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Arnold Hano and his infectious zest for life

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He’s just about to celebrate his 93rd birthday. His step may not be as lively as it once was, but his mind is sharp as a tack, and he manages a perfect twinkle in his eyes. That’s Arnold Hano, a Laguna Beach mover and shaker still.

We met over a nice healthy salad, and later in his comfortable home library and talked about old times, his passion for politics (and love of Michele Obama), changes in Laguna, and baseball. Those subjects may not be ranked in order but they are each a deep a part of his persona.

Arnold Hano

Born in New York, he was a kid raised across the street from the Polo Grounds, where he lived and breathed baseball. He managed a day job as a copy boy at the New York Daily News, and then served in the Army during World War II. After the war he returned to New York, and pursued a career in publishing. 

While editor-in-chief with Lion Books, Hano edited novelists including his favorite author, Jim Thompson. One day he was presented a rare opportunity: a novel (science fiction) written by Leonardo da Vinci. A colleague offered it to him for publishing, “But it’s not very good,” the guy told him. Hano laughed, “That’s like saying, ‘I have a talking dog, but he doesn’t have a good French accent’.”

Covering all the bases

A Giants fan since the age of four, Hano launched his own writing career on one of the most eventful days in his life: Game One of the 1954 World Series; the New York Giants vs. the Cleveland Indians. His record of the day Willie Mays made ‘The Catch’ (and throw) became his highly acclaimed book, A Day in the Bleachers. 

“I was just bantering with a woman in a red hat in the stands; a Dodger fan,” Hano said. The resulting popularity of the book, which is still for sale online, Hano attributes to timing. Until then, stories about baseball were like comics for kids. “I think it’s a nice little book,” Hano says modestly. “It’s a book about fans, and fan-hood. It was just the right time to do an adult baseball book.”

Meanwhile Hano experienced what he refers to as the aftermath of “the Eisenhower economy”. Rather than endure a pay reduction in expensive New York, Hano and his wife Bonnie packed up their one and a half year-old daughter, Laurel, a beagle puppy, eight valises, and headed west.

When they arrived at Bonnie’s mother’s house in Iowa, Hano learned of the hoopla back in New York about his book. Good times and more writing commenced.

Westward they went, “The baby and the dog taking turns throwing up,” Hano laughs.

As they explored the great stretches of the west, Hano surprised himself by writing a western-themed novel. “I didn’t know anything west of the Hudson River,” he said with his happy twinkle.

By the time they got to Laguna, they’d found home. And home in those days amounted to $85 a month for a cottage on Goff Street.

It Takes a Villager 

It didn’t take Hano long to get involved with local politics, and generally living his beliefs by supporting those less fortunate. 

“In 1955 the Ocean Avenue cottages and Roosevelt Drive were enclaves for black families. And black men could not get a haircut in Laguna Beach,” he said. When Hano inquired, the barbers told him they’d lose all their white customers if they cut a black person’s hair. So Bonnie and Arnold set out to do what they could. “We found an accommodation law from 1905 and said to the barbers they had to cut their hair.” 

The Hanos notified the press and the police, and marched, blacks with whites, into all the barbershops in town followed by full press coverage. 

In 1970 it was women’s rights that lit the activist’s fire. The City Council was looking for 16 commissioners, and Hano attended the meeting. “There were sixteen men there, and I stood up and said, ‘Aren’t there any women who could do this?’ A woman showed up the next day.”

Today Hano is concerned for the homeless. “Those people deserve to have a toilet. They deserve supportive housing,” he says. “If I was on the Council, I’d say to [City Manager John] Pietig, ‘Find us a place!’” Hano has served on the board of the Laguna Relief and Resource Center, assisting the homeless community.

His personal interest in politics resulted in one run for City Council. Alas, as he says, “The other guy got more votes.”

Hano’s voice has been heard throughout town since those early days. In addition to writing more than 30 books, including biographies of Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente, he has authored hundreds of newspaper articles. The collection of articles he wrote for the Laguna Beach Post has been compiled into a book, titled It Takes a Villager.

He is Mr. Villager, if ever there was one. Hano adores the human scale and village atmosphere of small-town Laguna. Both Hanos have been named Villagers of the Year by the community organization, Village Laguna.

Design Review 

It all started with a shock in the Canyon.

One day as he was driving through Laguna Canyon Hano was stunned to see giant billboards advertising Leisure World. “It staggered me,” he said. “There were two – forty feet long and ten feet wide.” He called a councilwoman who told him there was nothing to be done about it. It was even zoned for cemetery use. “So I wrote a column about it, and the next day they came down,” he said. “I realized, oh wow, there’s power in this!”

He was also instrumental in preserving a couple of buildings that have become Laguna icons. One is what is now the orthodontist’s building on Glenneyre (Dr. DiGiovanni), and the other is what is now Royal Thai. Both buildings had been behind the Wells Fargo building on Ocean Avenue. At the time, the Federal Savings and Loans had permits to destroy them. It was thought that they were falling down. Hano went inside and discovered just the opposite, so he searched for a way to save them.

“I went to the Coastal Commission and argued that they should be saved,” he said. “They said to move them, so I found people who would take them for free, and pay the $5,000 to move them. There were a couple of lots available. It was easy to move them!”

Preservation and village atmosphere fall under the grander scheme of Design Review, that all important commission that Hano supports in full force. Along with architect Chris Abel, and realtor Milt Hanson, Hano took on the giant task of keeping the “giant” out of Laguna. Their main issue was building height restrictions. “From Broadway to Bluebird, there would have been ten-story buildings,” he said. The successful result came about with partnering help from Village Laguna and the 3700 residents who voted in favor of the citywide height limit. Buildings in Laguna are now restricted to a 36 foot height maximum.

Hano believes in Design Review, regardless of contentious project issues. “I think it’s wonderful no matter how much animosity. You always make a friend and an enemy,” he said. “But Laguna Beach is best served when it’s kept to a modest, human scale.”

The next pesky issue for Hano is the undergrounding of utility lines citywide. Trees in danger of falling on electric lines, power outages resulting from damaged poles – all discussion would be moot, if Hano had his way. “Chop that tree down? No. Bury the pole!”

Who likes adventure?

Bonnie and Arnold Hano jumped in with both feet when they signed up for the Peace Corps at a time when most people are thinking about retiring to a hammock somewhere. They love to travel, but the Peace Corps is a whole different travel animal.

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Bonnie and Arnold Hano

It was 1991, and they had taken a trip to Costa Rica where they got to spend some time talking with the Peace Corps director there. Sure enough, they signed up and were selected for Costa Rica. They spent two years plus three months for training; a time that forever changed their lives. 

“We were in a town of 800 people,” says Hano. “There was one car in the whole town. There was a grade school that was falling apart. It was thirty years of neglect and earthquake damage.” 

The Hanos begged and borrowed to raise money from friends, and set about to fix everything they could with the help of the villagers. It was a joyful community. “They turn everything into a good time,” said Hano. 

It was such a rewarding experience, and a sense of belonging that the Hanos built themselves a house in the same village once their Peace Corps stint was done. They returned to Laguna but continued to visit their Costa Rica home away from home, off and on, for another five years.

