photographer, have the brains, talent and confidence to not only bring the vision to fruition, but to continue to grow their original model. However, their concept encompasses more than music and dance. Of course, they want to succeed and make people happy, but their larger vision is to blend art and music into unique and varied experiences.

shelton taylor closeup Scotty

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Photographer Scotty Wise 

It all started with the spark of an idea.

For two and a half years, Taylor played in every restaurant in town (and in Los Angeles) including Sueños. “I’d been bugging Sueños to consider the idea of an after-hours spot. I didn’t understand why, if people love live music, the restaurant would be closing at 9 or 10 p.m. They finally said, ‘yes.’”

With the approval to go ahead, Taylor brought in Wise and Club 222 was formed.

“The first thing I did was call Scotty because of his personality,” Taylor said. “He’s a people person and would be the face of 222 and run the door. It was divine timing. So I said, ‘let’s try it out,’ but it wasn’t until two weeks prior to the first event that we started asking artists.”

Before that time, their sole venture had been a silent disco at Helen’s, a speakeasy bar in South Laguna. “It’s Laguna’s best kept secret,” Wise said.

Truly the face of 222, Wise said, “I go person to person and do ground marketing. I go to every business and to city staff and personnel and introduce myself.” 

“Being a musician and living in Laguna, it’s so high end, musicians can’t play on the street anymore,” Taylor said. “This business is an artist’s vision. Over the past two to three years, I’ve played in every restaurant, venue and on every street corner in Laguna. I know all the locals from playing. I love art and the beauty that is natural to this place. However, there seems to be a war between art and commercialism, seeing art as an investment versus art (for its own sake). The solution would be to have venues to showcase them, so if you want to do art, you have a fair chance. So far, everyone appears to be receptive.”

shelton taylor crowd opening

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Photo by Christina Cernik

Opening night crowd in August 2022 

“The model for Club 222 is to not only bring energy back to Laguna Beach, but also maintain consistency, so we’ll be around forever,” Wise said.

The brothers’ collaboration is a perfect match. 

Taylor handles the business side. “An artist can still be a businessman,” he said. According to Taylor, “As the face of 222, Scotty can do exactly what he loves to do – dance, take photos and talk to people. He’s a celebrity photographer. At one point, almost every night, he was up in Hollywood meeting celebrities and staying at their houses. He’s part of the L.A. night scene.”


Nowhere in their background was there a foreshadowing of the possibilities to come – in fact, just the opposite. Along with six younger siblings, Wise and Taylor were raised in a religious cult in the hills of Texas and every element of what they’re involved in now was forbidden by the cult.

“We broke free and came to a judgment-free zone that wasn’t like our past,” Taylor said. “Around five years ago, at the age of 17, I had already left home and headed for California. I came here to figure it out, and I was crashing on people’s couches, and then connections landed me in line for American Idol in LA. Then Scotty came out here.”

shelton taylor closeup taylor

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

 Musician Shelton Taylor has been playing around town for several years

Taylor made it to the top 20 in American Idol.

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Jheri St. James: Belly dancing is her art and destiny 


What do a traveling notary and a belly dancer have in common? That may sound like a riddle or a trick question, however, they do have one extraordinary woman in common – long-time (50 years) Laguna resident Jheri St. James. 

Her two passions seem an unlikely combination, but they have served St. James well. She continues to enjoy a four-decade career as a belly dance instructor as well as five decades as owner of Jheri Secretary Notary-to-Go. 

St. James established her business in 1972 and since 1986, has been teaching belly dancing via the Laguna Beach Recreation Department (she also teaches yoga). St. James is the leader of JJ & the Habibis Laguna Beach Belly Dancers, who perform at the annual Fête de Musique and other venues.

Jheri St closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Jheri St. James

“Because I teach through the recreation department (or re-creation), I always emphasize the fun factor in classes and with JJ and the Habibis Laguna Beach Dancers.I consider it my art and my destiny,” said St. James, whose classes are held at the Susi Q Community Center. “Belly dancing is much harder than it looks.” 

A representation of both of her endeavors, St. James’ tiny 300+ foot “Gypsy Vardo,” (as she calls it) in Downtown Laguna is a perfect reflection of her life – enchanting and exotic, however, a pristine corner is dedicated to her business. 

