Joe Hanauer: A Laguna visionary respects the past, supports the present and plans for the future

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

  Joe Hanauer says that when he and his wife, Jane, contemplated moving to California from Chicago 25 years ago, they thought, “Let’s do this. It will be fun.” Joe didn’t think it would last.  “My thought was, this is going to be brief; maybe two, three, four years might be plenty,” as he remembers. “This California lifestyle seems kind of crazy to someone from the Midwest.”

They ventured west because Hanauer had sold his company to another, located in Newport Beach. The Hanauers chose Laguna because, as Hanauer explains, “Our youngest daughter was five at the time so our focus was on what type of environment we wanted to bring her up in.  We looked at other places, Newport, for one, but culturally it wasn’t what we were looking for. Laguna fit the bill. Its size, culture, schools, values… Plus it’s a lovely city.”

Joe Hanauer at his offices at The Old Pottery Place in Laguna Beach

Coming west and staying

Hanauer figured he’d be with the new company for three to four years then return home.  However, his involvement lasted much longer.  “It ended up being 11-12 years,” he explains, “But the other part of it is, just as you would expect: friends, the lifestyle and the shallower things like the weather and the beauty of the scenery. They became pretty compelling reasons to stay.” 

Finally, he says, after close to seven years in California, they finally sold their family home in Chicago. It was official: they were now Lagunans.

Investing around the corner

Hanauer is chairman of the board of Move, Inc. and a principal at Combined Investments, LLC. In town, however, he may be better known as the developer of The Old Pottery Place (formerly the Pottery Shack). 

“I mostly do business in other parts of the country,” he said. “[When I get involved in something] where I live, it’s not because it’s a core business, but because I like investing in the community. When we were in Chicago, I did the same thing. Snow Mass, the same thing. So here, it was just a natural continuation. I’ve always been interested in doing stuff around the corner. It’s satisfying beyond the project’s economics.”

Giving an iconic property new life

Hanauer describes the old Pottery Shack as an “iconic property since the 1930’s.”  His interest was based on what it could become. 

“Lots of people had ideas about what to do with the space: hotels, supermarkets, a Rite-Aid. What I tried to do that worked was take the ‘history’ (and I use the word loosely) back, and look at the role it played in the neighborhood.”  

Hanauer, fortunately, decided that what was needed was what exists there now: offices, restaurants and shops. Sorry, Rite-Aid. 

“The fringe benefit,” says Hanauer, “is it ended up having a beneficial relationship to the businesses up and down the street. Today it’s a much more dynamic neighborhood than when the Pottery Shack was in its decline.”  

It has been so energized the area’s local merchants formed the HIP (Historic and Interesting Places) District “as a way to communicate the large diversity of dining, shopping and services along PCH from Thalia to Bluebird,” he explains. 

Finally, Laguna Beach Books is born

Another “fringe benefit” is that Hanauer’s wife, Jane, was able to become one of the center’s tenants with her bookstore, Laguna Beach Books.  

“She has wanted to do that most of her life.  She had been talking about it forever, wherever we were.  She’d say, ‘Gee, Joe, this spot would be terrific for a book store.’  I was maybe the selfish husband.  I’d tell her, ‘You’ll be tied up. We travel so much…’ She’s very smart, very well read so when we were doing this she did the same thing.  Eventually, my arguments diminished,” he says with a laugh.  “This has been her first business. Here she is ten years later. She loves it and it has been great for the community. She’s there six days a week. It’s her life.”

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It was important to Hanauer that The Old Pottery Place retained elements from the original Pottery Shack

Bringing music to the masses with Laguna Beach Live!

A keen interest in what’s “good for the community” doesn’t end with business.  Hanauer is heavily involved in several local arts organizations, like Laguna Beach Live!, which is one that is close to his heart. Back in college he minored in music, though he insists he has “no talent.”  Regardless, he loves music. And he recently began taking piano lessons – again.  

Hanauer sits on the Board of Laguna Beach Live! and says that the group’s mission “is to supply good, quality music for everyone.”  The group puts on Jazz Wednesdays, for example, throughout the summer at Hotel Laguna.  “It’s great jazz for $20. It’s in town so it’s accessible. We will arrange pick-ups for seniors. Having it be accessible is very attractive to me,” he says.  Education for children is also a priority for the organization. (For more information visit lagunabeachlive.org)

Seeing the value of The Laguna Playhouse, beyond the shows

Another organization Hanauer is involved with is Laguna Playhouse, serving as its board co-chairman. “I’m very involved with that. My involvement isn’t so much based on being a theater buff,” he says. “It’s more about the importance the arts can have for the community, and the way people think and believe.”  

He explains that his interest in The Playhouse began when they sold him the building next door.  

“I became aware of some financial problems the Playhouse had. It was during the Great Recession. So I got involved, more as a matter of trying to assist the Playhouse in being able to have the kind of influence it should have, rather than from a love of the theater.”  

He proudly tells me that now Laguna Playhouse has 80,000 people a year going through to see 325 performances of music, theater and youth theater, in addition to their outreach to schools throughout Orange County.  

“The Playhouse is a critical element of the community,” he says emphatically. 

And Hanauer sees that as important, whether you’re a fan of live theater or not.  “A lot of people use Laguna as a bedroom. If they’re interested in the arts they [may] look for it elsewhere, but there is a lot to be had right here,” he says.  

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Joe Hanauer stands in front of a mosaic at The Old Pottery Place that states, “Do not sacrifice freedom for pomp or show”

The importance of supporting local everything

Just as he values a vibrant local arts scene, Hanauer views shopping locally as a crucial element of the community – and it’s not because his wife owns a local bookstore.  He worries that people “don’t recognize the impact of having services for locals as well as visitors. It impacts our town,” he says. “When you go to places where residents don’t support their local businesses, you’ll find a lot of condo sales offices, but you won’t see people strolling. And shopping locally is just a matter of habit.” 

Hanauer sees things very holistically, which may be why it’s so important to him to support the things that make Laguna so uniquely Laguna. 

“With our nearly 100 year old Playhouse and Museum plus outstanding organizations such as Laguna Dance, Laguna Beach Live!, Laguna Concert Band and so many others, they can only grow and become even better if supported by the town’s citizens.”

With citizens like Joe Hanauer giving back to the community he lives in, Laguna has been truly gifted. Laguna remains the grateful beneficiary of his care and concern for its history and its future.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

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Alexis Amaradio, Cameron Gillepsie  Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

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