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Laura Linsenmayer: Back to her ROOTS, and driven by the moon to find her “magical vortex”

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Laura Linsenmayer, owner of ROOTS the Beauty Underground, says she finds it “hilarious” that Laguna is where she ended up. After moving here in sixth grade she says when she graduated from Laguna Beach High School, “I was the classic case of ‘I’m leaving my hometown and I’m never coming back!’” So she set out to “find herself” by living in Florida, Park City, Los Angeles and Connecticut. The plan was to move every two years because, as she explains it, “that gave me ample time to build roots there. I just kept doing that.”

A surprise homecoming

“That” stopped when she decided she had learned enough from running other people’s businesses and was ready to open her own. “I never even considered coming back home,” she says. Rather, it was her family’s suggestion. They must have been persuasive because Linsenmayer opened her shop in the Lumberyard Plaza on August 1, 2012. 

A good omen helps launch ROOTS the Beauty Underground

“From the date of conception until I opened my doors it was nine months,” she says, completely grasping the symbolism. “When I fully committed in my soul it was a divine lead. Everything presented itself really smoothly; everything unfolded so flawlessly I knew it was the right thing to do.” The fact that August 1 happened to be a full moon was one more good omen. “I’m driven by the moon,” she says.

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Laura Linsenmayer, owner of ROOTS the Beauty Underground in Laguna Beach

13 binders full of research provide the blueprint

Linsenmayer is also driven by a desire to help people. Her enthusiasm for her business is sincere and infectious. However, it was not necessarily part of a grand master plan. “I always knew I’d be in the beauty industry,” she says. She went to beauty school at 18 and has worked in some facet of the industry ever since. Every job she took she considered “research” for her future business, whatever that might be. She was so committed she wrote down things she thought worked and, more importantly, things she didn’t, eventually filling 13 binders. These binders became the blueprint for ROOTS the Beauty Underground.

Enlightenment leads to a business idea

While she was methodical with her experiences, the actual idea for her business was more happenstance. She had moved to LA and was walking her neighborhood looking for work. She walked into an organic hair salon. “I was just drawn to these girls,” she says. She listened and learned. “Once you’ve been enlightened you can never go back. I just got deeper into it.” The idea of natural, non-toxic beauty products took hold. “It was important for me to find a niche that required depth. This was it,” she explains. So she dove in, learned all she could and launched ROOTS the Beauty Underground.

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The “magical vortex” where ROOTS has been for six years

SIx years ago the idea of all natural beauty products, while not new, was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is now. There was enough of a market, however, that customers sought her out in her tucked away location, a “magical vortex,” she calls it. She made sure the products she carried had a store locator list on their website. “That was the root of how people started to find me,” she says. (Sidenote, Linsenmayer uses the word “root” a lot in her conversation. Just one more example of how connected she is to her business.)

Providing customer service that is unparalleled

Now, with her customers being split an even 50/50 locals and out of towners, Linsenmayer says her concern isn’t so much raising awareness about the store, it’s battling the Amazon effect. “We need to provide an experience they can’t,” she says. “The depth we go to is unparalleled. We won’t stop until we get you your perfect program.”

It’s all about the education

Linsenmayer and her team do that with education. “We’re educators first and foremost,” she says emphatically. “I want people to know they can come in here and just learn. There’s no pressure to buy anything. Come in for the education and leave feeling better about yourself.”

An area where education is making huge inroads is with her hair salon. People used to think organic hair color didn’t work effectively. “Now,” she says, “the word is out that it does work and it’s fabulous. It’s so fun to watch the graph go up in that area of the business.” 

The importance of what we wear is comparable to what we eat

Like all businesses, Linsenmayer has had to make adjustments to her inventory. One that has been a surprise is her now minimal kids section. “When I opened I had a really extensive kids section,” she says. “I have been surprised over the years that parents weren’t more enthusiastic about buying these (non-toxic) products for their kids,” she says. As more information comes out about what is in much of that we put on our body, this may change. “These products,” explains Linsenmayer, “hold just as much power (over our health) as food does.”

Non-toxic beauty products will eventually become “the norm”

That’s why she believes the idea of natural, non-toxic beauty products is going to become the norm in the future. “The toxic products industry won’t last much longer,” she says confidently. Her goal is to spread the word about non-toxic products across the country. And she’d love to help others do the same.

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Laura Linsenmayer works her magic with her non-toxic products on a client

Hoping to help others by providing them with her plan

It took Linsenmayer 20 years of research to learn what she needed to learn to open her business and keep it thriving. “I couldn’t have done it if I had a kid or a husband,” she says. A future goal is to put everything she has learned, from products to procedures, into a business plan so that others can do what she has done, albeit under their own name. “I would love for people from all over to say ‘I want to open a store like yours’ and I could provide the business plans and systems operations and they can put their name on it.” That speaks to her passion for what has clearly become a mission.

Striving to help Mom feel good

And passion is something Linsenmayer has a lot of. Not just for her business, but for the natural products industry as a whole. She also really, really, really wants to help people look and feel their best. “My favorite thing is making people feel good about themselves. That’s where it’s at. When Mom feels good everybody wins. That is so cool!” she says excitedly.

Six years in and feeling like she’s just getting started

So if you’re in the market for a cleanser or a lip gloss or need a new hair stylist, Linsenmayer and her staff are here to help. For someone who never intended to return home, Linsenmayer chuckles at the fact that she now attends city council meetings. She has also now has a new appreciation for her hometown. “I didn’t understand how special it was being from a small town.” And even though she is back in that small town for awhile now, there are still people who haven’t found her shop yet. “People come in and say, ‘How did I not know you were here?’ I love that! I feel like I’m just getting started.”


Jessica Byrne: From Paintbox to pastries to PedalBox, a new high-concept gym, it’s all about hospitality – which is in her DNA

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut and Drew Fuerstman

Welcome to the season of calories, cocktails and holiday stress. It’s the month when even the strongest among us can lose her resolve. Fortunately, there’s an amazing new way to pay for December’s indulgences. And it’s delivered by a woman who has hospitality—and all the hallmarks of exceptional service—written into her DNA. 

PedalBox Gym, now open in Dana Point, is owned and operated by Jessica Fuerstman Byrne and her husband, Duncan Byrne. It’s the first gym in Orange County to combine the Schwinn Airdyne bike with boxing and other HIIT exercises to create a high intensity, low impact workout that will blast both stress and calories without taking a toll on the joints. It’s tailored to accommodate every age and workout level, and it will kick your bootie while leaving you begging for more (I say this from personal experience).

A history of hospitality

Hospitality has been handed down through the generations in the Fuerstman family. Jessica is the daughter of Alan Fuerstman, founder and CEO of Montage Hotel group. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Hospitality is in their DNA, whether at a hotel or boxing gym

Alan began in the hospitality business when he was in high school. His father was a dentist, a profession that requires the utmost care and client support. “My parents were strong role models,” says Alan. “I grew up watching how they dealt with people. They were very nurturing and gracious, and provided a great example of how to treat those who worked for them.” 

Alan has spent his life in the luxury hotel industry, starting as a doorman in the Marriott when he was a senior in high school. Through the years, he worked as the president and managing director of The Phoenician resort in Arizona, and was recruited by Steve Wynn to open the Bellagio. 

Montage Resort first opened in Laguna in 2002. The concept was to create a gracious and humble approach to luxury. “Many of these hotels are too pretentious and stuffy,” says Alan. “I wanted our clients to feel as comfortable wearing jeans as wearing suits.”

