Chasing Down The Muse: Dad lived by his own set of rules

July 28, 2011|By Catharine Cooper

My father, Crofton Myles Cooper, was born July 11, 1925. While the date of his birth was never in question, the location was much challenged — by my father.

Dad wanted to tap into the advantages of dual Mexican-American citizenship. He told the story that my grandmother went into labor while she was at the Caliente racetrack (she loved the horses), and that he was born in a Tijuana hospital. My grandmother supposedly carried her newborn across the border, checked into a hospital in San Diego and obtained his birth certificate.

Neither the United States nor the Mexican government ever bought the story — nor did my grandmother — but Dad persisted that he was due Mexican rights.


One day after his 86th birthday, my dad took his last breath. His stories are now recast through photographs, recordings and the memories of his family and friends. Some are legendary, some mere bar room fodder.

In 1956, Dad dragged his wife, Kay, and three children, Gly, Claudia and me, to the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. It was here that we were to set up and run a summer camp.

The lake was beautiful, the ticks horrendous, the one-room schoolhouse for K-12 questionable, Dad's new job as "Indian Chief" a sure deterrent, and the fact that there was no bar for 50 miles — the deal killer. The race back to California and Laguna Beach included a chase across Oklahoma by a tornado.

A vintage home at 421 Ledroit Lane was Dad's first Laguna Beach project. The 50-year-old house was on 3 acres covered in fruit and towering Eucalyptus trees, and commanding a view of the Pacific Ocean. Dad replaced the electrical wiring and plumbing, stripped and hand-stained the woodwork, and installed a swimming pool and the first outdoor gas lamp in Laguna Beach.

The fact that Mom was driving a woodie with holes in the floorboards didn't matter much. The kids had a place to run, build forts and swim like guppies. It was a mini Shangri-La.

Next on my dad's radar was a 5-acre parcel on the top of Fayette Place. The only problem? The city wouldn't give him a building permit.

This was pre-caisson construction, and there was no buildable pad. Dad's story includes illegal immigrants, a load of midnight dynamite, a bulldozer and a level site. Voilà! Building permit in hand, 1570 Fayette Place grew to a beautiful 6,500-square-foot home with no neighbors and a hilltop to itself.

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