History of The Laguna Beach Garden Club
By Elizabeth Adeline Bonner in 1948
A copy of this article is in the corner stone of the City Hall
It is presented as written, including typos and errors.
Laguna Beach is a small town of big town people. It is gradually becoming known the world over. Tourists come and go telling fascinating stories of the little artist colony with its “Living” Pictures and Pageant of the Masters. Life itself in Laguna Beach unfolds like a well-written story plot. As you become acquainted with its people, you find your thoughts milling around and wondering about the natives, why certain personalities have stayed instead of moving on elsewhere. Or what next, as you contact certain surprises in the famous people living the simple life. You ask yourself, “What does he do that is different?” affording him the something that fits in the scheme of things. There artists, actors, authors, craftsmen and numerous others all engaged in creative activities. Celebrities of every kind and description from all over the world have homes and gardens here. Resting in seclusion and being grateful for such a place as Laguna. Hundreds of stories have been told of the homey side of this place. These colorful personalities are just plain folk and provide charm and balance to the arty side of the colony. Laguna Beach is a small town of big town people. It is gradually becoming known the world over. Tourists come and go telling fascinating stories of the little artist colony with its “Living” Pictures and Pageant of the Masters. Life itself in Laguna Beach unfolds like a well-written story plot. As you become acquainted with its people, you find your thoughts milling around and wondering about the natives, why certain personalities have stayed instead of moving on elsewhere. Or what next, as you contact certain surprises in the famous people living the simple life. You ask yourself, “What does he do that is different?” affording him the something that fits in the scheme of things. There artists, actors, authors, craftsmen and numerous others all engaged in creative activities. Celebrities of every kind and description from all over the world have homes and gardens here. Resting in seclusion and being grateful for such a place as Laguna. Hundreds of stories have been told of the homey side of this place. These colorful personalities are just plain folk and provide charm and balance to the arty side of the colony.
It was in this setting and environment that a group of friends went from home to home calling themselves the ‘Garden Club.’ In the group were the Heil Riders, Mariom Hedges Smith, Mrs. W. A. Griffith, Fern Buford (curator of the Art Gallery), Mrs. Swift Daniell, Reheba McCrea, Ann Mason, Harriett Boulanger, Mrs. J.A. Irons, Josephine Hill and others. After a few years of intimate friendships they became civic-minded.
An outstanding feature of their good times is to be remembered by a pageant for children held at the Griffith’s home. Mrs. Heil Rider was the promoter. A prodigy of Charles Wakefield Cadman was her assistant and composer. Each child represented a flower or bird doing their singing and dancing. Distinguished visitors came from far and near, two hundred in all.
On October 26, 1928 a garden party was given at the water-front home of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Miller, owners of the famous Mission Inn at Riverside. Out of this gathering grew the organization now known as The Laguna Beach Garden Club. The charter members were this original group. With Mr. W.A. Griffith, now deceased, acting as temporary chairman, the following officers were elected: Fern Buford, president; Miss Alice Beardsley, 1st vice president; Mrs. Heil Rider, 2nd vice president; Miss Ann Mason, secretary/treasurer.
A committee headed by Mrs. W.B. Palmer was chosen to draft the By-laws of rules and dues etc. The famous Kate Sessons of San Diego was the first speaker for the club. She was later made an honorary member for all time. Many men joined the club and right away became a fighting crew pertaining to anything to beauty the city. If there are no signs on the highways in Laguna Beach, it was the agitation of this group you can thank to-day. The committees first assignment was tree planting. Mr. Heil Rider was chairman and started his project at the Art Gallery. Mrs. Irons tells of her desire to have a Christmas tree planted. She had her heart’s desire fulfilled, but with progress, where is it today? Then she had trees planted on Forest Avenue. As you came thru Laguna Canyon and its lovely avenue of trees, all at once you came upon an open street with plain little stores, no beauty. Look at it now. She also supervised trees planted at the school grounds. Interest for beauty in the Village was pressed still further. A committee was appointed to work on vacant lots and the highway. No job seemed too big an undertaking. All along the cliffs planted ground covering. Much of this is what you see today. Through the efforts of Mrs. W.B. Palmer, president, 1934 and Dr. Spencer Miller, a most ardent worker and chairman of shade trees planted 178 trees in all. Torrey pines, flaming eucalyptus and sugar gum eucalyptus. These trees have all gone to make way for progress! The first tree planting was done around the County library and Chamber of Commerce. Earnest Bowen donated 400 cypress trees. Many of these are living to-day among the homes of Laguna.