Alan passed along that humble mentality to his own children, instilling a sense of casual elegance and grace, coupled with the ability to be highly attuned to people’s needs. The result is a daughter who’s driven to succeed, and completely comfortable in her own skin. 

Jessica works hard. She isn’t afraid to take risks. And she’s well-positioned to bring her father’s style and level of service into her gym. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Jessica works hard and isn’t afraid to take risks

“No one wants to feel out of place or look stupid,” says Jessica. “If you can get someone to shrug that off, it’s amazing.”

“That’s similar to fine dining,” adds Alan. “Everyone wants to feel like they belong.” Worrying about which fork to use isn’t conducive to a good experience. Removing that intimidation factor is something father and daughter do best.

From Paintbox to Pedalbox—growing up Montage

Jessica started working at Montage Resort when she was only 17. She began as a counselor at Paintbox, the children’s program offered by the resort. She also worked at the pool as a hostess before heading to college at the University of Arizona. 

Ultimately, Jessica found her passion in pastries. She studied at both the Loft and the Studio restaurants at the Montage before getting her culinary degree at Le Cordon Bleu in London. “I wanted to learn the science behind the pastries,” she says. That desire to achieve mastery over every detail and chemical combination in cooking carries through to her approach at the gym. She’s a perfectionist about form and technique.

A match made in . . . the gym

Jessica met Duncan in London. In a gym, of course. “I’d always been active,” she says. “Fitness had been an important part of my life.” So, during the course of her culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu, Jessica joined a gym.

Husband Duncan has worked as a strength and conditioning coach for over a decade. He has extensive experience in boxing, CrossFit, weightlifting, personal training, and strength and conditioning training. 

Once they decided to get married, Jessica turned her full attention toward getting in shape for the wedding. Duncan wooed her away from desserts and now she dedicates her days to PedalBox.

The PedalBox difference

It’s difficult for gyms to distinguish themselves. Especially in southern Orange County, where it seems there are as many trainers as there are clients. So when I first heard the concept, I was skeptical. What could be so different?

The unique (and grueling) combination of the bike and boxing is the first thing to note. The Schwinn Airdyne bike, different from spin bikes and other cycling training, is designed to increase its resistance in direct proportion to how hard you’re working. The harder you work, the harder it gets. It also incorporates your arms, giving you a fuller body workout. The best part? The bike generates a powerful fan that cools you off as you go. After 40 seconds going all out, you’ll appreciate the breeze. And you’ll get an intense cardio workout in record-fast time. 

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Photo by Drew Fuerstman

The combination of bikes and boxing sets PedalBox apart

From the bike, you’ll begin to box. Boxing had me worried. I’d never boxed, and coordination isn’t my strong suit. This is where Jessica and Duncan bring their unique skillset to the PedalBox experience with flawless technique, endless patience, and serious motivation. Even after a few minutes spent with them, I began picking up the basic techniques. (At least they said I did, so let’s go with that.)

Coming off the CrossFit craze, Jessica and Duncan found they loved the high intensity workouts, but didn’t love how hard it was on the body. It’s easy to get hurt. CrossFit workouts are hard on the joints, and the risk of injury from combining strength with speed is high. So Jessica and Duncan found a new way to maintain that intensity while removing the risks.

The proof is in the pedaling … and boxing

Even for the most seasoned gym rat, a new workout is intimidating. Boxing, to me, sounded synonymous with feeling foolish. “Think of it like dancing,” Duncan told me. That definitely didn’t help this uncoordinated client. But one thing Duncan and Jessica have down is quality instruction, service and training. They’re motivating. They’re encouraging. And at no point did I feel self-conscious. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Father and daughter hold impromptu business meeting following the photoshoot

Jessica and Duncan meet you where you are. Every workout is scaled for every skill-level and ability. Class sizes are small to maximize personal attention and ensure proper form.

More important, the workout is intense. And fun! The mental energy required in boxing takes your mind off how hard you’re working. Time passes exponentially faster when all your concentration is on a series of steps, instead of the clock. The music is motivating—always something with a strong beat because boxing is a rhythmic sport.

“Boxing is empowering,” says Jessica. “It’s something I don’t get from weightlifting or cardio. It makes me feel like a badass.”

Indeed, it does.

A gift to yourself this season

We’re entering into the season of resolutions. After all the indulgences, it’s time to do something good for yourself. Jessica and Duncan make that as easy in the gym as Alan makes it in his resorts. The key is creating an experience that makes clients want to come back by being attuned to every customer’s needs. Jessica has been cultivating that skill for a lifetime. It makes PedalBox an inspiring place to discover how much you have in you. You’ll be surprised . . . it’s more than you think.

PedalBox is located at 24470 Del Prado Ave, Dana Point, CA 92629, inside Rado’s Fitness. In addition to 60-minute circuit training classes, they offer personal training sessions and a lunchtime bootcamp. Visit their website, www.pedalboxgym.com, for more information.


Meldie Moore: Making a difference for families

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Meldie Moore always wanted to work with children. When she was in college she thought her future would be in child psychology or in teaching. However, her parents had other ideas. “My mom and dad pushed me to thinking about becoming a lawyer,” she says. Not opposed to the idea, but not completely convinced either, Moore says she decided to take both the LSAT and the GRE. As luck would have it, the LSAT test date was first. Moore says she scored very well on the test, “So, I just applied to law school, even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a lawyer.”

County Counsel provides a great start to Moore’s career

Moore chose Pepperdine for law school. This meant leaving her east coast roots (she grew up in Ireland and New York) for the unfamiliar land of California. Eventually, Moore merged her interest in helping children and the law when she interned with the County Counsel in Los Angeles. “It was a big test. I wondered if it would be too hard emotionally,” she says. That’s because attorneys in that division work on child abuse, domestic violence and other traumatic incidents. It was a great training ground. Moore was in court every day and this gave her a first hand look at what that kind of advocacy for children looked like.  

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Meldie Moore of Moore Law for Children at her office in Laguna Beach

A “dream job” with the OC District Attorney

Once she graduated law school and it came time to get a “real job,” Moore decided she didn’t want to make a career at County Counsel. “There was this one family who was on their 12th drug baby, or something like that. I was so…I just wanted to put the parents in jail,” she says. So when she got an offer to work for the Orange County District Attorney’s office she jumped at the chance. “It was hard to get a job with the DA’s office,” she says. “And people said Orange County was nice so I snapped it up. It was my dream job.” 

A feeling of fellowship over a 16-year career

For 16 years Moore worked as an Orange County District Attorney. “I felt like I was making a difference. I’m very much about justice and doing what’s right,” she says. “I was only working on cases I believed in.” Not to mention, Moore says she finds being in a trial “very exciting.” There was a bond among all involved in the trial process: the police department, the public defenders and the district attorneys. “There is a feeling of fellowship. You really get to know people, and they were all a really great group of legal professionals.”

Having children changes puts a new perspective on things

About eight years into her career with the DA, Moore says she started trying to have a child. Eventually, Moore and her husband adopted a child and, later, had another child with the help of infertility treatments. With two children at home, Moore decided to take a year off work. When her year hiatus was up, she returned to the job she loved only to find that either it had changed, or she had. “I saw it through different eyes,” she explains. “I now found it a little depressing.” Additionally, working such a rigid job with children at home was proving to be highly stressful. “I wanted more time,” she says.