The word “Vardo” derives from the Iranian word vurdon, for cart or wagon. Gypsy Vardo living is a trip back in time to a place where highly skilled craftsmen were commissioned by wealthy Romani (Gypsy) or Carnival owners to create magnificent livable and movable works of art. 

Jheri St belly dancing statue

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Belly dancing statue is just one of the many unusual items in St. James’ collection

Although it lacks wheels, St. James “Gypsy Vardo” is certainly a work of art. Wherever one’s eyes fall, there are unique objects – costumes, masks, statues and dazzling lights from Turkey. “There are lights all over the city in Istanbul,” she said. 

First came the business

“I started the business in 1972, so I could stay at home with my baby. I put an ad in the Pennysaver and then used a borrowed IBM Selectric typewriter to write a meat newsletter,” St. James said. “As a vegetarian, this was an interesting combination of events. Things certainly have evolved since then, equipment-wise, and I have worked for so many generations of families in Laguna Beach, helping students with papers, firemen with applications, and all kinds of interesting projects and people. The business has supported me my whole life.” 

Both of her daughters went to Laguna Beach High School. Jasmine, her older daughter, lives in Ohio, and Sarah lives in the desert. St. James also has a foster daughter, Jacqui. in Portland, Ore.

Jheri Secretary Notary-to-Go business services have included manuscripts (books, scripts and poetry), transcripts (DRB, City Council, memoirs), legal documents, resumes, databases, screenplays and editing/writing.

Jheri St office

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

One section of St. James’ “Vardo” is dedicated to her business

Raised on a farm in Ohio, St. James’ family grew their own food, and she was free to roam the woods and explore. After her father became unable to maintain the farm, she was sent to a Catholic boarding school. Like many girls of that era, she learned to type and it eventually paid off. 

“I moved to Cleveland and was there for 10 years. I had a pair of high patent leather boots and my toes were always cold,” she said. “I thought, ‘I need to be in a different environment.’” 

So she traveled west to San Francisco and stayed for four years. “Sadly, I missed Woodstock, but I met a man at the Altamont Speedway Festival featuring the Rolling Stones in 1970 and we came to Laguna in 1971.”

Jheri St lights

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Turkish lights

Belly dancing

“In 1982, I turned 40 and became a grandmother,” said St. James. “I thought I needed to do something wild to keep going and moving. Belly dancing is good for self-esteem, and it’s fun and adventurous.” 

At the suggestion of a friend, she went to Orange Coast College, which had – and continues to have – a great art and dance program. “The belly dancing class was a small group of 15 ladies. It was so unusual. I was intrigued,” she said. After conquering the beginning and intermediate courses and earning her AA, she decided to try her hand at teaching in 1986 and hasn’t stopped since.

During the 1980s, St. James spent many years dancing at the Sawdust Art Festival.

In a 2019 Stu News article, St. James said, “The Sawdust is the first and maybe only venue to welcome belly dancing as the art form it truly is.”

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Tattoo artist Rick Coury and the intricate art of single needle tattooing


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Poet Sylvia Plath, who had seven tattoos, once said, “If the body is a temple, then tattoos are its stained glass windows.” 

No one takes the explanation of tattoos as a sacred reflection of the soul more seriously than Laguna tattoo artist Rick Coury. Known professionally as Rico (he works out of Lo Cal Tattoo Studio), Coury said, “I put love into every one.” 

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Rick Coury

 “I’m known for specializing in single needle tattooing,” Coury said. The permanency of Coury’s artform isn’t one he takes lightly. “It’s a fine and precise technique, and there’s no room for error.”

Single needle tattoos are characterized by the high levels of detail that can be achieved in comparatively small designs. This approach diverges from the standard “bold will hold” ideas of American traditional tattooing that emphasizes bold lines and vibrant colors to create the stylized depictions of pinup girls, swallows and tigers. Modern single needle tattoos use an approach that is reminiscent of pencil drawings, with smooth shading and hyper-realistic details. 

“It’s more like fine pencil drawing with aged characteristics,” he said.

“Only in California and New York will you find single needle technique.” 

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Single needle technique involves delicate details

Always involved in art 

Even though it is now his specialty, Coury found his way to this technique only after an apprenticeship with tattoo artist Carl Delariva, which resulted in the blending of different styles into his own style.

