Laguna Beach – A Look Back: Laguna Beach School of Art and Design

By Dr. Gregg DeNicola, M.D.

Laguna College of Art and Design’s campus stretches across several acres at the Big Bend area of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park,  having moved to its current campus in 1977. In 1973, the college purchased 3.85 acres from the Irvine Company for $55,000. Athalia Clark, a founding member of Designing Women and mother of Joan Irvine Smith, played an important part in the transaction.

Chris Abel was retained as the architect and ground was broken in 1976.

Click on the photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Laguna Beach College of Art 

The original Laguna Beach School of Art and Design in its opening year, 1961

But, as this 1961 photo shows, the school was founded that year as the Laguna Beach School of Art and Design. The name has gone through several versions.

 In 1982, the college received a three-year accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the school’s name became the Laguna Beach College of Art.

Then, in 1985, the school turned into the Art Institute of Southern California.

Subsequently, in 2002, the school took on its current name – the Laguna College of Art + Design.

It was founded in 1961 by members of the Festival of the Arts and the Laguna Art Museum, with a major contribution by one of their founding members, Nellie Gail Moulton. Ruth Osgood, (later Osgood Salyer) was the first director who worked without pay to keep the fledgling school afloat.

A former lumber company office near the Festival and the Moulton Theater was leased from the city for $1 a year. The Festival donated $5,000 and 20 friends gave $1,000 each to build the first studios. The school enjoyed success at that site for 16 years until the move to Big Bend.

In the photo, the original name is prominently displayed on top of the structure. The months it is open make sense if you consider they were integrated into the Festival, and needed to vacate for the summer. Four hardworking unidentified women are planting the frontage horticulture.

The exact location of this building is not identified. But research tells us Joey and Susan Jahraus owned the long-forgotten Canyon Lumber Company across the street from the Moulton (the parking lot where the Saturday Farmers’ Market is now). It closed in exactly 1961, so the office in the photo may be that structure. The school may have also leased or built buildings within the Festival until the 1977 move.

If any A Look Back reader has more accurate information, please send us a note.

Today, the college boasts more than 700 students, offering a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 11 majors and three Master of Fine Art degree programs, as well as a post-baccalaureate certificate program in Drawing and Painting.

Not too bad for a school starting in an abandoned lumber company office Downtown. Those four lovely ladies planting flowers in 1961 would be quite proud of the college campus today.


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