Making a change that felt right for her family

So when a friend proposed the two team up and start their own firm, Moore says it gave her a lot to consider. “It took me about three months of hard soul searching,” she remembers. “I really loved being a DA, but I had waited so long to have children that I thought this was the best thing for my family.” 

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Moore lives and works in Laguna which makes her life a lot easier

Focusing on children

When she made her decision to leave the DA’s office and go out on her own, Moore says it was tough going at first. She and her partner decided to focus on working with families with special needs children. “I asked if we could do adoptions. She (Moore’s partner) didn’t want to, but said it was OK if I did it.” So Moore did pro bono adoption cases, as well. “I had to learn (a new area of) law and I didn’t really know anyone. It was a very difficult first couple of years.” 

Helping families of special needs children

A cornerstone of their new practice was students with a 504 plan. A 504 plan is part of the civil rights law that serves to prohibit discrimination based on a disability. According to Moore, some of these kids have behavioral problems. This can lead to them eventually getting expelled from school.  Helping the families navigate this is “a good 25 percent of my practice,” says Moore. 

Going solo presents an opportunity to focus on “happy law”

About five and a half years ago Moore’s partner decided to retire. Moore promptly moved her office from Irvine to Laguna where she currently hangs her shingle. 

Location was not the only change that took place.

 “I really started focusing on building up the fertility and adoption side of my practice.” Additionally, the education side of her practice has continued to grow as well, prompting her to hire two more lawyers. She calls this side of her practice “happy law.” “We are helping make people’s dreams come true, expanding their families.” The “schools” side of her practice is not quite as happy, although she finds it equally meaningful. “People only hire attorneys in these situations when things have gotten bad. But it’s still very rewarding. I help families with the most important issue in their lives: their child.”

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Meldie Moore with two associates. She hopes to hire one more in the near future

The ever-elusive work-life balance

Another important issue Moore says she finds personally very challenging is attaining balance. Like most working parents, Moore has a lot on her plate. “I’m trying to be a lawyer, market my business, run my business and be there for my family. I’m certainly not balanced, but I know it’s important, and I try!” 

Living and working in Laguna helps – a lot

Having other attorneys has helped. “They give me more flexibility,” she says. However, her days have her running from one thing to another. The day we met she was heading off to her son’s performance and then running into a meeting immediately after. “Living and working in Laguna allows me to do that,” she says.

And why Laguna? “When I first came to Orange County people said Newport Beach is nice. I lived there, and I liked it. Then I moved to CdM (Corona del Mar) and I liked it. But then my friend and I came to Laguna and we said, ‘We’re going to live here one day.’ I just fell in love with it.” She says her friend never made it, but clearly Meldie Moore has.


Diana Neff: She loves to live, work, and play to the fullest at her Glennwood House home

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“I wanted to be independent like my sister,” says Diana Neff, as we talk on the patio of Glennwood House, a 42 room independent living facility in Laguna serving special needs adults 18 through 59 years of age.

Behind Diana, the wind ruffles the ocean into peaks in the distance. Almost four years ago, when Diana was barely into her thirties, that wish to be independent was the catalyst that sent her parents in search of a place to satisfy her desire for autonomy. She says, “We looked at other places, but I liked this place.” 

And, not surprisingly, it appears to be a perfect fit. Glennwood’s vision for its residents is an atmosphere in which they can “live, work, play,” and Diana is certainly the embodiment of that vision. Evidently, it’s the right soil in which the seeds of independence bud and flourish. Her days are filled to the brim with friends, work, volunteering, sports, art, exercising, walking, and yoga. With an emphasis on friends.

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Diana enjoys the sun on the Glennwood patio 

As for the “living” part of Glennwood’s mission, the facility provides beautiful and peaceful surroundings, yet it has a community feeling, welcoming and friendly. Diana’s self-reliance also extends to her living conditions, as she has her own room (and an ocean view), and she keeps her own hours. And the location is ideal for walking to the beach or the coffee shop down the street. 

But her schedule doesn’t leave much time for strolling. Not only does she work at Ralph’s Grocery four days a week, she volunteers at the Woman’s Club, for which she received an award for Volunteer of the Year. 

A packed schedule of work, volunteering, and fun

Sherry Neff, her mother, says, “She attended an eight-week serving course at Glennwood put on by the Woman’s Club, and was then invited to serve at events. She’s been doing that on and off for three years.” 

Sometimes these two worlds collide, but in a good way.

Members of the Woman’s Club come to visit Diana at work, and her mother says that when the two of them go walking together, people on the street frequently greet them. One of the reasons Diana loves working at Ralphs is the interaction with customers, where she says, “Almost everyone knows me.”

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Guest Services…Diana happily bagging and talking with local Cindy Fletcher

Aside from being autonomous, having friends appears to be of utmost importance to Diana. “I didn’t have very many friends before, but since living here, I have a lot of friends.”

Her best friend, Tina Cassani, passes us briefly in the hallway.

Sherry explains further, “When Diana was young, it was hard on children with disabilities. They were sent to a school that had a class appropriate for the children, and it was never her home school. She didn’t have friends. The children in her class didn’t live in the neighborhood.”

Diana gains a large network of friends

But now, Sherry says, “She has a few close friends, and the other residents are like an extended family. They all watch out for each other.”

Glennwood also has a bevy of people who assist residents in various endeavors. Since working is encouraged, they facilitate the process by providing a job coach. Diana’s job coach takes her to work, picks her up, and oversees any new assignments or necessary paperwork.

Although Diana is transported to work and back, she does have the opportunity to use the ACCESS bus available through OC Transit Authority. This comes in handy when she goes to Aliso Viejo to do one of her favorite things; help her sister with her nephews (six-month old twins and a two-year old). And three boys under two years of age seems like a situation in which a helping hand is needed. She’s very much looking forward to spending the holidays with them. 

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Dave and Sherry Neff with Diana’s nephews, Thomas, Bryan and Scott

Her mother says that Diana always loved exercise, but aside from skiing with her parents in Mammoth and (encouraged by her sister) running 5ks, she didn’t participate in team sports until she arrived at Glennwood.  And here’s where more friends come in. She’s now a member of the baseball team and plays every Saturday. And she does yoga once a week and spends a half-hour a day on the treadmill in the gym. 

However, there is an artistic side to her as well. Every two weeks, artists from LOCA visit the facility, and now Diana’s parents are the proud recipients of many of her drawings and paintings. And she uses this talent to make cards for her friends and family. Assistant Director Rachel Landers, who has been at Glennwood since its opening, says, “I have three of them on my desk right now.”

Sherry attests to the changes in Diana since she arrived at Glennwood. “She’s grown as an individual. When she was living at home, she didn’t think for herself. She’d ask, ‘Mom, should I do this?’ Now when she’s faced with a decision, she says, ‘Let me think about it.’”

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Gorgeous blossom in the patio garden

Even the neighbors on her parents’ street have noticed a change. “We’ve lived in the same house for 32 years, and the neighbors see how she’s matured,” Sherry says. “And when we’re together or out to dinner, she has so much to talk about now.”

Although it seems as if there is much to like of her new life here, Diana answers the next question without a moment’s hesitation. When asked about what she likes best at Glennwood, she says, “Being independent and having friends. Glennwood has been a good place for me to live. I’ve grown so much. And my parents know I’m safe.” 

Sherry claims that Diana’s time at Glennwood has been a life changer, and allowed Diana to live to the fullest. “I really appreciate the support Laguna Beach has for Glennwood, and how they address those with special needs.”

