Chasing Down the Muse: Park amphitheater a wish fulfilled

June 16, 2011|By Catharine Cooper

"The invariable mark of a dream is to see it come true."

—Ralph Waldo Emerson


"It's actually being built. It's almost done," I sputtered with childlike glee, as Emma and I walked in Heisler Park near the old shuffleboard area.

Where once there was merely a crumbling slope, a new curved amphitheater with concrete benches rose up to terraced grassy areas. At the base of the seating, two towering palm trees flank a small concrete stage. East of the stage, the beloved "Breeching Whale" statue of artist Jon Seeman has at last found its home.


It has been 14 years since the Laguna Beach City Council approved a 50-year master plan to preserve and renovate Heisler Park, a project that has been developed in stages as funds became available. The final phase, which included the stairway renovation at Diver's Cove and the Monument Point area, will conclude an $8-million renovation of the highly used bluff-top park, provided by $4.5 million in state grants and $3.5 million from city funds.

The final $2.4 million phase involved three areas of the park: the Diver's Cove stairway at the northern end of the park, the Monument Point area surrounding the lawn bowling courts in the central portion of the park, and the north Main Beach area south of the gazebo.

The intention of the project from the beginning was to "preserve, renovate and honor Heisler Park" in a manner that would preserve the natural topography, it's "eclectic, ocean-emphasis character," and enhance its accessibility. A quick perusal and it becomes obvious that the intention has been fulfilled.

Concrete pathways have replaced aging and uneven asphalt. Planter walls in a variety of stone treatment have shored up old planting areas. Aged vegetation has been replaced with a combination of drought tolerant and native plantings. New handrails safeguard the cliff fronts and ease the transitions down the stairs from park to beach. Everything feels fresh, and the park, which has always been a showcase for Laguna, has taken on a new shimmer.

Several years ago I worked with Wade Brown, the city's project manager for the park, along with city committee and commission chairs in scoping meetings. At the time, I was chairwoman of the Open Space Committee (repurposed as the current Environmental Committee) and was thrilled to be involved in proposing ideas for the park's renovations.

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