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The Latest: A 'Loving' tribute; promising 'Days'

August 08, 2013
  • "Loving Laguna," a local's guide to Laguna Beach by Skip Hellewell.
"Loving Laguna," a local's guide to… (Handout )

Loving Laguna: A Local's Guide to Laguna Beach

Skip Hellewell

Pretium Press; 116 pages

If Terrence Malick had set his experimental film "The Tree of Life" in Laguna Beach, Skip Hellewell might have provided part of the subject matter. Malick's opus juxtaposes the story of a 1950s Texas family with scenes that show the development of the universe up to that point — essentially, the line that connects the Big Bang and the Jurassic Period to the age of Sean Penn.

Hellewell's "Loving Laguna: A Local's Guide to Laguna Beach," which came out in July, operates mainly as a guidebook — tips on restaurants, historic walks and the like — but from time to time, it uses a similarly epic context. In the introduction, we learn that Laguna's coastal range was formed "over eons by wearing of waves," and that the resulting rocky terrain saved the area from being claimed as a ranch during California's formative years.

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That terrain features symbolically throughout the book, which often illustrates chapters titled "The Homesteaders" or "Breakfast by the Beach" with unpeopled shots of the waves. Along the way, we learn that Laguna's oldest human skeleton may be 40,000 years old and that the modern town was founded largely by the faith community. Cue the whispery voice over narration, and there's your Malick film.

Any book that seeks to explain the essence of Laguna — or its "uniqueness," to quote a word Hellewell repeats — would have to go beyond simply listing hotels and beaches, and "Loving Laguna" is most engaging at its most ambitious. This slim, photo-packed volume clearly shows the work of an author who did his research, whether about ancestral remains or American economic history (turn to page 38 to learn how the popularity of player pianos indirectly changed Laguna's housing scene).

The portrait that emerges is of a city that prides itself on its ties to nature and its reverence for the past, a place where locals fought to preserve large swatches of unspoiled land and traditions like the Pageant of the Masters long outlive the century that birthed them. That Laguna is just over 100 years old but feels so timeless shows that uniqueness' true pull.

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