Living a full life has been hard-won for Diana. But she’s packing about as much as anyone could fit into a day, and it obviously agrees with her. Glennwood has provided an atmosphere in which she canthrive and blossom, and now she’s not wasting any time in that “live, work, play” scenario. Our lovely conversation must wind to an end, as Diana has places to go and people to see.


Jason Watson: Now part-owner, he sees Laguna Surf and Sport as a “second home” for local surfers

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Certain businesses become part of the fabric of the community they service. It helps if they’ve been around for a while, but it takes more than longevity to achieve this kind of status. These businesses are somehow able to reflect at least some portion of their community’s culture. 

One local business that has achieved such status is Laguna Surf and Sport (LS&S). Since 1982 it has operated as the quintessential local surf shop.  The store, like all businesses, has gone through some different iterations through the years. One person who has seen – and contributed to -- a lot of these changes in a very intimate way is Jason Watson. 

A true Laguna local

A Lagunan since the age of two, Watson is a true local. He went through Laguna schools, surfed Laguna waves and, since the age of 17, has worked at LS&S, first as a clerk and then as manager.  “I stayed in Laguna the whole way through,” he says.

However, while Laguna is definitely home, Watson has definitely seen much of the world. “I had a small time, casual career as a professional surfer,” he says. This allowed him to travel, but when he came home, he would pick up where he left off at Laguna Surf and Sport. And he stayed, no matter how many times it changed hands. 

2016 was the last time LS&S changed hands. And, as usual, Watson stayed on.  This time, however, his title changed from manager to owner. 

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Jason Watson, longtime manager, now part-owner of Laguna Surf and Sport

A former boss becomes a partner

His commitment to the store and his longevity were not part of some grand master plan. “When you’re 19-20 it’s a pretty confusing time,” admits Watson. But what helped clarify things was his former boss, now partner, Eric John, the founder of Laguna Surf and Sport. “I met him when I was 17,” explains Watson. “I showed him I was a good worker. I was able to manage surfing and the job…When I think about all that he has done for me I can only hope to do that for someone else.” 

As for what John “did” for Watson, he acted as a mentor. “He gave me a platform. He brought me to meetings that I probably shouldn’t have been brought to. And he helped me figure it out from the ground up,” says Watson. This allowed Watson to become an invaluable part of the business – no matter who owned it. 

It’s hard to let LS&S go 

John has sold and bought back LS&S several times. He first sold it to Swell, only to buy it back. Then in 2008 he sold it again, this time to Volcom, only to again buy it back in 2016 with partners Jason Steris, former CEO of Volcom and Watson. For Watson, the leap from manager to owner was more dramatic than he imagined it would be.

Going from manager to owner is a surprisingly big change

 “It took me a solid year to wrap my head around that change,” says Watson. “The way you run things as an owner is different (than as an employee). Even though I was as committed as a manager as I thought it possible to be…this place is a home to me. It’s so much a second family. But no matter what, when you’re an owner that feeling of having the power to make changes is something I’ve been really feeling these last four to six months. I’m really excited about it.”

The Shop is the first for the family

Laguna Surf and Sport is not the only retail establishment Watson has a stake in. The other one is just a few doors down. Watson’s wife, Jessica, opened The Shop in 2013. She, too, worked under the tutelage of Eric John and, although the stores are different (The Shop is a woman’s boutique), there are, not surprisingly, similarities in business philosophy. The most evident is each store’s knack for capturing a local vibe.

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Inside The Shop, the first store owned by Watson and his wife, Jessica, who opened the store in 2013

 “I leveraged who I was and so did she and so did Eric,” Watson says about getting The Shop off to a good start. Location was also critical. “I thought I have to be able to see it,’” remembers Watson. “These are some of the best blocks in Laguna. To be able to walk a customer out of LS&S and say ‘There (The Shop) is.’ That is definitely one of the biggest things (aiding the The Shop’s growth).”

Making LS&S part of the community beyond the store’s walls

Both retail establishments are bona fide successes. But Watson isn’t sitting back with his feet up on his desk. For him it is critical that LS&S offers more than just “stuff.”

So they are out in the community putting on surf contests, offering surf lessons, sponsoring both the Thurston and Laguna Beach High School surf teams, as well as their own LS&S surf team. Watson feels just as strongly about these things as he does about what is offered inside the store. “I want the guys and girls who are passionate about surfing to feel like this is a second home, like I did,” says Watson.

A real pride in the staff at LS&S

Another way LS&S does this is by hiring really good people, something Watson admits that has not always been the case. Now, however, he gushes like a proud parent about his employees. “I get compliments on my staff all the time. They’re all talented surfers or skaters who leave whatever ego they have at the door when they come to work. They’re just kids learning the ropes, learning customer service. But they learn. They learn how to talk and sell and that’s a big deal to a lot of the companies we work with. They love surf shop employees. They take notes,” says Watson.

 These notes can lead to future employment beyond LS&S, something that clearly pleases Watson and his quest to pay it forward.

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Jason Watson, his wife Jessica and their two children, ages three and one

Hard work, more hard work and dad mode

It also mirrors his own path. “I just hoped through hard work it would work out,” he says when he thinks back to his younger days. “There are a lot of distractions.”  Now, with things pretty well settled, there are still things that shift his focus. These things are a force more powerful than anything: his children, ages one and three. The no sleep, all hands on deck phase of very young children is a life changing event.  With two bustling businesses, in addition to young children to take care of, things like surfing have definitely taken a back seat. “I’m in full dad mode. It’s pretty painful right now,” he says grinning. “I’m enjoying the kids.” 

Surfing hasn’t been entirely abandoned, however.  Offering profuse praise for his wife, Watson says he still gets in a few surf trips a year, although he has become much more discerning about those trips. “I don’t go anywhere when it’s flat,” he says with a laugh. 

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Watson in a place he knows intimately, behind the counter at Laguna Surf and Sport

Bringing LS&S “back on”

“Flat” is a dirty word in surfing and in retail. For the former, only Mother Nature can rectify a no waves day. In retail, however, there is a bit more control. Still, it’s not an easy business. But Watson is philosophical about his chosen field. “Everything is hard,” he says. “I talk to my friends. Everyone is doing different things and we all complain,” he says with a laugh. But whatever complaints Watson may have, he is now in a position to deal with them head on, at least as they relate to Laguna Surf and Sport. 

“It’s good. We have this great surf community. The kids are feeling it. LS&S is back on. It feels a lot better and a lot different that it’s ours again.”


Roxanna Ward: A life of music and song. And laughter.

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Roxanna Ward is the consummate performer. She manages to do it all – sing, tell jokes, teach, compose, arrange and conduct – and she even takes it on the road.

This past summer, she brought her own brand of irreverent, hilarious, often raunchy, self-parody-set-to-music to the cabaret stage in such far away places as Provincetown, Boston, and Rhode Island. We are lucky enough here in Laguna to catch her live act this month, at the No Square Theatre, from Jan 26 – 28.

Actually, Roxanna’s shows are coveted as private and corporate gigs all over the world.

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Roxanna Ward

She started out from her hometown in California, “I wanted to get to the east coast. I didn’t appreciate the Central Valley at the time,” she says.

Roxanna landed in Chicago, working for Williams/Gerard, a business and event production company. They sent her out to venues, writing music and conducting shows. 

“That was the first 15 years of my career.”

She worked with Tennessee Ernie Ford, and the group Brothers & Sisters. She did event shows for Shaklee Corporation. Then, a women specialty travel company was started, and for one of their cruises, Roxanna was asked to perform aboard on the trip tailored for 1,200 women. It was life changing, as Roxanna made close friends with the other performers from all over the world. 