Coury, who was born in Laguna, went through the LBUSD and graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 2013. However, his family roots in Laguna go back even further. His dad Rick, who owns a tile company, moved here around 35 years ago. His mom Denise is an executive assistant office manager at Nokes and Quinn Lawyers in town, and his older sister Jenni, an equestrian, (who still lives here) keeps the books for his business. 

So how did Coury end up as a tattoo artist?

“I have always been drawn to art. I was constantly doodling in class. I’ve been doing art my whole life,” he said. “When I turned 18, I got a lot of tattoos (right out of high school) and I met tattoo artist Carl Delariva and started a one-year apprenticeship with him. He did the portrait of my grandfather – Coach Dick Coury – on my leg. I eventually merged two styles and started doing fine lines with black and gray with the single needle technique.” 

If he hadn’t become a tattoo artist, Coury said that he would have gone into something related to art, possibly architecture.

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Portrait of Rick’s grandfather, Coach Dick Coury, done by Carl Delariva. Coury was a coach at Mater Dei High School and USC (to name a few), and was with the NFL for 30 years.

In response to the question of how many tattoos he has, Coury responded, “Past the point of counting, they’re all becoming one.” 

Coury started his career at 19 years old. “I’ve been doing it seven or eight years. I came to this shop six months after the apprenticeship.” There are eight other tattoo artists, all independent contractors, in Lo Cal Tattoo Studio.


“Clients usually come in with a few references for the tattoo they want,” Coury said. “Then we sit down and collaborate and settle somewhere in between. I try to make it my own and sketch it out.”

Contrary to the traditional technique, single needle tattooing only takes a fraction of the time. “I work from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and do five clients a day, and 30 a week. This style is minimal and light and the clients easily handle it.”

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Wrapping a tattoo for the healing process (with close friend and artist Larry Stewart)

The majority of Coury’s clients come via word-of-mouth recommendations or through social media (Instagram).

“I’ve been building clientele during the last four or five years,” said Coury.  “They know what I’m good at, delicate subjects such as little animals, with a lot of detail. In an hour or less, they have a subtly placed accessory.” 

Coury’s clients range from 18-85 years of age. The 85-year-old got a small dolphin tattoo on her foot.

Family members are also on his client list. “My mom has a tattoo of my birthday flower and my sister’s birthday flower on her arm. The initials J and R are designed like a ribbon around them.” His sister Jenni has several small country-related tattoos such as a cowboy boot and hat.

“Tattooing is my passion, in addition to art, beach time (surfing and skim boarding) and family,” Coury said. 

It’s no surprise that some of his clients are celebrities.

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Holiday tradition for two decades: Laguna resident turns house into a wondrous winter wonderland


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

What would a holiday winter wonderland be without Santa, snowmen and reindeer? The house on Park Avenue and Wendt Terrace has all that – and much more. In this holiday decorating scheme, there is also a mermaid, a palm tree and an Akita dog. It’s Christmas, Laguna style. 

This spectacular and joyous display is cherished by the community, and wind of its demise has locals in an uproar, which is not surprising. No one would dispute that it’s a particularly important time to carry on traditions, as they hold special significance and harken back to – what one might consider – simpler times. 

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The Park Avenue and Wendt Terrace house 

For 20 years, John Matus has been creating this magical display and adding lights and decorations to his home at Top of the World. According to Matus, this may be the last year. Even at 78 years of age, he said, “I still climb up and down the ladder and put all the decorations up myself.”

To keep the holiday tradition ongoing, friends and neighbors have offered to help, but Matus said, “It’s a liability issue. I’d rather do it myself.” 

However, he admits this year, he paced himself. “It took more hours, 20 rather than 15. I usually start the day after Thanksgiving and have them done by the weekend. This year I started a week before and did it in stages.”

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John and Christine

The house is a unique attraction. “Every year neighbors come by and say how much they really enjoy it,” Matus said. “Sometimes people stop just for the lights and say how much they love them and please don’t stop doing it. It’s a pretty popular walking spot for people going up and down Park Ave.”

In the last two decades, there was only one year they didn’t go up. 

“All the years that I have put them up, the decorations have made me and Christine feel the enjoyment,” Matus said. “The only time we have not decorated was 2020 because of COVID. We were bummed and couldn’t get in the Christmas spirit.”

