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Hansen: Sacred and profane: Laguna Beach

July 11, 2013|By David Hansen
  • Arnold Hano, author of "It Takes a Villager."
Arnold Hano, author of "It Takes a Villager."

It's no real secret that the culture of Laguna Beach is alluring and mysterious. People use words like "special," "charming" or "weird."

Dozens of words, thousands of stories, millions of memories made. And now, two more books have been published that try to describe the village of Laguna.

Like two sides of a coin, "Loving Laguna" by historian Skip Hellewell, and "It Takes a Villager" by writer and longtime resident Arnold Hano show different sides of the city.

You have to read these two small books together because they really are complementary. Hellewell's guide is geared toward the tourist or local who wants to understand both the history and practical aspects of Laguna.

By contrast, Hano's book is a collection of his local columns that go back to the 1960s.

The two are very much like the sacred and the profane of Laguna Beach history.

That's not a slam. It just is. Without one, there isn't the other. Both are great additions to Laguna lore.

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Hellewell plays the straight man to Hano's color — and boy is there color.

In a column dated Oct. 17, 1963, Hano, now 91, a proud Democrat and civil rights activist, was shocked by the treatment of a Laguna Beach African American, who tried to get a haircut in town but was refused. Using language appropriate for the time, Hano eventually worked to help change the policies and behavior.

"Two weeks ago a Negro boy who resides in Laguna and attends Orange Coast College walked into a barbershop in the downtown area and was told by a barber: 'I don't know how to cut your hair.' The boy walked out," Hano wrote. "There is not a court in the state that will tolerate this shallow pretext, and it is only the patience and tolerance of Negroes in this town that have kept these barbers and others from being hauled before the law."

Hano's poignant vignettes highlight not only the politics of the time but also the longer-term ramifications. For example, Hano first wrote about putting power lines underground in 1961 — an issue that is still ongoing more than 50 years later.

Hellewell, meanwhile, did extensive research using the Historical Society, of which he is a member, and gave a distilled account regarding every corner of Laguna. The brief chapters give interesting tidbits on everything from historical buildings to the role of artists and "Laguna characters."

"I wanted to tell the stories that make Laguna unique," Hellewell said in an interview. "The closer you look, the more you see."

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