“Musicians, performers, artists I didn’t know were working there too,” she remembers. “Now, 26 years later, I’m doing gigs all around the world, two to three times a year.”

Two of the friends she made on that ship, Lisa Koch and Vickie Shaw, will be performing with her at the No Square Theatre gig, a continuance of her “tour de force” show. 

During the summer and on holidays, her traveling show is featured on riverboat cruises all over Europe, on safaris in Africa, even in Antarctica, “Everything I could imagine!” she says with a smile.

A place to call home

Roxanna had been the full-time traveling entertainer for long enough, when a producer friend introduced her to Laguna Beach. She was residing in Manhattan Beach at the time, and she thought, what am I doing up there?

“I was doing studio work in LA, but this felt like the small town I love. One thing led to another.”

She made Laguna her home, and The Little Shrimp her home away from home.

A friend asked her to brunch at The Little Shrimp, and then said, “Get up on the piano and play something.” The owners followed up with a phone call asking her to start working there. 

“I didn’t have enough material, so I could stall with jokes, making parodies,” she says. “Three weeks turned into 13 years.” 

So, every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the comedy came out to stretch the musical material, like self-preservation. “So much comedy comes out of fear!” Roxanna explains. 

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Roxanna says her students know her by her car

Roxanna and Bree Burgess Rosen, another Laguna musical icon, became friends at The Little Shrimp. It was a mutual admiration society. “I died when I saw her show,” Roxanna says of Bree’s Lagunatics. “I’m just amazed at what she’s done.”

The two continue to come up with ideas for shows together. Planning some No Square events, the two were talking. “She was picking my brain,” says Roxanna, “and she said, ‘Why don’t you do a show?’

“I made her promise – as it got closer, I’m going to try to pull out (there’s too much going on) – don’t let me!”

The show centers around the interesting and crazy life and times of Roxanna Ward. “It’s stream of consciousness. I just tell a story of how I got here, as a kid, what led me to this, what led to that… I have funny bits, and fly by the seat of the pants. I read the audience.” 

So, get in the audience and give her your feedback – but it’s not a show for the kiddos. Roxanna calls it R-rated.

Sharing her gifts with the next generation

As delightful as her shows are, this Laguna Beach tour de force is a dedicated teacher as well. She is the much-loved choral director and vocal coach at Thurston Middle and Laguna Beach High School. “Teaching is like doing five comedy shows,” she laughs.

The aspect of music plus teaching comes from a family legacy. Roxanna’s mom worked for the local school district in Modesto, and her dad was a professional musician, playing country music every night. 

“At age four, I begged for lessons. At age five, my mom said okay,” she says.

 As her music prowess progressed, the performer in her awakened. When neighbors started saying hi to Roxanna by name, her mother wondered how she knew so many people. Little did mom know, her daughter was doing private concerts. “I’d go around the neighborhood and ask people if they had a piano – and I’d play!”

In college at University of the Pacific, vocal coach William Dehning turned her on to vocals. Now, she’s put it all together. 

“I love musical theater,” she says. “It kind of combines it all.”

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Bree Burgess Rosen was the one who contacted Roxanna back 16 years ago, when there was an opening at the high school for a choral director. At the time, Roxanna’s son, Jake, was four years old and it was a good time to settle in and stay put for a bit. Since then, Roxanna’s made her mark on countless exceptional school plays, including “Nunsense” (in which she also performed as Mother Superior), “Gypsy”, and “Annie”. Her busy schedule includes rehearsals just started for “All Shook Up” coming up next.

When there’s free time

Roxanna likes the idea of driving around the country, sometime in the future, with her dog – that is, if she ever has free time. “I could probably ask people if they have a piano, and get a meal out of it. And something for the dog!”

Music has a deep-rooted significance in the life of Roxanna Ward, and she truly believes it brings out the best in the world. It can be a great unifier. “What would happen if everyone came out, at the same time, and sang the same note – like the common A?” 

She is thinking about the way a common point can bring humanity together, an especially important thing in these discordant times. Music and the arts have healing and teaching potential. 

“The arts bring people together,” she says. “We come together collectively and we can all have different feelings about it. It helps us access emotions. It transforms us.

“And, God, we need comedy! We need to laugh, especially now.”

We do. Laughter is the best medicine, and can be found right here at home thanks to Roxanna Ward sharing her gifts.


John and Tyler Stanaland: A father and son flying high in the real estate industry 

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

John Stanaland knows Laguna Beach. Not only is he one of Laguna Beach’s top residential real estate agents, he was born and raised here. His family’s tenure stretches back to his grandparents who arrived in Laguna from Long Beach back when land was plentiful. 

“They were developers who moved into the trailer park that is now Montage [Resort],” explains Stanaland. “They developed Portafina, subdivided it and sold those for an oceanfront house in Victoria.” 

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John and Tyler Stanaland

Stanaland’s son, Tyler, is now working with his father fulltime, takes in the family history. “They lived at the trailer park?” he asks with surprise as Stanaland nods. From the grandparents on down, four generations of Stanalands have been involved in real estate. 

Leaving sports behind for a “real job”

Stanaland says that “After dabbling in a sports background I went into real estate at 27. I decided to give it a shot and see if I liked it.” Selling his first home almost immediately for $500,000 undoubtedly helped him decide it was a career he wanted to pursue. The “sports background” Stanaland decided to leave behind was as a professional beach volleyball player (and a third degree black belt). “I wanted to be a sports star until I realized I needed to get a real job,” he says smiling.

Like father, like son

Tyler is following in his father’s footsteps. A former professional surfer, Tyler says, “Real estate was always going to happen after surfing. I was always around the office when I was younger, doing stuff like bringing him cups of water,” he remembers with a laugh. “I got my license at 19.” 

Now at 28, Tyler says he’s ready to give real estate his full attention. “I had a lot of fun surfing, but this is not a bad work place,” he says as we look out the window of the spectacular oceanfront home he and his dad are charged with selling. “I have some big shoes to fill, but he’s a good teacher.”

A “go for it” attitude

Stanaland has been selling homes for 22 years. During that time he says he has been ranked first or second every year for the last 17 years. “I am very disciplined,” he says. I think it’s from my sports background. Like Tyler, anything we approach we’re going to go for it.”

Breaking records in Newport Beach

This “go for it” attitude runs deep. There is a thirst for adrenaline that seems to be hereditary. Selling the most expensive home ever in Newport Beach, 1 Pelican Hill Road North, as Stanaland did for nearly $40 million in November, would certainly get the heart racing, especially when it took only four days. However, the Stanalands seem to require even more stimulation. 

Skydiving and big wave surfing take care of the adrenaline fix

“I’ve jumped out of a few hundred planes,” admits Stanaland. He says he’s “just shy” of 300 jumps. “I got into it with my younger son (who is a Santa Ana police officer). He talked me into it and now I’m a class C jumper.” There is only one class higher. 

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John Stanaland

Even Tyler, who admits he prefers getting his adrenaline rush in the ocean riding big waves, has jumped out of four planes. It’s clear, however, that Tyler is not as sold on the activity as his father and younger brother, likening the experience to “falling.”

Stanaland takes issue with that description, insisting it’s more like “flying.” Father and son then launch into a good-natured debate on the matter. Whatever it’s like, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Success born from hard work

How much this love of adrenaline-inducing activities contributes to Stanaland’s success is debatable. What is not is his work ethic and commitment to his clients. According to Stanaland, “Residential real estate is emotional, it’s not just a business transaction. I try to figure out what my clients’ needs are. You can’t do it every time, but I have a pretty good success rate.”