Matus moved into the house 25 years ago (Christine has lived there for 23 years). “I got to California when I came back from Vietnam and got stationed at the Marine base at El Toro,” he said. “Christine and I both grew up on the East Coast but we each love the weather and the small town of Laguna Beach.” In 1977, she drove cross country to Southern California from Massachusetts. 

The two met while they were real estate agents at Lee and Associates here in town and both retired over a decade ago. 

holiday tradition mermaid

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Christmas mermaid 

“I started doing lights when my children were young because they liked it so much,” he said. “After they were grown, and I moved to Laguna and Christine (Bowen) became my life partner, I started decorating again in earnest. Christine loves Christmas and she loves the lights and the sparkle of the whole celebration of Christ.” 

It appears the sparkle of the celebration isn’t the only radiance she loves. “John puts a sparkle into everyone’s life, he puts the sparkle in mine,” Christine said.

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Larry Stewart: Honing his craft in contemporary artwork for the past decade


On Thursday, Dec. 8, Laguna artist Larry Stewart flew to New York for his first visit to “The Big Apple” and his inaugural exhibit at Hudson Yards Gallery. “They’ve represented me for two years,” he said. “It’s a really rad space and I’ll have two pieces on exhibit.” He has also shown his work at the Virgil Catherine Gallery in Chicago and is represented by Five3Gallery here in town. 

“I’ve been with Five3Gallery for five years, but they’re closing, so I’m looking for a new gallery in town to represent me.”

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Courtesy of Larry Stewart

Stewart at the recent exhibit at Hudson Yards Gallery in New York

These are impressive achievements for someone who has been supporting himself as a full-time artist for a mere year and a half. 

Stewart admits he is almost always painting or consumed with some other aspect of art. “I ask painters if they are full-time artists. You can’t be unless you paint 40 hours a week. I paint around 60 hours a week (or more). When I’m not, I’m attending to other elements of the art business.”

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Larry Stewart in his studio

Was he apprehensive when he began painting full time? “I was worried, yes, but I’ve been able to pay my bills and rent on time – it seems a piece of art sells just when I need it to. The things that have happened made me realize I made the right choice. It was a domino effect. My paintings are big on Wall Street and I work with a few people in pop culture. It only takes a click for my work to be seen and for one piece to go viral.” 

There’s a lot to be said for social media and exposure. Stewart has a big following on Instagram. “I can put something up and immediately 11.4K people are looking at it,” he said. “It’s not like in the past when artists had to carry their work into a gallery. Now the art world is more saturated because of social media. It’s easier to get art out there, but a lot of people are trying to be consistent.”

larry stewart large painting

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Stewart’s signature bull skull

Stewart’s paintings are large, colorful and carry a message. Known for his bull skull and Native American paintings, they all have something to say. 

“The bull in the well-tailored suit represents maintaining balance,” he said. “The bull and the suit each represent an opposing side of life. The suit represents handling the business part of life, staying locked in to be as successful as you can. The skull symbolizes being at the end of life and realizing you were promoting and making money and didn’t take time to be fulfilled or experience joy or appreciate attachments to family and friends.”

Deep Laguna roots

Born and raised in Laguna, Stewart has family roots that go way, way back.

Not many folks can claim that their grandfather arrested Timothy Leary, however, Stewart can. “My grandfather was Neil Purcell, the Laguna Beach Police Chief during the time of the brotherhood, and he arrested drug guru Timothy Leary,” he said. Purcell started with the LBPD in 1968 and served as LBPD Chief for 14 years, the longest serving police chief in LBPD history. 

“His last hire before he retired in 1997 is now our current Police Chief Jeff Calvert,” Stewart added. 

larry stewart large painting

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Larger than life paintings

Stewart claims his artistic talents were passed down from his grandmother Judy Blossom, an artist and real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway. Those creative attributes were then inherited by his dad Lance Stewart, volleyball and sand volleyball coach at LBHS, who is also an artist. His mother Dani Purcell is a real estate agent at Team Laguna. 

“My dad played three sports at Laguna Beach High School – football, basketball and volleyball,” Stewart said. “He went to the University of California, Berkeley and graduated with a degree in fine arts. He sold a lot of art, but to support his family, he had several jobs including real estate and coaching.

“He’s getting back into painting. Every Sunday we get together and paint and watch football and sometimes we collaborate on a painting. We work well together; when I came home in the summers from college, he built a studio and he would give me pointers. We want to get a portfolio together. One of the paintings we collaborated on sold.” 

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