Larry Ricci: Embedded in Laguna’s LGBTQ culture, then and now

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

During the time Larry Ricci owned his interior design firm, he was known as the “Spaceman,” because when he walked into a space, he knew, “It’s my canvas, I see what it’s going to be, and I execute it.”

Odd, and yet an apt nickname. In 1972, when he came to Laguna Beach, it’s as if he decided this would be the space, the canvas upon which he was going to design and build his life; one that included being an artist, musician, singer, songwriter, producer, original member of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Chapterof ISID, original board member of The Heritage and Culture Committee, and founder of Club Q. (And more endeavors that he didn’t get around to talking about during our interview.)

Creation of Club Q

We meet at Susi Q, where almost five years ago, he presented the idea of a club for LGBTQ seniors, a now thriving group, Club Q, whose slogan is, “A social club for the LGBTQ community and friends.” 

When I first interviewed Larry, a year ago, a monumental event had just taken place, one that affected him deeply. On May 9, 2017, the Laguna Beach City Council proclaimed June as LGBT Heritage and Culture Month. Larry says that as the last sentence of the proclamation was read, “Forever the month of June is recognized as LGBT month…” it was very emotional. The forever did it for him. “It was the first time I felt respected for who I am instead of being discriminated against for who I am.” 

And it’s apparent the words still resonate with him. He’s been waiting to hear them for a long time.

Arriving in Laguna Beach in 1972

Larry landed in Laguna after moving from his birthplace, Seattle, WA, to Huntington Beach in 1971, arriving here a year later. “This is where I came out in my adult gay life,” he says. “I met all these wonderful people and a huge community and within it, magnificent art and artists.” During the 1970s and 1980s, he was very involved in the art world and knew most of the LGBTQ artists. 

Recently, he found a way to celebrate them, with the first exhibition to feature art provided by LGBTQ artisans, “Harmony Art Exhibit.” 

Larry says, “I approached Susi Q when I knew the exhibit’s theme would be harmony, peace and unity. A lot of LGBTQ artists certainly helped shape the art culture in Laguna Beach. The idea was extremely well accepted by Susi Q and Gallery Q. The exhibit will feature current pieces, as well as historical works, from LGBTQ artists in the community. I was able to acquire many pieces from the 1960s forward to honor those decades in which the LGBTQ artists really did help shape the art colony as it exists today.” 

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Larry gets snacks ready for Club Q’s Movie Day

Scheduled in conjunction with Laguna’s Pride Month, “Harmony Art Exhibit” will be presented by Gallery Q at Susi Q (in the multi-purpose room) from May 7 - June 29, with the official reception on Friday, May 11 from 5 - 6:30 p.m. 

Three pieces from Larry’s own collection – by artists Pegi Wear, Barbara Brown, and Orlando Botero – will be included in the exhibit. His close friends, Wear and Brown (who are both now deceased), owned Contemporary Arts Gallery on the corner of Myrtle and PCH (the A-frame building) in the 1970s. Larry admits he drove by there not long ago, and thought, “Well, girls, we have one more show to do.”

Time now measured in decades

“I talk of time now in decades,” Larry says. And admittedly, he’s done quite a lot in over four of them.

During the ‘80s, he painted abstract mixed-media pieces that were shown in two galleries. As if that’s not enough, every Friday and Saturday for four years in the mid-‘80s, Larry and Jim Harding performed at Main Street Café, which was a piano bar at the time, sporting a grand piano, no less. Larry played the piano and sang, and Jim played the bass guitar and sang. “We did cover music from the ‘80s and some of my original songs,” Larry says. “I can still picture the crowd around the piano.”

In the ‘90s, he was a production designer on a short film and a feature film (for which he wrote the title song). 

For 25 years, he owned an interior design firm in Corona del Mar, and traveled all around the country designing: shopping malls, gourmet markets, funeral homes, retirement homes, yachts, and corporate buses. He freelanced for another 10 years after that, and while on a lengthy assignment in Alabama, he owned a 26,000 square foot Antique Mall and Consignment store. He now consults, proving true the adage he relates, “Designers never quit, they die.”