Learning from the master of hard work

“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen,” adds Tyler. “If you text him at midnight he responds in the same time frame if you text him at one in the afternoon. This is something I want to emulate.” When I raise the question as to whether or not he discourages midnight texts from clients, he dismisses the idea. “I always have a sense of urgency. My clients know if they reach out to me and don’t hear back from me I’ve been kidnapped,” he says with a laugh. 

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Tyler Stanaland

On those rare occasions when he can’t take the call, like maybe he’s jumping out of a plane (or fishing or surfing, two other activities he will make time for) Stanaland says there is always someone who will. “And as soon as I touch ground I will respond,” he says assuredly.

Loving Laguna Beach makes it easy to sell

Work ethic aside, it always helps if you like what you do, and both Stanalands genuinely seem to love their work. “I love the business,” he explains. “I like people. I like the houses I get to sell. I sell everywhere, but I love where we live.” Tyler echoes the sentiment. “I’ve been fortunate enough to travel everywhere a surfer would want to go, beautiful places. But Laguna is always home. This stretch of coast is something I’ve always wanted to come home to.” 

As we look out at the majestic stretch of Victoria Beach with unimpeded views both north and south from this stunning home, it is very easy to understand why.


Mark Chamberlain: Photographer, gallery owner,

artivist, arteologist - one of Laguna’s great treasures

Story by MARRIE STONE

In 1969, after his discharge from the war, Mark Chamberlain drove west. He packed his 1963 MG Midget with cameras and optimism. Dubuque, Iowa faded in the rearview mirror. Mark drove away from a childhood battle with polio and a year spent in Korea during the Vietnam War that had profoundly changed the trajectory of his life. Ahead was Laguna Beach, the town that would become not only his lifelong home, but the inspiration for a career in environmental activism and a literal canvas for his photography.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Mark Chamberlain, 2018

 “Meaningful art,” Mark says, “always has an autobiographical connection.” I spend the next hours with Mark, along with his partner and art journalist Liz Goldner, unspooling those long threads of connections. We travel through his childhood and the war, from his 1970s retrospective on his hometown, Dubuque Passages, to his current book, The Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism, due out this year.

Mark calls himself an “arteologist” and an “artivist.” He uses his camera to excavate truth and to document humanity’s devastating impact on the environment. In one notable project, he photographed “Future Fossils” – those modern-day objects in our contemporary culture he imagines will soon be extinct: gas stations, automobiles, glitzy steel buildings and billboards, the gaudy super-color sprawl of urban landscapes. 

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Photo by Mark Chamberlain

Photographer: Last Boxcar to Dubuque, from Mark’s Passages series

But I’m interested in a different kind of study with Mark. And so, together, we embark on a conversational dig of our own, excavating the roots of Mark’s past and chronicling all the artistic fruits that emerged. 

How a childhood disease led to an enduring desire

Mark contracted polio when he was in the fifth grade. His mother, not one to accept common fate, employed unconventional (and controversial) methods to help her son. The therapy was arduous and painful, but it worked. Mark credits his mother’s strength and dedication for his full recovery, and for his feminist attitudes today. 

Still, Mark was bedridden for a year. During that time he read... and read... and read. He discovered Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn and, specifically, riverboats. From this came a lifelong passion to own a riverboat and traverse the Mississippi River.

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Photo courtesy BC Space

Adventurer: Mississippi River Queen, 1959

Mark emerged from his recovery stronger than his peers. He learned to swim in the mighty Mississippi that, of course, flowed right through Dubuque. His father had little choice but to buy Mark what he calls his first “magic carpet,” a 15 1/2-foot flatboat.  

To date, Mark has made his way down one-third of the Mississippi. He owns a 1959 shallow draft steel-hulled 25-foot houseboat with an outboard motor that can carry him through 12 inches of silted water. “Most people can’t even find the places I go,” Mark says. “It takes knowledge, which I have. And maps, which I also have.” Many hidden areas have been sealed off because railroads destroyed river traffic, Mark tells me. The currents silted them in, making the river impossible to navigate. But Mark has winches and tools – and determination.

Mark uses his boat as a shooting platform, giving him access to very tight and isolated river communities. “People tell me their stories. I have videos and photographs.” He anticipates this will make an incredible project. 

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Photo by Mark Chamberlain

Photographer: Mrs. Pillard, 1973, from Dubuque Passages

His desire to finish the final two-thirds is palpable. “Would you say you have any regrets in life?” his partner, Liz, asks. “Not finishing the Mississippi,” he says. “That would be my one.”

The unexpected blessings of Vietnam

Two days after Mark received his master’s degree in Operations Research from the University of Iowa, he was drafted. Though, through a series of lucky breaks, he was deployed to Korea instead of Vietnam. There he taught himself the language, as well as Korean culture and history, which ingratiated him to the locals. 

“I watched these 17 and 18-year old kids come in. They drank, gambled and whored.” Because the United States used Korea as a way station back to civilian life, many men were broken from time spent in Vietnam. “You could watch their lives change dramatically.” Mark was 24, on the older side of the draft, and a little wiser about life. He used that year as an opportunity, discovering photography and finding a Korean mentor to hone his craft. He had access to a Jeep and little need for sleep. In his free time, Mark documented his experiences, touring the country, talking to locals, and giving himself an education far more valuable than the one he received at home.

By the time he returned to Dubuque, Mark found himself deeply changed. His father had passed while he was away. “I didn’t have a home there anymore,” Mark says. “I didn’t agree with anything I was seeing.” Mark’s degree felt like a vestigial remnant of a life he no longer recognized. And so, camera in hand, Mark set out west to reinvent himself.

A partnership becomes a brotherhood

A few years after Mark arrived in Laguna, he met Jerry Burchfield. The two became instant friends. “Encountering Jerry under the circumstances I did was a meaningful passage,” Mark says. Jerry was an only child, Mark an only son. The two forged a kind of brotherhood they each were missing. Mark says Jerry is one of the only friends to whom he gave his early photographs from Korea. Although they were quite different, they shared a passion for photography, an interest in activism, and both felt changed by the war.

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Photo by Damon Nicholson

Jerry & Mark at the Nix Interpretive Center. On the left, an image from The Tell mural, leading into the trail. As part of their 25th anniversary celebration, the Nix Center will host a book signing of Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism.

Together they co-founded The Laguna Canyon Project, The Legacy Project and BC Space Gallery, perhaps one of the longest continually running fine art photography galleries in the United States.

Although Jerry passed in 2009, there almost seems a soulful residue imprinted on Mark. He sometimes speaks of Jerry as if he’s still alive, at one point saying, “Jerry has a photograph from those days.” It makes me think, as I listen to Mark talk about Jerry, that’s how brotherhood should be – each absorbing the best of the other, and allowing them to live on.

Saving Laguna Canyon, one photo at a time

Longtime Laguna locals know Mark’s work well, even if they don’t realize it. Mark and Jerry were instrumental in saving Laguna Canyon from development by the Irvine Company. The Laguna Canyon Project spanned 30 years, and included one of Mark’s most ambitious projects to date: The Tell. 

Stretching 636 feet and rising 34 feet into the canyon sky, The Tell was a massive installation of photographs gathered from hundreds of community members in 1989. “No photograph was censored,” Mark smiles. “Though some had to be placed up high.” 