Hano’s favorite places they’ve visited around the globe include Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, China, Alaska, and Rhine and Mosel River cruises. Part of that has to do with beer.

“I discovered all the beers of the world, “ says Hano. “I miss that.” He’s not “allowed” to drink anymore, but has fond memories. “I think beer is a very noble drink.” Twinkle in eye again!

Arnold Hano may not partake of the noble beer any longer, but he’s still high on life. I’m sure he’ll be walking circles around most of us as he carries his zest for life, and nurturing care for Laguna forward into the future.


Jeff LaTendresse: our Laguna Beach Fire Chief

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Wanting to be a fireman is a pretty ubiquitous idea for young boys. For Laguna Beach Fire Chief, Jeff LaTendresse, it was obviously more than a childish musing.  

As a 17-year-old North High in Torrance student, “I was coming home from a football game with my neighbor. He told me about his job as a firefighter.  After that, I started taking EMT classes while still in high school; I was a Fire Explorer; I did a year of fire science classes in college. My post advisor was a fire fighter in the Air Force so I enlisted with a guaranteed job as a firefighter.  I knew I didn’t want to sit behind a desk,” explains LaTendresse.  

As he says this, he smiles because as we’re talking he is, indeed, sitting behind a very big, very full desk. “Although, obviously that’s what I’m doing right now,” he says in his mildly ironic way. 

Jeff LaTendresse, Laguna Beach Fire Chief

From Cathedral City to Laguna Beach

If LaTendresse finds himself sitting behind a desk more often these days, it is because being Chief is much more administrative than being a firefighter, or even a Battalion Chief.  When we met he was in the midst of compiling the budget for the Fire Department, which can only be, I’m assuming, a very time-consuming task.  Yet, becoming Chief was a goal of his when he started.  

“I remember writing out what I wanted to be, my goals, and I checked that box,” he says.  So it made sense when, in 1997, while in Cathedral City in Riverside County, he decided to apply for the job as Laguna Beach Captain when the position became available.  When he got the job, “I had to make the very difficult decision on whether to transplant here or not.  It was a difficult decision, but a good decision,” he says, again with his gentle irony.

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Chief LaTendresse watches one of his engines at stationone

 

In Laguna Beach, there’s always something

Arriving in 1997 means LaTendresse missed Laguna’s epic fire of 1993, but he has dealt with his share of disasters, nevertheless – this is Laguna, after all – from floods to the Bluebird Canyon landslide.  

“In 2005, the Bluebird Canyon landslide is something I’ll never forget,” says LaTendresse.  “I was one of the first on the scene and it was like a disaster movie out of Hollywood: no street, houses teetering, broken water lines.  We ended up saving two people that day.”  He says this in his matter-of-fact way, but it’s obvious that despite his desk duties, saving people is still part of his job that he relishes.  

“This job is everything I thought it would be. It becomes more administrative the higher up you go, but it still has the same attraction for me as it did when I was 17,” he said.

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His LBFD fire helmets lined up 

Like father, like son

The attraction is, apparently, genetic.  LaTendresse’s son is also on the path to becoming a firefighter.  “My son is in the Army, about to graduate from medic school.  He hopes to get more experience in that area because more of what we do is actually medic related than fire related,” says LaTendresse.  Despite LaTendresse’s understated manner, one could not ignore his pride in his son’s choice.  LaTendresse also has a 24 year-old daughter who lives and works close by to his wife and him.  Both children grew up in Laguna and went through the schools here.

“We need more rain.”

For LaTendresse, leaving Cathedral City wasn’t a very tough choice.  One reason is that he got the job he’d wanted.  A second is pretty obvious: Laguna is a great place to live.  But there is a third reason he lives close to his work:  “The city wants the Fire Chief and the Police Chief to live in town due to the geographic isolation of Laguna.  With only three ways in and out, if something were to happen there would at least be some emergency leadership here,” he explains.  

Despite the many safety measures enacted since the ’93 fire, LaTendresse says the fire department is always on alert.  “We still have the potential of a catastrophic fire,” he says.  I thought perhaps the recent rains might have eased his worries, a bit.  When I ask him that he replies simply, “We need more rain.”  

When you’re Fire Chief of Laguna Beach, it seems you’re never not worrying about something.

 

Fuel Modification Zones are no simple task

To combat some of these worries, the fire department has been developing fuel modification zones.  At Nyes Place and Oro Canyon, for example, the goal is to take a 100-foot section of brush and reduce it by 50% so there is less fuel in case of fire.  From a fire safety perspective it’s a no-brainer. 

However, according to LaTendresse, it’s a very tricky process because other things besides fire safety must be taken into account.  “We have to do a lot of different studies: biology studies, environmental studies, etc., that are an expensive and labor intensive process so that we do this properly.  There is an impact on the environment and we want to make sure we are doing it right.  I think we will ultimately be successful, but it has been an incredible process to get this moving,” he explains.

A more visible fire abatement strategy is the use of goats to clear hillsides of potential fire-feeding brush.  “Hand crews are extremely expensive.  Goats are the most cost-effective method, but they eat everything.  We have to watch that for a few reasons, like erosion.” When it comes to fire management nothing, it seems, is easy.

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Fire Station One, 501 Forest Avenue

Have you checked your smoke detectors?

Like being fire chief.  It’s just not the kind of job you leave at work.  LaTendresse always has his radio with him – always, unless he is away on vacation.  But even then he’s prepared.  “When I fly I always wear a long sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes so I can take care of myself and others in case of an emergency.  I try to instill the safety precautions we preach in myself,” he says.  

Which leads to his suggestions as to what we can all do to better prepare ourselves and our homes in case of fire. “Make sure your smoke detectors are working, if they are battery operated make sure the batteries are fresh; check your landscaping, make sure it’s cleared away from the house and there is nothing overhanging.  If there is a disaster and we ask for you to evacuate, please evacuate so we aren’t putting our firefighters at unnecessary risk.”   

We’ve all heard these suggestions before, but when you hear them from the Chief…let’s just say I went home and double-checked my smoke detectors.


Elizabeth Pearson: who is this Elizabeth person?

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

You’ve known her for many years as our City Council person, and as Mayor of this fair city. But now she’s relatively footloose and fancy free.

Elizabeth Pearson served her last day in Council Chambers on December 2nd. Then she walked across the street to The Lumberyard for a farewell party – and her new life.

“It was very stressful,” she says of her time as a public servant. “But I made the commitment, and I stick to my word.”

That she did. During her 12 years serving on the council, including three terms as mayor, Pearson worked tirelessly during Laguna’s good times and bad. Amongst her many achievements, she was there to help the city recover from landslides and mudslides, and she was there as a strong advocate for business and for the arts.

Elizabeth Pearson

The next chapter features her emphasis on arts; currently she is chief executive and president of Pacific Chorale, the resident choir of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Additionally she lends support to the Laguna Playhouse, serves on the board of Laguna Beach Live and the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, and she’s been appointed to the boards of California Arts Advocates, California for the Arts, and Arts OC. That’s a lot of boards! So, this being Laguna, I asked her if she surfs – that would give her another kind of “board”.

