By 1900 Laguna Beach was occupied by five families of homesteaders struggling to farm land. They soon found an additional source of income by renting sections of the beaches to farmers from Tustin, Santa Ana, Fullerton, Riverside, and other inland communities who were eager to escape the summer heat. Thus began the tourist industry which is still a mainstay of the local economy. Pioneer days in Laguna Beach and its growth from a few scattered buildings to one of the most beautiful seaside resorts in the West as well as a famous California art colony was vividly recounted by J. S. Thurston (born in 1868), a son of one of the community’s original settlers, in Laguna Beach of Early Days (The Press of Murray & Gee, Culver City, California, 1947).
In the early 1920s the area was discovered by a group of landscape painters who laid the foundation of the art community which is still thriving to this day. Subsequently, various groups have “discovered” Laguna Beach and added incrementally to the town’s diversity. Many wealthy and progressive people have made Laguna Beach their home and added to the local culture. Gerry Max, in recording the life of one of the community’s most famous early members, travel writer Richard Halliburton (1900–1939), has called Laguna a “weary rover’s dream”, and in Horizon Chasers offers a sense of Laguna Beach in the 1920s and 1930s. Hildegarde Hawthorne, granddaughter of the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, described Laguna “as a child of that deathless search, particularly by persons who devote their lives to painting or writing, or for some place where beauty and cheapness and a trifle of remoteness hobnob together in a delightful companionship.” Halliburton himself marveled at the “sensational vistas” and “the peaceful valley on the one side (of the home called Hangover House which he had built on the ridge) and the full sweep of the ocean on the other.”
The region originally was known to the Spanish as “La Cañada de Las Lagunas”, which means “The Canyon of the Small Lakes”, in reference to two lakes found near the head of Laguna Canyon. In confusion with the word “Lagoon”, however, Laguna Beach was nearly misnamed “Lagoona” by the State of California. While it was still an unincorporated community, the Postmaster, Nicholas Isch, journeyed to Sacramento to rectify the mistake, and the original Spanish spelling was retained.
Laguna Beach was incorporated as a General Law City in 1927, has experienced a slow but steady population growth since that time, and has annexed several formerly unincorporated communities on its periphery. Just outside the city limits, an extensive Greenbelt buffers Laguna Beach from the neighboring communities.
Laguna Beach was the southern California epicenter of ‘alternative’ culture in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In early 1967, John Griggs and other founding members of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love relocated from Modjeska Canyon to the Woodland Drive neighborhood of Laguna Beach, which they later re-christened “Dodge City”. Timothy Leary lived for several months with the Brotherhood until his December 26, 1968 arrest for possession of marijuana, near the intersection of Woodland Drive and Roosevelt Lane. Read less –