Its shape was meant to mirror the surrounding landscape, although it had a definitive head (representing Easter Island, and the inhabitants destruction of their own civilization) and a tail that trailed to the ground. The mural in many ways represented both the land and the creatures that roamed it. More important, it called people into the canyon. First, to search for their own photos. Then to commune with nature. And, finally, to take an active role in saving it.

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Photo courtesy BC Space

Artivist: The Tell overview, 1989

As the sun scorched the project and the hostile environment invaded, something new appeared. Where once the focus was on individual pictures and people, Mark and Jerry designed the mural so images of animals would emerge when the photographs faded – a dinosaur, a giant deer, people feuding inside the belly of a beast. 

“That’s part of the deceit of the piece,” says Mark. “If art isn’t entertaining to the artist, why do it?” They drew on the power of myths, archeological principles, and the history of Easter Island to play with the art and make a broader statement about the environment. “At the dedication ceremony, we had horsemen from Leisure World walk out from the throat. Men delivered speeches on scrolls of parchment. We tapped into every myth we could.” 

Mark calls his work a tricky seduction, his art operating on every part of the viewer’s conscious and unconscious mind. That’s the power of both myth and scale.

The Tell was dismantled in 1990. The skin came off first, Mark tells me. Then the skeleton came down. “Then the cross members were removed, so it became like Tellhenge for another two weeks.” Much of its remains were destroyed in the 1993 fire. Mark confesses it felt like a relief, the project almost a burden to keep alive. It died in much the way it was born – mythologically.

When asked if he would do it again, Mark says he’s guided by the principle that a project done once is art, and a project repeated is product.

The Great Picture – living life on a large canvas

Inspired by the success of the Laguna Canyon Project, Mark and Jerry turned their attention to the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, and to documenting the 4,700 acres of contiguous space in Irvine that would become Orange County’s Great Park. From that, The Great Picture arose. 

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Photo courtesy BC Space

Historian: The Great Picture

Three stories tall and 11 stories wide, the Great Picture is the world’s largest photograph made as a single seam image. By converting a jet maintenance hanger into a camera obscura, they achieved the exposure by creating a 6-millimeter pinhole lens projected onto a muslin canvas. Following a 35-minute exposure, the crew captured a black-and-white image that they processed in a pool-sized developing tray. The gelatin silver print portrays the control tower structures, tarmac and the distant San Joaquin Hills.

Breaking the Guinness World Record, and shown around the world, the image remains both a wonder and a masterpiece.

BC Space – the mouse that roared

As our time wraps up, we discover we haven’t discussed the gallery. BC Space, nestled beside the Candy Baron and above Violet’s Boutique on Forest Avenue, is hard to spot even if you know it’s there. There’s no advertising, barely a sign of any kind. 

Sometime after buying the gallery, Mark discovered the space used to be owned by the Masons. “The interesting thing about the Masons,” says Mark, “you had to ask to join. They didn’t invite you. You had to want to know more.” That’s the guiding philosophy behind BC Space. “I prefer to talk to people who know where they’re going,” he says. “You don’t walk in here by accident. If you make it up the stairs, you want to be here.”

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

BC Space: “If you make it up the stairs, you want to be here”

Like everything in Mark’s life, he continues to have big ambitions for the space. “There are so many things I want to do here,” he says. “Every show has been curated from here, generated from here. Usually in response to some current event, or long-term recurring situation.” 

Self-invention or self-discovery?

“I don’t think we invent anything,” Mark says as we conclude our time. “Instead I think we discover things.” 

I consider this long after I leave. 

Then there are the words of his partner, Liz, who seems so moved by Mark that it’s her reaction to him, as much as the man himself, that leaves a lasting impression. 

“Over our years together, I keep asking him, ‘What makes you, you?’ ‘How did you get to be this person?’” 

Mark smiles and shrugs as Liz asks again. 

“With all these insights, and passions, and emotional and intellectual understandings. How did that happen?” Liz keeps looking at him, as though waiting for an answer. “To have the confidence to do the crazy things you did. To have the confidence to save the canyon.” 

Mark sits silent. 

“I guess it’s just his DNA”

“I guess it’s just his DNA,” she finally concludes. 

So maybe it’s true of people too: we don’t invent ourselves, but rather discover ourselves. We’re there all along, living fossils waiting to be excavated. 

Perhaps that’s why art feels so gratifying and so personal. By creating something, we’re really discovering something about ourselves. We’re shining a light on those profound parts of our soul, digging them up and bringing ourselves to the surface, letting others see inside. 

Looking at the long arc of Mark’s work – across distance and time, and almost always larger than life – that’s just how it feels. Profound.


Paula Arnold: Fiercely committed to the B&GC

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

As with so many parents who are faced with the proverbial “empty nest,” Paula Arnold found herself, in her words, “looking for a purpose” when her youngest daughter went away to college 11 years ago. She considered volunteering for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), an organization that promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children. However, after thinking long and hard, Arnold decided against it. She was still a little raw from her daughter leaving and felt “it was too soon” to take on such an emotionally demanding role.

It all started with a friend

Fortunately for all concerned, a friend, Milt Naylor, suggested Arnold look into the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach (the Club). “Milt took me to meet (longtime Club supporter) Donnie Crevier and I signed on,” she recalls. Naylor knew what he was doing when he recruited Arnold. Since then she has repeatedly chaired the Club’s Gala and the Girls Night Out events, in addition to serving as the Club’s first female president. 

Making an impact from the start

Arnold made her presence in the organization known right away. “Within in six months of joining the Board I was chairing committees,” she says. It’s not hard to imagine. Arnold exudes energy and charisma. “It was fun. I was single then, and I would come in with dating stories. I’d have a committee of 12 women, and we always had something going on.” 

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Paula Arnold, the first female president of The Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, among many other roles at the Club.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, after some time chairing committees, Arnold says knew what she wanted to do next. “I said, ‘I’m the next president’. I’m very alpha,” she adds with a laugh.

Spending money to make money

By then she had definitely earned the respect of her fellow Board members. “I took the Gala, which had previously raised $200,000-300,000 and at least doubled that. I told them we had to spend money to make money. It was scary for them,” says Arnold. 

If the Board was nervous, Arnold was not. Relying on her former skills as a Director of Marketing for a hotel/casino in Las Vegas, Arnold was not unfamiliar with how to put on a gala. “I wasn’t an event planner in Vegas, but I certainly did a lot of event planning,” she explains.

Everyone is a fundraiser, whether they like it or not

Besides elevating the Club’s gala, Arnold says another change she fostered as president was the idea that the Board’s members needed to raise money. “I told everybody, whether you like it or not, you’re a fundraiser. I was one of them. When I first joined I said I didn’t want to ask people for money. But once they realized they were already doing it, by talking to people they knew, about what they and the Club were doing, they realized it was pretty easy.”

70 cents of every dollar comes from the community

And fundraising is a critical part of the Boys and Girls Club. “We fundraise for 70 cents of every dollar. People find that shocking. We get very little in grants, although we do get some from the school district and some from arts programs. But the rest comes from the community,” she explains.

Embracing county-wide responsibilities, as well

More recently, Arnold has taken on a role with the Orange County Area Council for the Boys and Girls Club. Not surprisingly, she is president of that group. “I have 15 clubs,” she says. “It’s all volunteer. It’s more of a bylaws type of position, but it has evolved into an idea exchange meeting. We want idea sharing (among the Clubs). Take the Tustin Club, they just had their first Girls Night Out event after seeing ours.” 