In 1932, Mrs. Rehelia McCrea was elected president. The first flower show where the public was invited was held at the Hotel. The most spectacular feature of this show was a huge Fern Tree in the center of the dining run. It was made from potted ferns from the Foster Nurseries and stood from floor to ceiling.
In 1933 Mrs. Evelyn Matters Tyler was president. Continued her efforts in parks and corner lots. Mr. Cummins, Mrs. Daniell and Mrs. Robt. De Soe were appointed supervisor of the planting. One of these points is over looking Woods Cove at the foot of Diamond Street. Another was at the intersection opposite the Art Gallery at Coast Blvd No. and Cliff Drive. In this park you will find the beautiful statue of “Love for Animals”, a bird and dog fountain done by Ruth Peabody noted sculpturess. Miss Peabody says, “This bronze is no longer (?) had since the war.” The development of the statue is fascinating to garden clubbers. The stone was donated by Joe Jarhus, a civic-minded businessman in memory of his father, Elmer Jarhus, a pioneer of Laguna Beach. The fountain is of a small child with its scotty dog. The dog belonged to Mrs. K. Kerr. The fountain belongs to the Humane Society of which Mrs. H.C. Tiffinay was then president. The fountain is placed at the front of Jarhus Park. Miss Peabody did all the stone work of the pedestal with a putty knife. At the dedication, Mrs. Tyler planted the first casia tree.
In April of 1935 with Mrs. Milinda Woodworth acting as president, The National Federation of Garden Clubs held their convention at the Hotel Laguna. There were 110 visitors and delegates from all over the U.S.A. Mrs. Fannybell Streeter Cowlbeck acted as hostess chairman and chartered 3 Grey hound busses. The caravan visited Capistrano. Three young girls in authenic Spanish costumes carried trays of individual corsages for each guest while Vera Newcomb sang. A memorable day for the visitors.
In April of 1936 the California Garden Clubs, Inc. held a three-day convention at the Hotel Laguna. Mrs. Fannybell Streetter Cowlbeck was president. The hotel took care of the 200 delegates. Mrs. Richard Kirkley was the retiring president. New officers of the board were elected. Mrs. Samuel Allen Guiberson (desceased) was incoming president. To the Mdmes Chas. Petty, Gene Douglas and Loyd Seliset goes the credit for the artistic table decorations and flowere arrangements through out the hotel and convention rooms. A caravan of cars lead by Gene Douglas visited outstanding gardens in Laguna. Among them the Chas Snyder gardens, Ann Mason, Alfred S. Smith. The party ending at the gallery where Mrs. Hinkle was hostess at a Tea in honor of the new elected president, Mrs. Guiberson and her board. The feature lecture of the convention was “Flowers and Legends” by Ralph D. Connell.
In 1937 when Mr. Lulu Huff became president, a new interested was fostered by her enthusiasm. Better and better Flower shows were promoted and the Flower arrangment fad came into full vogue. Professional teachers such as Richard Hoges Allen, William Moore and others organized classes and from then until the war Laguna’s show were state wide in popularity,
By now the membership had grown in numbers to 207. The organization was forced to leave meeting at the homes and find larger quarters. From then on they have met at the Women’s Club and Art Gallery. 1938 being the tenth anniversary a Tea was held at the spacious ocean-side home of Frank Miller. There the garden club was originally founded. Among the past presidents present were Mdmns W.B. Palmer, Melinda Woodworth, Fannybell S. Cowlbeck, Lulu Huff. Also this was the anniversary of the first flower show held at the community theater. In March 1940, the Nature study section of the Garden club under the guidance of Lenore Conover debated whether to organize a separate nature study group apart from the Garden Club as so many members who attended the nature group were not members of the Garden Club. Field groups were organized. It was this year that Mrs. Theresa Hillhouse was made the first president of the now well known Nature Study Group. It was at the beginning of Mrs. Huffs fiscal year of July 1937 that the garden club donated a striking exhibit for the Festival of the Arts. Mrs. Chas. Petty and Mrs. Gene Douglas landscaped a small side hill covered with peat moss. Filled dozens of cans with lantana yellow and red the sequence of color making a mass of rich beauty. The background of a cypress boarder with eucalyptus with over hanging. The foreground had an artistic bench with two huge colorful pottery cockatoos from the Brayton studios.