“No, but I like going to the beach for picnics,” she says. “And I love early evening picnics at the Festival of Arts for their summer jazz.” Of course she does! She actually attended 18 jazz concerts last summer.

A self-made woman

How did all this art appreciation begin? Pearson puts the blame squarely on Cleveland, another city of importance in her life. 

Her roots go back to North Carolina, where most of her family still resides, but in between coasts, she lived and worked in Cleveland. And the arts are big in Cleveland. “All the arts,” Pearson said. “It was the thing to do.” 

Her best friend was Chairman of the Board of the Cleveland Orchestra, so she went to a lot of concerts, and became a big fan of opera as well.

While in Cleveland, Pearson went back to school to finish her degree. Her major was in marketing, but her minor was in another art – British Literature. “I’ve read almost all of Shakespeare. I started with Henry IV, Part One, and fell in love with it,” she says. “And I love poetry. Wordsworth is my favorite.”

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From small town, North Carolina, Elizabeth Pearson has grabbed ahold of all the knowledge and learning she can, and run with it. She’s even studying music herself now, with piano lessons and music theory. “It’s something I can do for myself – post Council,” she says.

Her family all enjoy music. A few even perform at the Grand Old Opry. Back at the cattle ranch in North Carolina, they get together at holidays and all join in playing bluegrass, in a boisterous big family way. Pearson contributes her voice too, but she mostly feeds the family with her time-honored recipes for good Southern comfort foods like chicken and dumplings, turnip greens, biscuits and gravy, and her favorite, Southern banana pudding pie.

Pearson’s dad was a DJ for the Armed Services network. He instilled in his daughter his big love of jazz, and gave her the confidence to cook for 30 people at Thanksgiving. No big deal. “We’re used to cooking for armies,” she laughs.

What’s new

Meanwhile the Pacific Chorale is benefitting from Pearson’s passion for music, and marketing. She’s enthusiastic about the origins, “Classical choral music is an art form from Ancient Greece. The first documented music originated with the Catholic Church in Rome”, the sounds, “Absolutely beautiful!”, and their programming, “We have a concert coming up in March called ‘Let’s Dance’ that includes Norwegian choral, Navajo dance, jazz pianists, and the music of Aaron Copland. We’re trying fun, new things.”

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The Pacific Chorale tours internationally every couple of years. Pearson will be traveling to Budapest and Vienna with them this year, thus combining two of her favorite things: music and travel.

“I love to travel,” she says. “I’d like to spend more time in Southern Europe. I love the history, and the art. I usually go to concerts.” Of course she does!

She is one busy woman, though she feels a little less so without the City Council on her agenda. “One great thing about being off the Council is I only go out three nights a week now, not six,” she says. And then she has her special day that’s off limits to anyone else.

“I call it Sacred Sundays,” she says. “Or Sacred Pajama Day when it rains.”

Everyone needs some “me” time, but all the more so when you are a public person, and one with a full calendar such as Elizabeth Pearson. She takes Sundays to read, take walks… a day not to be “on”, not get dressed up, …don’t go to events. Her friends know not to call her on a Sunday, “Unless it’s for fun!”

Yes, she’s a busy, active, and very socially committed person who has done more than her share in service to the community. 

And she does like to have some fun the rest of the week too!


Sharael Kolberg: Making the most out of everything

BY: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

Sharael Kolberg is someone who makes the most out of things.  A telling example of this is when she, just out of high school, worked as a bank teller in her hometown of Eureka, CA.  A customer at the bank mentioned the trouble her family was having finding good employees to run the family frozen yogurt business in Hawaii. Kolberg knew just the person to help them run their shop, and, not surprisingly, her customers agreed with her. So it wasn’t long before the girl from Eureka was off on her first big adventure to run a yogurt shop on Maui (with a condo and car provided, to boot).  Opportunity seen; opportunity taken.

Sharael Kolberg:

Writer, Director of SEEDS, Master Gardener, community volunteer

Embracing opportunities

Kolberg is a long way from the frozen yogurt shop, both literally and figuratively, as she now resides in Laguna Beach and works as a writer and as the Director of SEEDS Art and Education.  However, her willingness to embrace opportunities and make the most of them traveled back with her across the Pacific.

Kolberg left Hawaii after 10 years with a degree in journalism from the University of Hawaii.  She wasn’t anxious to return stateside, but…

“After I graduated from college I realized that all the jobs that paid a decent salary in Hawaii…those people weren’t going to leave.  My best friend was in San Francisco and she told me the apartment upstairs was open so that’s where I went.”  And it was a fortuitous choice because that is where she met her husband, Jeff.  

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Photo courtesy the Kolbergs

From left: Sharael Kolberg, her daughter, Katelyn, husband Jeff and Charlie

 

A chance to return to small town living

After 15 years in the Bay Area, a business opportunity provided a way for the Kolbergs to relocate to southern California. Choosing Laguna was easy. Jeff is a native Lagunan (even his mother went to Thurston Middle School).  

“He cherished growing up here.  We both grew up in small towns and we missed that,” explains Kolberg.  Plus, their daughter, Katelyn, is an only child. “We wanted her to grow up with her cousins who are all within 30 minutes of us. Jeff’s parents are still in the same house on Bluebird Canyon,” she says.  So for the last five years, the Kolbergs have called Laguna home and Kolberg, in typical fashion, has made the most of the opportunities she has found here – so much so that it’s hard to imagine how she manages to do it all.

“Workwise, I write for Firebrand Media. I write for Riviera Magazine, Orange Coast, and the St. Regis and some others.” Then she tells me laughing, “I actually have a job as the Director of SEEDS, a non-profit that provides educational enrichment programs for kids and families with a focus on the arts, the environment and wellness.”  

She’s also a Master Gardener who has worked on the El Morro Elementary School garden, the Thurston Middle School Garden and just helped complete a $50,000 renovation of Anneliese’s Willowbrook campus garden that was destroyed in the storms of 2010.  “This was a really fun project. We just got a grant from the water district to get irrigation installed.  It is really cool,” she says enthusiastically. 

Next up is the Laguna Presbyterian Preschool garden.  “I have seen how learning can be taken to the next level with a hands-on experience, which is why I love helping with these gardens.”

Then there’s the non-profit groups she does PR for: the Laguna Beach Garden Club, TMS PTA and the Interscholastic Mountain Bike Team.  She is also president of the PTA’s Coffee Break parent education program and a SchoolPower trustee. Oh, yes, and her third book is just about to be released.  As I said, she jumped into living and working in Laguna with both feet -- so much so it’s hard to know how she stays afloat! 

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Some of the tools of one of Sharael Kolberg’s many trades

Writing is a passion

“I love writing.  That’s my passion. That’s what I love doing the most,” Kolberg tells me emphatically.  And while she tends to focus on “family travel and green living” in her articles, she has three books to her credit on topics as far ranging as a marriage guide, a year she and Jeff spent in Australia and, her latest, a memoir of the year she and her family “unplugged” prior to moving to Laguna. 

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Sharael Kolberg with her dog, Charlie, a frequent companion at Zinc Cafe

“A Year Unplugged” leads to many things

This year without technology was what led her to gardening. “Because we didn’t have technology I decided to volunteer at Katelyn’s school and the local farm. I read every book on school gardening, took classes and became an expert.  When we moved, I got my Master Gardener degree from the UC Davis extension program in Costa Mesa.  It’s a four-month, intensive program where you learn snippets of everything from irrigation, grafting, seedlings.  The quality is really good, really interesting,” she tells me.