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Paula Arnold with Michelle Ray-Fortezzo, Development Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Laguna Beach, talk Art of Giving Gala

Spreading the success of Laguna’s Girls Night Out

There have been nine Girls Night Out events in Laguna, all at the fabulous home of Laguna Beach residents Holly and David Wilson. At the event, women get together, eat, drink and socialize while shopping at booths set up throughout the property. All proceeds benefit the Club. It’s an event that could (and should) definitely be replicated by other Clubs. Arnold’s enthusiasm and encouragement undoubtedly motivated the Tustin Club’s Board to give it a try.

Still committed chairing the Club’s events

 With her new county-wide responsibilities it would be reasonable to assume Arnold has backed off her commitments to the Laguna Club – reasonable, but not accurate. Arnold is still chairing the Gala (May 12 at Montage, Laguna Beach) and Girls Night Out. “I like standing up there and saying, ‘How about…?’ I’m clearly passionate about it. I see the lives we enhance, even change. We have so many kids at who are at risk.”

Working for a teen center

With so much accomplished, Arnold is still committed to doing more. “I would love to see our endowment get to $5 million. We need a fully functioning teen center. It has to be open and free,” she says. The challenges of creating a teen center that teens will want to hang out in is not lost on her, but neither is the reality that providing teens with safe, supervised a place they can go can greatly reduce reckless behavior. 

Celebrating a first grandchild on the way

The only thing that might hamper her mission is the upcoming arrival of her first grandchild. Arnold is taking a month to be in Hong Kong with her daughter as they await the big day. Beyond that, there is always the Boys and Girls Club of America, the national umbrella organization for the Boys and Girls Clubs. Arnold, while not actively seeking out a position with the group, says she is also not opposed to accepting such a position. Time will tell.

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Paula Arnold and Michelle Ray-Fortezzo outside the Club where they spend so much time working to advance the organization’s mission

Giving and getting back

In the meantime, she has more than enough going on with her current Club responsibilities. And while she has given so much, as with all giving, she has received much in return. Coming to Laguna from Las Vegas in 2003 as a divorced mother of two, it took awhile for Laguna to feel like home.  Getting involved with the Club helped that. Arnold says it provided her with her first “heart friend” way back when. The friend, Karen Jaffe, remains a dear friend to this day. “Now I go to the grocery store and I know half the people there. Las Vegas will always have my heart, but Laguna is home now,” she says.

The Club is always open to new volunteers

And if anyone out there is looking for a “purpose” or just wants to get involved with a really wonderful organization, Arnold says there is room at the Boys and Girls Club. “If anyone is interested in understanding what being a Board member is about we are always looking for our replacements. Until you get into one of these meetings and see these really smart, dynamic people, you can’t understand how inspiring it is.” After meeting Paula Arnold, I have a pretty good idea.


Lexi McKeown: the scholar/athlete with deserved honors and a bright and sunny future

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach High School senior, Lexi McKeown may only be a teenager, but her accomplishments are a lifetime’s worth. She’s a kind-hearted superstar volleyball player as well as a stellar student – and she’s just getting started.

Lexi McKeown

Lexi is a fourth generation Lagunan. Her grandpa is widely remembered in this town as McKeown Plumbing. Her mom, Kathy, laughs as she tells me that when people hear the name, they invariably ask oh, that McKeown? “I say, ‘It depends on whether you had a good plumbing experience.’” Lexi’s grandpa is known as Poppy, and she adores his sense of humor. “He was born on April Fool’s Day,” she says with a smile.

Lexi and her mom are very close, particularly as it was just the two of them – Lexi has not seen her father since she was three years old. Kathy and Lexi share the genetics of good humor, dedication to education (mom is a school principal in Irvine), and a passion for volleyball. Kathy played back when she was at LBHS, and went on to play at University of Notre Dame. Lexi’s volleyball future is looking very bright as she heads off to Florida State in the fall.

How do you pick a college?

She might have had her pick of colleges, with an academic record including Advance Placement (AP) awards and a 4.5 GPA. And then there’s her volleyball achievements, including being a four-year varsity starter, earning league MVP twice, and All CIF First Team awards. But Lexi’s choice of Florida State was a multi-faceted decision.

“I talked to six schools. I thought of UCLA, Cal, Stanford, but my coach suggested visiting Florida State,” she said. “I wanted something different from Laguna. I loved Florida as a state. I had this ‘aha moment’ walking on the campus. I love trees and brick buildings – that old-timey feeling.” 

She visited three more times and got to really appreciate the volleyball team and the coach. Florida’s Division One team is ranked number four in the nation. It all added up to the perfect fit for Lexi.

Dedication and commitment

The busy life as scholar/athlete started somewhere around age 11. Lexi was playing club soccer, but relented to mom’s suggestion that she try volleyball. “I originally rebelled against doing the same thing as my mom. I tried it more to appease her,” she said. “Then I found out I’m actually kind of good at it.” 

She was hooked.

Click on photo for a larger image

The journey commenced with age-group club play after school and on weekends. “You have to love it,” she says. “It’s a huge commitment. You give up a lot.” 

Kathy agrees, “That’s why she never skied till last week!” Her “Ski Weeks” were tournament times. Alas, Lexi found out last week that skiing is “not my thing!”

The athlete

These days the busy life includes strength training at the Rock in Newport Beach, beach volleyball at Main Beach or Doheny, with weekends and all summers dedicated to tournaments up and down the coast. Beach volleyball (vs indoor) is Lexi’s favorite, and she’s achieved a triple-A women’s ranking.

“I’ve always been kind of tall, so [with indoor] you don’t get to serve, just hit,” she says. “Whereas, in beach volleyball you get to do it all.” 

She pairs up with several different partners. “It’s fun because you get to learn everyone’s different aspects. 

“People come for summer tournaments from all over,” she continued. “Florida, Texas, California… The sport is really growing across the nation.”

Her favorite tournament is at Hermosa Beach. “There’s a lot of space and I really like it. It’s where the Junior Olympics and the Nationals are held.” 

Among her tournament awards are two first-place winnings in College Showcase Tournaments, and a third place medal in the National Volleyball League Women’s Pro Open Tournament.

The scholar 

A big part of what makes Lexi such a success is her level of commitment. She demonstrates that in volleyball and in the classroom. Her favorite subjects in school are also the ones that give most folks anxiety attacks – science and math.

“My favorite is AP Calculus with Miss Quigley,” she says with a smile. 

She was named AP Chemistry Scientist of the Month in Mr. Sogo’s class, and has also won awards in US History, World History, and the Orange Coast League’s Academic Achievement Award for three years. An impressive resume, to be sure, but Lexi handles it all with calm sensibility and humility. And she gives back of her time and talents, with the LBHS Athletic Leadership Team.

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Selected as a founding member of the Athletic Leadership Team in 2016, Lexi has helped younger kids as a positive role model. The program is designed to promote good sportsmanship, school spirit, respectful behavior, and personal accountability. 

“I mentor and help,” she says, simply.

Her warmth and kindness make her a perfect role model, and will no doubt serve her well in the future as she is planning to go into emergency medicine. She’d like to learn more by working with an ER doctor.

“I really like helping people,” she says. “You see a little bit of everything. I like the excitement!”

And when she has spare time, she enjoys the ER action on TV. “I love Grey’s Anatomy!” she beams.

With a bright future ahead of her, Lexi McKeown is ready for that leap from one coast to the next. We look forward to hearing about that journey as she trades the LBHS maroon for the garnet and gold as a Florida State Seminole.

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