'Grand lady of Laguna' gets a makeover

The historic Hotel Laguna suffered two catastrophes last year: Owner Claes Andersen died over the summer and record rainfall damaged the aging hotel's roof in December, causing the ceilings of the second story to fall in, according to Georgia Andersen, Claes' widow, who has taken the reins at the business.

While walls had to be repainted and various other repairs made, Andersen decided the 65-room hotel on Main Beach — known as "the grand lady of Laguna Beach" — needed more than a fresh coat of paint.

She turned to longtime friend Evalyn Daniel-Putnam, an art consultant for major hotel chains such as the Montage and Ritz-Carlton, to come up with something to give the hotel additional cache.

Originally built in 1888, the Hotel Laguna as it now stands was built in 1930 and for many years was "the" hotel for Hollywood stars, including Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Errol Flynn, according to Andersen. There is even a designated Bogart Room on the second floor where Bogie and Bacall were said to have spent time in the hotel's heyday.

The Andersens bought it in 1985. The storied history of the hotel, and Laguna Beach, is depicted in a series of black-and-white photographs that line the hotel's first-floor walls.

Daniel-Putnam turned to another hotel consultant, Paul Jones of Las Vegas-based Project Dynamics, and the two came up with a unique concept to tie in the city's artistic past with that of the hotel: the use of large, full-color photographs of behind-the-scenes action from the Pageant of the Masters, according to Andersen.

The six photographs, depicting scenes from this summer's show, "Only Make-Believe," are sumptuous additions to the original accoutrements of the 1930s-style hotel and give the rooms a new dimension of art and history.

The rooms also got a general sprucing up, with new carpet, pillow-top beds, and 40-inch flat-screen TVs. Andersen says she will leave most of the 1930s bathroom fixtures in place, planning only to replace the mirrors.

Andersen is proud of the large 40-inch by 50-inch photographs that were culled from the Pageant's archives, and had to have approval from the Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters board before they could be used in the hotel.

To accomplish this, local artist and pageant board member Roark Gourley, a friend of Daniel-Putnam, approached pageant Marketing Director Sharbie Higuchi with the idea. After the board approved it, the photographs were selected.

The photos tie the historic hotel in with the Pageant of the Masters, itself created during the Great Depression of the 1930s to attract visitors to Laguna Beach. The pageant's artistic process is a tightly held secret, and the photos give tantalizing glimpses of the process of creating the tableaux vivants, or "living pictures," which are life-sized works of art.

But Andersen wasn't done yet: She has also updated the restaurant named for her husband. Claes is now Claes Ovation, with a Pageant of the Masters tie-in.

Restaurant patrons can order a three-course Pageant dinner at 5:30 p.m. and be finished in time to stroll to the Festival of Arts at 7:30 p.m., where they can enjoy the art before heading in to the Pageant at 8:30 p.m.

"We are the only hotel from where you can walk to the Festival of Arts," Andersen said. "It's a perfect evening."

More improvements are in store for the Hotel Laguna, and a grand celebration is planned for October when all the details are in place, Andersen said.