But back to the book.  “Three months ago I was asked to be on the panel of the AAUW (American Association of University Woman) Literary Luncheon (March 14),” says Kolberg.  “They told me to come ‘with my book.’ Only it wasn’t a book yet.  I had just kept a daily journal about what our lives were like without any technology; it was just a bunch of notes in a binder!  So I had to get busy,” she says laughing. Using her three month window, Kolberg compiled her notes into a book she proudly describes as “the best one yet.”

Just another 26 mile run

So when I jokingly ask her what she does in her spare time, I’m not the least bit surprised when she tells me she is training for a marathon.  She wasn’t keen to mention it because a lot can happen between the training for a marathon and the actual running of one (like injuries, for one), but that would be, in my opinion, the only way her marathon doesn’t get run.  

Anyone who writes a book in three months while holding down a job, volunteering all over the place while still being a devoted wife and mother understands commitment and dedication (and is made of different stuff than I, that’s for sure).  

For Sharael Kolberg, running 26.2 miles is just another run – that she’s going to make the most of, whether she makes it to the starting line or not.


Sandi Werthe: 

The woman who’s launched a thousand floats

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Sandi Werthe started volunteering for the Patriots Day Parade in 1975. The lady has seen all the red, white, and blue you can imagine – and she’s not had her fill yet.

The Patriots Day Parade has kept Laguna swelling with pride for 49 years now thanks to volunteers such as Sandi, who serves as its treasurer. She’s seen the parade from every angle, but she’s only been in it twice: in 1993 when she and her husband were “Citizens of the Year”, and once with the Exchange Club. She defies the axiom: the whole town is in the parade. 

In fact, she’s a big part of the hidden mechanics making it all happen. 

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Submitted photo

Hal and Sandi Werthe in 1977

“Everything Hal did, I joined him,” Sandi explains of her civic volunteerism. Sandi’s husband, Hal, passed away two and a half years ago, but in his time he not only repaired just about all of the appliances in Laguna, he was an active with, among other things, the Exchange Club, the Police Department and its Citizen Academy, the American Legion, and the Parade Association. 

He was even Santa Claus, on Forest Avenue for several years.

She’s a leader too

While Sandi bypassed the role of Mrs. Claus, she has been an inveterate champion for civic causes just like Hal. “If he quit doing something, I took over,” she said. Let’s see now – that amounts to various jobs with the Parade Association, the Exchange Club, the Citizen Academy, the American Legion, the Laguna Presbyterian Church Foundation, and working at election poll stations.

Sandi Werthe

But this week the hoopla is all about the parade. Sandi has actually been preparing for it almost all year. The parade committee begins planning in August. That’s when the permits are issued. Then by September they come up with a theme, and the special Laguna honorees. Following that, all the back office stuff begins, like organizing the participants, judges and ribbons, getting advertisers, printing the programs, doing the bookkeeping, and generally putting the word out.

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Not that the Patriots Day Parade needs much of a shout-out in Laguna. It’s pretty much carved in stone on the City calendar. The first Saturday of each March is a day highly anticipated by thousands and thousands of people. 

By February, the Adventure Guides have pulled out their best tribal outfits and started preparing for the big day. The school marching bands have been practicing for weeks in anticipation. The antique cars are spit and polished. The batons are twirling. It seems everyone in town is ready and willing to participate in Laguna’s historic parade, which will be this Saturday.

A well-loved tradition, the parade does not just happen on its own. As they say, many hands make light the work. Well, Sandi Werthe possesses at least several of those hands. “I don’t really get to see the parade,” she says. “I’m running around doing things.” 

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The day before, she gets the trophies over to Tivoli Too! where they’ll be ready come show time. Early on the morning of the parade she’s off with boxes of programs to distribution sites, setting up the check-in desk on Short St., sorting bins of rosettes and arm bands and ribbons, giving out car assignment numbers, and trying to remember every niggling little detail that will make all the difference in a smooth parade.

A can-do spirit

Sandi is just that sort of organized person. She’s got facts and figures in her head like you would expect of the Treasurer, plus her hair is neatly combed. She’s got meetings, and emails, and work-shifts, plus her house is clean. It seems fitting that her way to relax – when she has the time – is to needlepoint; a very careful and exacting art form. 

There are neat and colorful needlepoint and embroidery works framed all around her house. One piece that’s near and dear to her heart is the needlepoint cushioned chest she made for her wedding day in 1977. It has lovebirds around the sides, and she and Hal knelt upon it at the Tivoli Wedding Chapel.

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Sandi and Hal were adventurous. They loved to go motor homing, and they took that little big home over all the rough roads of Alaska. When they married, Hal was still a volunteer with the junior firefighters club, “Fire Explorers”. Sandi jokes that their first honeymoon was with the Exchange Club, and the second was with the Fire Explorers. Hiking, and camping no less, “In the rain!” she laughs. 

Sandi is not afraid to rough it, and she knows how to follow-through on her many volunteer jobs. That’s something that is hard to find nowadays. People seem to be “too busy” in this technology-driven era, and hands-on volunteers are ever harder to come by.  “Everyone’s getting older,” Sandi said. “Like at Legion Hall, but we just keep going at it.”

According to Sandi, for example, the Parade Committee consists of eight or nine volunteers, but the day of the parade dozens more are required.

Her stick-to-itiveness is evident in another of Sandi’s pastimes; she has had pen pals over the years, from all over the world. Started as a schoolchild project, Sandi made friends via hand-written letters with other children in England, New Zealand, and Austria. And they’re still in touch! She’s met several of them, and has been communicating with one pen pal since 1947.

Sandi Werthe is a kind of captain that has steered many of Laguna’s civic and philanthropic organizations. It’s been smooth sailing only because of the untold hours, persistent drive, and community loyalty she possesses. 

We salute you Sandi!


Mark Dressler: Saying “Bye Bye” with a bang

Story by: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

 “I am a teacher of an incredible art form.”  This is the biggest reason LBHS and Thurston drama teacher, Mark Dressler, gives for the success of the drama programs at both schools.  

“Everybody loves the theater.  It’s part of the human character, this need to tell stories.”  And while that may be true, it is also true that in the 25 years that Dressler has been working for LBUSD, he transformed a drama program that had deteriorated to extinction into a local treasure that is now nationally known and respected.  

Dressler is retiring at the end of this school year, but he’s not going quietly.  His spring production of “Bye Bye Birdie” is going to be the largest production he has ever produced.  And that’s saying something.

Mark Dressler, LBHS and Thurston Middle School Drama Teacher

A coalescing of forces

Hired as an English and history teacher, the school district held a teachers meeting in the Artist’s Theatre.  “I was there thinking, ‘This could be a great theater.’  But there were no drama classes.  This got me thinking.  I had experience teaching drama so I went to the school board and said, ‘It’s a shame. We could make our arts program something that defines us, like our water polo programs.” he remembers.  And while the LBHS water polo teams are still great, it is undeniable that Dressler’s goal of making the LBUSD arts program another point of pride for LBUSD has been achieved.

