Laguna Beach – A Look Back: Laguna Avenue and our eucalyptus trees

By Dr. Gregg DeNicola, M.D.

Laguna Avenue can boast it is one of the shortest streets in Laguna Beach. This circa 1925 photo shows Laguna Avenue from South Coast Highway looking north to Glenneyre Street, where it becomes Park Avenue, a whopping two city blocks.

Today, office buildings would be on the right side, with a Thai restaurant and the library sitting on the left.

The road appears to be dirt, and there seemingly is no issue with locals strolling casually down the middle of the street, walking past a drove of Model Ts on both sides of the avenue.

Click on the photo for a larger image

Courtesy of OC Archives

Laguna Avenue, circa 1925

Yet the main attraction in this photo is the large eucalyptus trees skirting both sides of the road. They aren’t just any random trees. Those trees have a rich history in themselves.

We in Laguna pride ourselves that – unlike other beach towns – our forefathers were actually homesteaders in the immediate post- Civil War era. Our pioneers simply needed to fill out an application, improve the property and build a house – any size home would suffice. After five years, boom! They were proud owners of Laguna Beach property.

In 1878, John Damron became Laguna Beach’s third homesteader, staking the land that we now know as Downtown. In 1879, he sold the land to the Rawson brothers – without improvements – 155 acres in all. In 1881, the Rawsons sold the parcel to George Rogers and his father, Henry. All for the bargain price of $1,000. Adjusted for inflation, that equates to a mere $28,000 in today’s dollars. Yes, the Rogers were astute businessmen.

One way to “improve” the properties was to grow eucalyptus trees – either from seed or full grown brought over from Australia during the Gold Rush era. They were hardy, grew tall quickly to provide shade, offered low-water requirements and provided beauty – in the eyes of some.

Additionally, our forward-thinking pioneers planted eucalyptus as a producer of railroad ties, as well as for future timber needs – supplying lumber for houses, piers and fences, while also providing a source of fuel.

The Rogers doubled down on the eucalyptus tree planting, growing dozens from seed on their Downtown parcel. Ahead of his time, George subdivided their coastal property into lots. He thought non-ranchers would enjoy smaller, lower-maintenance properties. He foresaw a true Downtown vis a vis Santa Ana, and priced the lots at a fair $10 per lot.

Sadly, he had few takers in the 19th century.

However by the 1920s, his vision became a reality. Our Downtown was becoming established with many businesses buying those lots. Over the years, many of the eucalyptus trees had become uprooted. That triggered an alarm for the newly formed Laguna Beach Garden Club.

Club member J.A. Irons focused on gaining some shade back and oversaw the planting of eucalyptus in front of each business in town.

The eucalyptus was in Laguna to stay.

Today, there exists controversy toward the beleaguered tree. Some disparage them as public safety and fire hazards, leaf litterers and an overall nuisance. Others point to their historic value, calming shade and fragrant aromas.

No matter where you stand on the issue, the trees – such as displayed in this circa 1925 photo – are OUR trees. Laguna Beach, through the Timber Culture Act of 1871, offered 160 acres of free land to anyone who would plant 10 acres of eucalyptuses. More so than any other Orange County city, the eucalyptus trees of Laguna Beach will always be a part of our rich history.

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