Stepping away as facilitator of Club Q

Now he’s embarking on yet another chapter. As of June 1, the fifth anniversary of Club Q, Larry has decided to “step away” from his position as full time facilitator. “Due to new commitments with work responsibilities,” he says. “It was an extremely difficult decision to make, because I’ve had this up and running for five years. And having been its founder, it’s hard to let go.”

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Club Q Movie Day, the third Friday of each month

Larry explains the plan for Club Q after he steps aside, “There have been multiple conversations and networking with other LGBTQ organizations. Three other groups, Shanti OC, LGBTQ Center OC, and the LGBTQ Heritage and Culture Committee, will be involved in upcoming gatherings of the Club. In co-partnering with these other organizations and services, each will take over one of the designated time periods a month. We have the first and third Friday afternoons of the month, and these groups will be woven in at these times to bring in more people. They will rotate in on the first Friday, and the third Friday will still be Club Q movie day. Susi Q will facilitate until a new steering committee is created.” 

He says of the new format, “It’s the arms and fingers of five years of networking, bringing these organizations in to Susi Q to be with LGBTQ family and friends.”

The Club Q members look forward to new and exciting adventures with Club Q, but, of course, they will miss the leadership they had with Larry. 

And, yes, he will still be part of Club Q, but as a member.

A time of celebration, a time of sorrow

The more one learns about Laguna’s rich gay culture of the past 40 plus years, the more it appears to embody periods of absolute joy or absolute grief. As described by Larry, it was a dizzying and dazzling life in Laguna in the ‘70s, a mecca of energy and artistry, and then came the impenetrable sorrow of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Larry recalls those times, “In 1984, along with Ed Smith, Jim Reed, and Rick Hernandez, we put on a musical review in Jim Reed’s house from 11 p.m. to midnight and raised $26,000 as seed money for AIDS Services Foundation (ASF). The next year, we held it at the Woman’s Club and raised $100,000 for ASF. We skipped a year, and then in 1987, we raised $150,000 for them.”

An unforgettable walk

On December 1, 2017, I had the privilege of going on an unforgettable walk with Larry and members of Club Q to the police station to deliver toys for Spark of Love, and then to Main Beach for the commemoration of World AIDS Day. The day and evening, (which also included Hospitality Night), involved a strange juxtaposition of emotions. In the amount of time it took to reach the cobblestones at the beach, joy melded into sadness, as Larry and Ric Uggs related the stories of what it was like back then. 

Larry said, “I’ll never forget that 10-15 years of constant loss. In the early 1980s, we worried when someone said they weren’t feeling well. Because it seemed to happen quickly after that. They’d be gone in 30, 60 or 90 days. I was in the interior design business and many of design shops closed because the proprietors died. We’re here to celebrate those lives and grieve their deaths.”

Attendees at the ceremony were asked to write the names of friends and family members who died from AIDS on small pink hearts. 

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On June 1, Larry steps away as Club Q facilitator

Visibly shaken, Larry told me, “I started writing down the names of my friends, and I got to six, and I couldn’t go on. Back when they started dying, and the number got to 30, I said I don’t know what to do. A friend gave me some good advice. ‘Larry, stop counting.’”

Then a group of four people read the names of those who died, and a small bell rang after each name. And then the moderator asked for people to call out the names of those they knew who hadn’t been mentioned. Between Larry and Ric, they called out another 30 or more names. 

“These were sons, children, husbands, and wives. It’s not just a gay disease and never was,” Larry said.

Since 1972, Larry has both lived as part of and been witness to the LGBTQ culture in Laguna, a historian of the times. And his achievements – the founding of Club Q and now the co-partnering with other LGBTQ organizations, the first exhibition of LGBTQ art, and his role as one of the original board members of the Heritage Culture Committee – speak to the multifaceted life he’s led, the joy and grief of it all. 

In every case, he saw what could be, and he made it happen.