In talking with Dressler, however, he is quick to share the success of the drama program with others.  Several factors, according to Dressler, have played a huge role in the programs’ success.  For one, having a place to perform is, as he sees it, critical. “We could not do what we do without the Artists Theatre.  Cindy Prewitt organized a community campaign that helped raise $1.5 million to enhance the theater at just about the same time I was hired as a teacher. She was a really important voice of the theater.  In the 1950’s they had done a really bad remodel.  Before the campaign restored it, the ceiling had been lowered, the seats were ripped, there were rodents running around, and mold on the walls,” says Dressler.  

Looking at the theater now in all its glory, it’s hard to believe.

Getting them while they’re young

Another factor Dressler says has been key to the program’s success, is the continuity he gets from working at Thurston and LBHS. “I’m able to grab a kid by the shoulders in 6th grade and say, ‘You are so good!’ That’s what other school districts don’t have. We’re a little, tiny school district. I know all the teachers.  I have my feet in both worlds.  I know them from the time they are little kids to the time they are adults.  They know me.  They trust me.  This intimacy has a lot to do with the success of the program.”  

It also provides Dressler and his cast with what he says is their favorite part of the production: the elementary school previews. “It’s such a great thing for these kids to go back and see their teachers and let their teachers see them.  You know, sometimes the teachers wonder ‘What’s going to happen to that kid?’ and then they see that everything turned out,” he says laughing.

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Some of the cast from “Bye Bye Birdie” doing a preview of the show at El Morro 

All kids deserve a supportive community

So while Dressler celebrates the things intrinsic to Laguna schools that aid in the program’s success, he laments that other districts aren’t as fortunate. “The kids – and I mean all kids – just need a community that supports them. It sounds corny, but programs like ours make this country better. It makes better Americans.  All kids can benefit; they just need the chance.  I was an athlete in school. It’s the same kind of structure as a team. The director is like the coach, and everyone works together toward a singular vision.  Wherever you are in the show, it’s a vehicle for collaboration.  These are skills these kids will take with them throughout their life. It kills me that other schools don’t have the ability to do what we do here.”

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Mark Dressler with senior cast members of  “Bye Bye Birdie”

A supportive school district still means he has to sell tickets

Dressler says another reason he is able to do what he does here is because he has the support of the school district.  “Fortunately, the school board has been behind me 100%.”  When he started, however, there were skeptics.  

“My first production was ‘Grease’.  No one came to the audition. This really unpleasant history teacher came up to me and said, ‘How dare you take a section!’  He was upset because I was given oneclass for drama,” laughs Dressler.  

Undeterred, Dressler hustled and cajoled to get a cast. “‘Grease’ ran for three nights.  “There was a line down Park Ave. to Short St.  We didn’t do pre-sales back then.  People were starving for this.  We made $10,000 and it started to build,” he says. With shows that regularly have $30,000-$50,000 budgets, the building process has definitely been successful.  And, while the school district is supportive, “I’ve got to sell tickets. The superintendent never says, ‘How much money do you need?’” says Dressler with a smile.  Pretty soon, however, selling tickets will be someone else’s concern. 

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Cast members run through a number from LBHS presentation of “Bye Bye Birdie”

Leaping into retirement with characteristic enthusiasm

“I have to retire,” says Dressler with his trademark enthusiasm. “I’m really excited – it’s a brand new adventure.” One that he will undoubtedly embrace with the same passion he brings – and has brought – to his job for all these years.  And passion is what he says his replacement (or replacements) will need.  

“Whoever takes this job has to inspire people to do great things.  Once people have faith in you, there’s nothing they (and we) can’t do.”  Which is why choosing “Bye Bye Birdie” as his final musical is a fitting send off.  “There are 100 kids involved in this show!  It’s the biggest show we’ve ever done!” he says energetically. His final production will be the appropriately titled: “You Can’t Take it With You.”  He may be retiring, but he’s definitely not coasting to the finish line.  And for those who can’t imagine the drama program without him, the only thing Dressler is worried about is finding a new stage manager.  “Mine is graduating,” he says with a sigh.

Mark Dressler enthusiastically sets the stage for his El Morro audience

Leaving but hoping to stay close

 “I will not consider myself successful if the program doesn’t flourish after I’m gone,” he says.  And while he may officially be “gone” he won’t be far away. “I’m just going to be in San Juan Capistrano.  I’m hoping I can continue having that relationship.  I’d love to be able to help out,” he says.  

Plus, he feels there’s room for improvement. “There are a lot of things we can do better; a lot of areas where we can improve,” says Dressler.  I suppose there’s always room for improvement, but to an outside observer, it’s hard to see where. “Bye Bye Birdie” opens Friday, March 13th so buy your tickets. 

It will be a great show, plus there aren’t many opportunities left to give Mark Dressler the standing ovation he deserves.


Doug Miller: from the other side of the lens

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He has a mind for facts and figures, and a library of journals to back it up. Doug Miller has kept count of every photo he’s ever taken: who, when, and where. The number of individuals hover around 40,000. I shouldn’t say hover, because the man knows the figures – the exact figures. Just ask him. He also has taken some 350,000 spontaneous photos from the streets of Laguna Beach.

He tracks the names and dates, and piles the journals in his filled-to-the-brim compact studio, in his own particular style of order. 

“Over there are my albums,” he points out. “And that stack is ordered by date.” I look around the stool I’m seated on and mentally take note, lest I knock over the perfectly chronological journals, which may require several days worth of re-cataloguing.

He Found his Vice

I remember the first time Doug Miller captured my children with his camera. “Oh yeah,” he says. “I’ve done a lot at Top of the World.” And Boo Blast, and Sawdust, and the Patriots Day Parade… and along his daily walks from his artist’s studio on South Coast Hwy into the downtown area.

Doug Miller

He is a walker. “I never got my license,” he explains, even though he drove his VW bus until it died. Since then he has opted for foot travel, and that has put him direct line of sight with just about everyone in Laguna. Everything fascinates him with his lens.

“Everyone else has vices,” he says. “Mine is film: I’m addicted.”

As his portfolio of slides and stacks of journals grew, Miller has become an incidental archivist. At many points he has documented moments, people and places of historic significance, like the morning just before the devastating fire in 1993. 

“I was down on the boardwalk that morning. When it started, I was out in the canyon,” he recalls. “The next day, I walked from our house down the beach to downtown. I got right on through. I walked up Park Avenue to Skyline, taking pictures as I went.”

He’s scanning and posting from his photo albums on Facebook these days to the tune of some 1,800 albums. At 30 – 40 photos per album, well, do the math. Suffice to say, there are a lot of photos to look at on Facebook for many a rainy day. “I’ll post it, and it’s fine,” he says. “I don’t copyright my pictures.”

It may be hard to get potential patrons to cross the busy coastal highway, but Miller welcomes many strollers-by every day into his studio, nonetheless. You’ll find him amongst his stacks, working on a painting, or looking through the magnifying lens at sheets of slides, or cataloging his many photo albums, but he’ll shout out, “Hi! Come on in!”