In 1939 Mrs. Gene Douglas was president of one of the most successful years. The garden club gave its most spectactular flower shows, held at the Art gallery. \ Mrs. Chs. Petty was chairman of arrangements. The members had become so advanced in garden culture and flower arrangement that it took the entire gallery, both floors for space. Every opportunity was given the members with 20 varied specifications listed. Local artists were given the chance to exhibit floral paintings. A facsimile of flower arrangements were placed on a table in front of them. This show is still talked of. The District #1 held its convention at the Hotel Laguna. The Laguna Beach Garden Club acted as hostesses.
1939, the following year John Van Dyke Manning was president. Mr. Manning had been a professional landscape gardener from the Coolidge Gardens in Altadena. The annual flower show in his time was a gala affair, held at the Marine Laboratory. The special event being an exhibit of hundreds of varieties of rare and beautiful iris brought by Mr. and Mrs. Manning who drove all night so that they might be in perfect condition for show purposes. One of the many appreciated programs at this time were the lectures given by the noted landscape artist, Chas. Gibbs Adams. His favorite talk being “A Garden to Live In.” Garden tours were greatly enjoyed at this time. Members opened their gardens to visitors. Among them were Mdmns Frank Marono Italian garden. W.B. Palmer rose garden W.S. Thomson fornal sunken garden towards the ocean. The Manzanita gardens, Ray Edgar with its rambling acreage of miscellaneous flowers, Chas. Snyder’s 7 acres of native trees and shrubs all cultivated and landscaped. Mr. Snyder’s hobby was hybrid Amaryllis. Hundreds of visitors have been to his home, where escorted them giving enlightening talks as they went.
It was during Mrs. E. Hamilton Miller’s time in office, 1940 that the garden club’s By-laws were changed at the request of the California State Garden Clubs, Inc. So that all clubs would be in unison and have their officers elected at the same time in the month of June. There being four clubs who had their elections to suit them personally. The By-law called for an annual flower show, a garden party, an annual dinner and at least one evening meeting. The president to take care of the program as he or she saw fit.
In 1942, Mrs. Chas. Petty took over as president. War had now crowded in on us. Our desires for visiting gardens at home and flower shows abroad were gradually dwindling into the background. Then too- no gasoline to go places. Mrs. Petty put her every effort to the helm and enthusiastically got the town to dig victory gardens. This was hard work but very successly. Party life of Teas was no more. In 1943 Mrs. Phyllis Harmengnies was our next president. The war was getting closer and closer. Her big project came when a government enterprise came with their experts and demonstrated canning of these victory gardens fruits and vegetables, with lectures and instructions.
In 1944, Mrs. W.S. Thompson as president she had still a different kind of work to do. We now had returned soldiers in hospitals. Every picture was different we were now sponsoring collections of shrubs and quick growing trees for landscaping the Air Corp Replacement Training Center at Costa Mesa. Mrs. Catalina Mason Kinney was supervisor. Mrs. Wallace Heald was chosen chairman of work supplying cut flowers for the U.S.O. recreation rooms. Mrs. Elizabeth Bonner worked on succulent gardens for the bed-side tables for the dis-abled in the SAAAB hospital. This work which took long earnest planning of 62 different kinds of the most delicate of succulents had to be grown and rooted in flats before the could be re-potted in 2” and 3” shells. They all made to scale. Using tweazers and eye droppers as tools. There were amny human-interest stories told from these, such such as the two six footers with the use of both arms gone who wanted to carress the ‘wee things’. They were Portuguese from the Bermudas and had never seen anything flowers in spaces smaller than acres of huge calla lilies, grown in their country for shipment to florists abroad.
With all these series of activities Mrs. Thompson was bound to have beauty somewhere so she carried on with the Annual Spring Flower show. Elsie Woods acted as chairman of arrangements. Held in the Community Presbyterian church. It was a magnificent display of floral bloom and plant life. It was the biggest and most pretentious show we had ever held. With a formal opening in the beginning of a real ‘black out’, with little or no gas it was a huge success. From the proceeds of this show a cheque for $43.00 went for fertilizer for the soldiers gardens at the SAAAB.
1946- the war is now over. Mrs. Elsie Woods is the president. This brings us to present day activities of getting back to normal. For her hard-working efforts she was elected assistant to the 1st vice president of the California State Garden Club, Inc., which brings honor once more to the Laguna Beach Garden Club.
In 1945 Miss Gertrude Gardener was elected to the presidency. With war restrictins still on for gasoline Miss Gardener tried to resume her tours to Pasedena, the Santa
1948- To date we now have Mrs. Florence Shupp of Three Arch Bay. A very capable person with much courage and inspiration for our members.
In all we have had 16 presidents and all living to-day. only three of them too far away to be called at home in Laguna Beach.