Our Laguna: Richard Challis marks his 90th birthday

August 19, 2010|By Barbara Diamond
  • Richard Challis, longtime owner Esther Wells Gallery in Laguna Beach, is turning 90 years old.
Richard Challis, longtime owner Esther Wells Gallery… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

Forty years ago Sunday, Richard Challis led a march of about 200 dog owners and their pets at Main Beach to protest a City Council ban on dogs on Laguna's beaches and parks.

The council didn't really stand a chance when Challis and Arnold Hano showed up at a meeting with a crowd of supporters and petitions against the ban, with signatures gathered at the demonstration.

"People were lined up outside of City Hall," Challis said. "The crowd was so big the meeting was moved to Laguna Beach High School."

Artist Roger Kuntz was among the protestors, hoisting a sign that read "Dog is God spelled backwards."

Challis' son, David, and daughter, Diane Challis Davy, also participated.

"My brother and I both marched in the parade with posters we had made," Challis Davy said. "We had this little Scottish terrier that we really loved."

The protest was not Challis' only foray into community affairs. Challis was active in Motivated Museum Members, which fought against the merger of the Newport Harbor and Laguna Beach museums and eventually annulled what locals considered a marriage made in hell.


He also raised money as an auctioneer at fundraisers for victims of Laguna's periodic disasters, including the first Bluebird Canyon landslide. The auction raised $20,000, which the Rev. Colin Henderson dispersed, Challis said.

"But the thing biggest thing my father did was the promotion of the arts in Laguna Beach and his honorable treatment of artists," said Challis Davy, director of the Pageant of the Masters and Grand Marshal of the 2010 Patriots Day Parade. "Some of those artists are famous now, like Phil Dike [her father's favorite] and George Post, but not so widely known then."

Challis, who celebrated his 90th birthday Aug. 12, is one of the city's cultural icons for his pioneering contributions to the arts — listed in the marquis edition of "Who's Who in American Art."

Today, Laguna Beach boasts of a loosely estimated 80 art galleries representing a broad array of artists. In 1950, when Challis opened Laguna Studio Gallery on the corner of Mountain Street and South Coast Highway, it was the first commercial fine arts gallery in town that was not owned or operated by an artist or the Laguna Beach Art Assn. — which evolved into the Laguna Art Museum.

Challis still lives on the property, in back of the gallery, now called the Esther Wells Collection.

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