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New 'Mystic' is forward-looking

Don't mistake the artists' cooperative on South Coast Highway for the old counterculture icon of nearly the same name, which burned down in 1970.

February 04, 2014|By Michael Miller
  • Kent Kelly, right, talks to Patricia Pinto, center, and Michaela Mokrosova, left, at Mystic Arts in Laguna Beach.
Kent Kelly, right, talks to Patricia Pinto, center, and… (KEVIN CHANG, Coastline…)

It's easy to tune out traffic on Pacific Coast Highway, but as Kent Kelley stands on the sidewalk before the address that once housed Mystic Arts World, the sound of passing wheels has a way of underlining the conversation.

Maybe that's because it signifies moving forward — briskly, unsentimentally — and Kelley's words have the same effect. The building at 670 S. Coast Hwy. played a major role in Laguna Beach hippie culture during the 1960s, a period that's inspired no small amount of mythology. Yet as Kelley scans the adjoining storefronts, he sounds more like an architect than a nostalgia peddler.

"These tiles were gone, so there was a ledge," he says, gesturing toward the area above the windows. "And we had Guanyin and Buddha up there, very large. And then our sign was in the middle, and all the windows were stained glass from 140-, 150-year-old Mormon temples. So it was all stained glass, and the doors were all redwood."

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Forty-four years ago, Mystic Arts World, one of the countercultural havens of Orange County, burned down mysteriously. The spot where it stood is now home to a store selling handmade crafts.

Kelley doesn't voice any particularly wistful memories of Mystic Arts World, where he worked as a floor sweeper and manager. But the legacy of the old store has returned to the block in the form of Mystic Arts, a shop co-founded by Kelley that opened in October next to the old location.

He wants to emphasize one thing: The new shop is not Mystic Arts World. It's simply Mystic Arts. How it ended up with practically the same name as the old one is a long story (in a nutshell, one of the store's other founders, who hung out at Mystic Arts World as a teenager, later adopted Mystic Arts as the name of her handmade clothing label, and the founders opted to use that name for the store).

Any business that shares an approximate name with one of Timothy Leary's old haunts is bound to grab attention. Still, Kelley — who cites a much different 1960s figure, Nelson Mandela, to support his belief in favoring the future over the past — would rather create new icons in his business than honor ones from half a century ago.

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