So, take the opportunity. Pull up a step stool, and allow his stories to unfold – of all the years and all the visual references this one-man history book has documented in and around Laguna.

The Early Days

Miller was a lanky teenager in Long Beach when he upped for the Navy. He served as a radarman. The best part of that experience was being away on leave, aka “liberty”, when he could visit his Aunt and Grandma in Laguna Beach. “My grandma had a house on Flora Street,” he said. “It was great here, much more fun than Long Beach.” 

Meanwhile he got hooked on photography with a Minolta he bought in Hong Kong. He started out doing photography for the Navy, including the ship’s crews. “I took to it like a duck to water,” he recalls. “I spent all my money on film.” 

After the Navy, he moved into the home of his friend Barbara Stuart in Laguna. He lived there for eight years during which time he met the love of his life, Becky. They were married in 1979, and briefly moved to her hometown of Jackson Hole, where they lived in a teepee. When Barbara passed away in 1998, Doug and Becky were able to purchase from her children the family property where the studio and home still reside. 

The two buildings were from the early 1930’s, and the one that is now his studio was pretty rickety. It took lots of mechanical ratcheting with a bunch of friends to keep the place from falling apart. Go visit the studio today and you’ll see where the roof-beams were created and the little shack that stood beside a two-lane dirt road has morphed into an art studio along Coast Highway. 

The Miller’s charming and authentic cottage is just behind the studio, and it’s where they raised their two sons, Jesse and Josiah.

The Sawdust Calling

Something just resonated between Miller’s brain and the lens. He took that passion post-Navy, and entered into his first years at the Sawdust Festival.

His initial works were photographic, and then he branched into painting.

“I did photography at the Sawdust, but that didn’t sell much. I had some dreadful oil paintings in 1971, but I managed to sell a few,” he admits. Selling improved, as did his painting technique.

In his Sawdust booth, Miller always has a train set running. “I pick the spot so I can have my HO train there,” he said. “Now all the kids come to see the train. A kid at heart, he also gives out toys. “People bring me bags of toys, or I get them from the thrift store. If I find something neat I put it in the window at the studio.”

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The paintings he did then have progressed into today’s exhibits: Laguna and its environs. For the most part, they are miniature, colorful, floral aspects of nature and coastlines. Miller has managed to follow the advice of a mentor who told him to do a painting every day.  And all the paintings are photographed and catalogued, of course.

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“I can look something up,” he explains as he peruses a photo journal. “I go through my phases.” His phase now is focused on scenes of Three Arch Bay.

And then there are some paintings that combine the almost mathematical cataloging that colors Miller’s mind. Of these, he has a series of large works that are his “birthday series”. Every year at his booth, Miller invites people to tell him their birthdays. The names and birthdays are interlocked into one painting. Since the 1980’s he’s done 14 birthday paintings, which include some 20,000 people.

Then there’s the calculation for the exact spot to post the birthday information with ink into one of four quadrants on the canvas. It goes something like this, if your birthday is October 4: Ten plus four equals fourteen, then that number is divided by four, because there are four corners in a painting. You with me so far? 

He has numbers associated with corners, so that the ten inches by four inches is divided by four, and the remainder is two… Voila! Somehow this works out as the number two corner, with ten inches over, and four inches down. My head hurts already!

“Somebody said it’s a Greek formula,” Miller says. “I don’t know. I’m not a mathematician. But I know where to find people’s names!” Very handy, because people will return to his booth, and ask the existential question – “Where am I?”

I particularly like his “Where they did it” paintings. Close your eyes if this is too much for your sensibilities, but it is as it says – Where did you “do it?” Yes, that “it”!

Miller asks people for their most intimate secret: where did you do it? He wants to know. “Not the house. Not the honeymoon,” he implores. He’s looking for something more exotic. “Surprisingly, it’s mostly females who tell me.” 

Upon the canvas he inscribes the itsy-bitsy calligraphy of names – and places. The most intriguing? (You had to ask!). The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland! “The staff applauded, because it was on video,” Miller shared. “It was the last ride of the day.” Good stuff.

The Other Siren Call

The Sunday-side of Doug Miller is an accomplished violinist. He’s played regularly for church services at both Laguna Presbyterian and the Neighborhood Congregational Church for ten years now. He occasionally likes to improvise. “I’ll relax, and hit a high note, and make everyone’s hair stand up,” he jokes.

He’s been playing since he was nine years old. “My grandmother got me into the free music program in Long Beach,” he explains. “The choice was either flute or violin.” Violin won out. He continued, and found that he had a knack for remembering melodies and for finding a way to fit in amongst other instrumentalists. 

When he was in the Navy, he was pretty much forced into a talent show. “I found I could play with anyone off the top of my head,” he says. 

These days, Miller is really excited about his band, Moon Police, and their first CD, which is coming out in April. “It’s all original, and written by us,” he said. He describes the Moon Police sound as “not a bunch of rock and roll junk…some songs sound like they’re out of a cathedral, some are in French. It’s pretty.”

Taking the lead is their 17 year-old keyboardist and singer, Grace Freeman. “She’s going to make a mark on the music world,” Miller tells us. “She’s incredible. Impeccable.

“I’m of a different ilk,” he continued. “They’re a bunch of kids! I’m playing with the best in this band. The music will speak for itself …being appreciated is where it’s at.”

The band gets together to practice once a week, and they also have a concert coming up at the Neighborhood Congregational Church on April 18.

The Whole of the Parts

For Miller, there is a connection and order to the arts for which he holds so much passion. Whether it’s from behind his lens, with paintbrush atop his canvas, with chin on the violin, or within his analytical system of organization. All of his senses play a part in the composition. 

“I can taste colors in my head,” he says poetically. “I can taste music too. What doesn’t work doesn’t taste good. I see greens in relation to blues. Too much purple is too sweet.”

Music inspires other sensations. “Music is a feeling of life, from a place that’s inspiring,” he says. “It’s like someone visits you when you play well.”

Putting all the pieces together, Miller expresses the feeling of completion.

“It’s all composition. It’s a strange perfection – music and art. It’s all the same,” he says. “And every so often there’s a breakthrough.”

Here’s to those moments. 

Thank you for the perspective from your life’s lens Doug Miller!


Robin Fuld: Teaching the business of art at LCAD

BY: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

As Director of Career Services at the Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD), Robin Fuld is charged with “empowering our artists in the business of art,” as she describes it.  Her own career path, a brilliant example of resourcefulness, tenacity, serendipity and, above all else, a love of art, makes her ideally suited for the career she has now.

“I grew up on Cape Cod.  It’s an art town and we had an incredible art program in high school.  I didn’t have the passion or discipline to keep creating, but I developed a love of art,” Fuld explains.  However, she pursued a degree in education, not art, from the University of Massachusetts.  But before she could get too far away from her passion, fate stepped in.

Director of Career Service and Instructor of Professional Studies at LCAD

A lucky ticket launches a career

“My friends found out that Logan Airport was having a raffle.  If you bought a ticket (for $1.69) and won you had to get on a plane that day and go wherever you were going.  So we all went down there at 5 a.m.  My sister took me and bought a ticket to better my chances.  My sister won and gave me her ticket. It all happened so fast.  I went to Vail, CO because that’s the only place where I knew someone, and I wanted to go for the whole summer, not just a week somewhere,” explains Fuld.  

Not only did the $1.69 spent on that raffle ticket provide a change of scenery, it also launched her career, though she was unaware of that fact at the time.  “An art gallery had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window.  I never thought…but I got that job because of my love of art – and because I’m a people person,” she says.  After just a few minutes with Fuld both of these qualities are very apparent. 

From Cape Cod to Vail to Rodeo Drive to…

“After four years, one of the artists said I should check out LA.  So I went. I was on Rodeo Drive and went into a gallery there and they hired me on the spot.  The woman who hired me said I was ‘refreshing’, and that she’d protect me from the ‘vultures’ – which she did,” says Fuld with a laugh.  “I learned so much.  I sawso much. Unfortunately, after a year, the gallery closed due to ‘questionable activity’ – like fraud and money laundering. But that’s another story,” she says with enthusiasm. 

From LA, Fuld used her networking skills and worked in galleries in Palm Desert, Brea and Irvine.  Always, it seems, people she had worked with along the way wanted the chance to work with her again.  Finally, however, after the owners closed the Irvine gallery, despite the fact that it was doing well financially, Fuld decided to work for herself, starting her own art consulting business.  This was during the recession of the early ’90’s. 

“So many galleries had closed.  I approached one, Starry Sheets, in Irvine.  They specialized in California Regionalism – historic work.  I asked if they had space.  I told them I’d bring my clients and introduce them to the work in the gallery while representing other artists. They thought that was a great idea.  I stayed there for a couple of years until they downsized.  It was great.”

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Laguna Beach is “where you should be living.”

Finally, a collector/friend from the Rodeo gallery days “took me to Laguna Beach and said ‘this is where you should be living.’  It was she who introduced me to Laguna.”  After deciding that working from a home/office was not right for her, Fuld “started approaching galleries in Laguna and seeing if they needed help,” she explains.  She met an artist who had a temporary space in Irvine and eventually helped him open a gallery in Laguna while still retaining her own consulting business.  

“That’s what got me back in Laguna full time,” she says.  In 1995, Fuld was visiting a gallery to show them one of her artists.  They told her that a woman had just stopped in and mentioned she wanted to open a gallery in the space next door.  Fuld says they commanded her to, “‘Run after her!’ so I did.”

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Painting by a former LCAD student and Russian Impressionism from J. Kamin

Russian Impressionism comes to the west coast

Her pursuit turned into J. Kamin Fine Art.  “Jackie” (the ‘J’ in ‘J. Kamin’) discovered Russian Impressionism at the International Film Expo,” explains Fuld.  We brought it to the west coast.  It was awesome! It is important work, hidden from the world until that time,” explains Fuld who has two large pieces hanging on the walls of her office at LCAD.

A fortuitous teaching position at LCAD

During that time Fuld joined the Art Walk Board and that introduced her to a lot of non-profits in town. “I realized my artistic matchmaking skills,” she says laughing.  Then, as happens with Fuld, her past reached out to her.  

“The woman I worked for in Vail and again in Irvine was teaching a class at LCAD called ‘Professional Studies for the Fine Artist’.  She was pregnant and asked me if I’d take over teaching her class.  I said, ‘yes’.  Around the same time, my clients had asked me to be on the Collector’s Choice Committee for the school, which is their big fundraiser.  That got me more involved with the College. Then the rent doubled on the gallery space so Jackie and I decided it was time for a change.  

“She went into teaching and I applied to LCAD.  I had that network because I was already teaching there.  They asked if I could do what I did for all majors.  And that’s how I got here.”  Fuld has been the Director of Career Services at LCAD for the last eight years, and has taught her course for 12.

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LCAD students are in demand in all majors

In demand students create welcome challenges

“Treat your art career as the business that it is. Have a plan.”  

That is Fuld’s mandate for her students.  And it seems to be working.  LCAD’s employment statistics are above the national average, according to Fuld.  “I don’t believe in the myth of the starving artist,” she says slyly. “Our students are in demand.  That’s a wonderful challenge to have,” she says. 

From Cape Cod to Laguna Beach, Fuld’s understanding of “the business of art” – as well as her ability to bring people together – is exemplified by the longevity of her own career.  “My B.A. is in Education.  I was running away from it and now that’s all I do!” she says with her signature good humor.  

And that is something her students are undoubtedly grateful for.


Sid Fanarof: a local trendsetter on a global scale

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If it’s Saturday morning, you’ll likely find him treasure hunting around Laguna’s garage sales. The rest of the week, he’s more apt to be found checking in on his zpizzas. Meet Sid Fanarof, the guy ahead of the curve. The guy who can sense a trend on the horizon, catch it and run with it.

Sid Fanarof

I met with Fanarof between his trip to the annual pizza convention in Las Vegas and a fun trip with Laguna friends to a wedding in San Francisco. He travels a lot, yet is very grounded in life in Laguna with family and loved ones nearby. Every Tuesday he and his wife of 30 years, Claire, host family dinners for anywhere from 10 – 20 people. And, no, it’s not pizza; they both love to cook.

The Fanarof family includes each of their children (“We were ‘The Brady Bunch’,” says Claire), three of the four living in town, and now six grandchildren. Getting ready for Tuesday night’s dinner includes lots of helping hands. 

“My favorite is a taco buffet,” Sid says. “I do it with grass-fed beef on the grill, I roast potatoes, and make burnt salsa and guacamole.” Sounds good, and knowing Fanarof’s big success with zpizza with its relaxed-yet-gourmet concept, I know the big Tuesday dinners must be unique, organic, and delicious.

The Z Concept 

Fanarof started zpizza in Laguna, and now it’s grown to an international scale. There are zpizzas in 15 US States, Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Dubai. It’s a concept restaurant that was ahead of its time when he founded it, with organic and gluten-free crust options, as well as carefully sourced and health-conscious ingredients. Sid tells us that the concept is catching on all over, even in places you wouldn’t think would be on the California wave of dietary trends. 

“In Korea they’re even more health conscious than we are,” he says.

Around the globe there’s a hankering for good pizza. Sid Fanarof has the last laugh, “I’m like the Colonel Sanders of pizza.” 

He’s been the man ahead of that trend for more than 30 years now, and he’s proud of the family that has been cultivated by this locally grown business. “I have wonderful employees who have worked for me for thirty years,” he said. “Now their children are working for me!”

Photo by Maggi

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One of the unique trends that Fanarof anticipated and rode with was the gluten-free diet. His own backstory is that he was gluten intolerant, and decided to make some of those options available at zpizza about six years ago. This year he noted at the pizza convention that about 20% of the exhibitors were promoting gluten-free products. 

zpizza is also a fun place. “We like doing build-your-own pizza events,” Fanarof tells us. “We’ll do team cooking, and make it a special place for birthday parties.” They’ve got a big, long red table (20 feet long) that’s the favorite party spot. Additionally, zpizza has been making Friendship Shelter residents happy for 10 years by providing pizza every first Sunday of the month.

The funny thing is, Sid Fanarof was never a fan of pizza. 

“I never loved pizza!” he says. “I really wanted to do Mexican food, and my partner wanted to do French.” But they found the right spot in South Laguna, and it was good to go for pizza. “It was already set up.” And the rest is history!

The path to the present

Fanarof came to the food business in a round about kind of way. He was a lifeguard. Maybe a hungry lifeguard. But after six years as a lifeguard, followed by a stint as a realtor, he bought the Spigot Liquor store. He converted it into a beach store with craft beers and wine. 

Sensing new trends as always, he introduced beach paddle racquets, which he had shipped in from Israel (thus the beginning of the paddle craze), and the very first Swatch watches (“We sold them like crazy in the liquor store”)… And then he had another brilliant idea – to bring in sandwiches. 

“I went to San Juan to meet a baker,” he said. “He sent me next door to a couple who would make sandwiches.” 

Fanarof worked with them, creating new taste sensations like ham and cream cheese, and turkey with cranberry sauce, to sell in the shop. Everybody loved those sandwiches that came in a brown bag. He declined the opportunity to partner with the couple as they expanded the business, but this was the beginning of the Brown Bag Sandwich Company. It’s now a successful giant of a company.

Being present

Perhaps the knack for seeking new trends in the marketplace is like a treasure hunt. Because treasure hunting is something Fanarof enjoys too, in the modern way: one garage sale at a time.

He happily showed me some of the favorite things he’s bought on Saturday mornings. Granted, garage sales in Laguna tend to be pretty high caliber stuff, but Fanarof has found some cool, trending pieces, like the Murano sculptural glass that he then had made into a chandelier. 

Garage sale treasure, turned into a beautiful chandelier

He told me of the time Claire said, “We could use a bench”, and he went on the hunt, finding a perfect bench that same day. “It’s fun,” he said. “I look for esthetics at garage sales.”

After a long day at garage sales, or shopping in the ethnic food markets he also loves, Fanarof has found a practice that relaxes him. “It’s like water shiatsu,” he explains of the gentle form of body therapy called Watsu. He swears by it for himself and is also a practitioner.

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Fanarof and his Watsu pool 

Sid Fanarof has travelled all over the world, but there’s nothing like returning home. It’s given him the perspective from a visitor’s point of view. 

“It’s always great to come home,” he says. He’ll walk the dog along Heisler Park, and just shout out ironically, “Wouldn’t it be great to live here?” 

Because of course, it is, and sometimes he just has to pinch himself.


Ben Simon:

Passion for architecture, design and Laguna

Written by: SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

When Ben Simon was 10 years old, he and his family rented a vacation house in Emerald Bay.  “I remember the house had a triple-decker bed; there was a tunnel to the beach…we went to the Sawdust Festival and The Cottage, and I thought ‘I’m going to live here one day.’”  

At the time, he and his family lived in Washington, DC so this personal mission was by no means a slam-dunk. Nevertheless, true to his 10-year old self, Simon eventually made his way to Laguna Beach where he has become an important voice in residential design.

Ben Simon, of Acme Architecture and Interior Design Group

A childhood interest becomes a career

As a child, Simon says he sketched “impossible” houses, many of them set on the cliffs of Laguna.  With a mother and grandmother who were artists and a father who was trained as an aerospace engineer, architecture was “the perfect blending of right brain and left brain,” explains Simon.  His childhood interest continued and Simon ultimately graduated from the University of Maryland with a BS in Architecture.  Post-graduation, he took a job in Los Angeles with Albert C. Martin and Associates, a large architectural firm that “designs structures like City Hall and the Bank of America building” in downtown Los Angeles. 

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Ben Simon at his home/office. Partner, Linda Morgenlander, lives right next door

Coming to Laguna Beach – for good

A few years of Los Angeles was enough for Simon, so he relocated to Albert C. Martin’s Irvine office. Finally, he was close enough to realize his childhood goal of living in Laguna Beach.  “I was only there (at Albert C. Martin) a couple of years before I went out on my own.  I always wanted to be my own boss…doesn’t everybody?” asks Simon. 

“This was in the ’80’s so I got my real estate license - everybody got their real estate license in the ’80’s.  I worked for Coldwell Banker, with the office on Crescent Bay Drive and met so many great people.  Then I started staging houses and it just grew and grew.”  There was one detour before Simon jumped back into design wholeheartedly — modeling. “Mostly cheesy romance novel covers,” he says with a laugh.  After a few years, Simon decided he needed a “grown up” job. “Modeling was great for the ego,” laughs Simon, but it was time to get back to his true passion: design. 

Design Review nets a partner

In 1998 Simon was elected to the sit on the Design Review Board.  “I loved it!  It felt very natural for me to participate. It wasn’t always easy, but I really enjoyed it,” says Simon about his time on the Board.  During his last year, in 2004, the architect, Linda Morgenlander, also joined the Board.  The two hit it off immediately.  ‘We were born three days apart.  We’re both from New York.  We’re both Jewish.  We just have a lot of fun together,” says Simon enthusiastically.  A few years after meeting, they became business partners and Acme Architecture and Interior Design was born.  

“It just evolved.  It was meant be. The first house we designed together was my parents’ house.”  Bought with the idea that it would be a second home, the house turned out so nicely, Simon’s parents relocated from Rancho Santa Fe to live in it permanently.  It was an auspicious beginning for the new firm.  It also meant Simon could now just “walk to their house for Thanksgiving” – no more navigating the 405 to Rancho Santa Fe!

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Personal mementos, artfully displayed at Ben Simon’s home

While his parents are close, Morgenlander is even closer.  She lives right next door.  “We talk constantly, Monday through Friday, from 9 to 5.  We do not talk at all on the weekends,” explains Simon with a laugh.  

His house, formerly lived in by Timothy Leary, serves as the main office for Acme.  Spread out around his desk are samples of tile and fabrics to show clients.  “We do the architecture; we do interiors.  We prefer to do both, but will do either, depending on the clients’ needs.  We get very involved with them.  It’s important that the house reflects who they are, and doesn’t just look like the back page of a Restoration Hardware catalog,” says Simon emphatically.

A personal vision

Simon’s home-office is definitely not a re-working of anyone else’s aesthetic vision, rather a very personal statement of meaningful things collected to make a home.  “Right now, I’m having a love-affair with my house,” Simon tells me.  After a brief tour, his affection for the house and its history is obvious. He kept some original bathroom tile, for example, even though it isn’t really to his taste because, “It had to stay.  It’s just part of the house.”

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The upper terrace of Ben Simon’s home is a great place to relax

Hopes for the Planning Commission and something “spectacular”

When asked, “What’s next?” Simon replied that he would like to secure a position on the Planning Commission.  “I’m passionate about Laguna. I understand a lot of different aspects: preservation, real estate, business interests, the tourist economy.  I think a lot of my professional and life experiences could be an awesome addition,” he says.  And his future plans don’t end there. “I know that because I am so lucky and have been given so many gifts it’s important that I show my appreciation by trying to do something important.”  

He smiles slyly when pressed for more details. “I fantasize about doing something spectacular.  Time will tell.”  Regardless of whether or not his mystery plans materialize, Acme Architecture and Interior Design will continue to deliver “classic, timeless and appropriate design.”  

ForSimon’s clients, “spectacular” may have already been achieved.  

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

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Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

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