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 Volume 13, Issue 47  |  June 11, 2021


“Art in Public Places” – Boom Boom Bench by Michael Stutz

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

This is the thirteenth in our weekly series featuring Art in Public Places. Since there are over 100 pieces of public art scattered throughout Laguna, it will take a while to cover them all.

The art you see around Laguna Beach is the result of two City programs: “Public Art and Murals” and “Art in Public Places.” The goals of the Public Art and Murals and Art in Public Places (adopted in 1986) initiatives are to create diverse art installations of the highest quality that will, over decades, reflect the City itself and its citizens, and improve the quality of life; and to be a source of pride to all Laguna Beach residents.

Art in closeup

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In December of 2020, the original bench (made of stainless steel) was replicated in bronze

Lovingly called the Boom Boom Bench, the art installation by sculptor Michael Stutz at the end of Mountain Road pays homage not only to Laguna’s gay heritage but also to the spot that has been called, “the anchor of the gay community” – the Boom Boom Room.

In June of 2017, the Laguna Beach Arts Commission subcommittee recommended that Stutz’ design of Sea Stone Spills on Ocean Step Hill – with the addition of rainbow-colored strips and a plaque – be selected out of three finalists.

History of inclusion

The plaque reads, “(For decades)...Mountain Road was a local point for gay life in Laguna Beach. This bench is a celebration of Laguna’s deep history of welcoming people of all walks of life to enjoy the beauty and community spirit.” It was funded by Laguna Beach residents Mark Porterfield and Steve Chadima.

Just a month before Stutz’s proposal was accepted, on May 9, 2017, the City of Laguna Beach presented the LGBT Heritage and Culture Committee with a proclamation recognizing the month of June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Heritage and Culture Month in Laguna Beach.

Dedicated in February of 2018, Boom Boom Bench is the perfect piece to highlight the beginning of this month-long commemoration of gay history in Laguna – not only for its exquisite artistry but its long-lasting significance to our town. 

Art in palm tree

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Mountain Road beach access overlook

Stutz was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After receiving his BFA from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, he attended Ulster Polytechnic in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Stutz later moved to New Orleans where he created his first sculpture designing and building large figures for the Mardi Gras parade. 

He began his journey as a public artist creating temporary recycled cardboard installations. His first permanent public sculpture was for the W Hotel adjacent to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Since then, he has completed a number of public commissions in cities throughout the U.S.

Celebration of community

“The loveseat of interwoven construction and openwork is really representative of who we are as residents, who celebrate all people in our community,” says Cultural Arts Manager Sian Poeschl. “It is a privilege to work with the Arts Commission, artists such as Michael Stutz, along with donors Mark Porterfield and Steve Chadima, who are all actively enhancing the visual and visceral experiences we have through public art.

“A loveseat is an intimate seating arranged for two people, that is accessible to everyone. Take the opportunity to sit there with a loved one and understand the joy this space and artwork brings. We are fortunate to have such a place.”

As expressed by Porterfield and Chadima, “We sponsored the bench because we wanted to ensure that the history of this spot is not forgotten. We met here, as did countless others who were drawn to this area by its many welcoming bars, restaurants, and beaches. Now that gay people can live and work and dine anywhere, marry and have or adopt children, it is easy to forget that this wasn’t always the case. We hope this beautiful piece of art serves as a reminder of the accomplishments of the entire community over the years.”

Art in full bench

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“The bench’s shape recalls the look of a footprint in the sand, a smooth beach pebble, and the twisting curves of a wave breaking on the shore,” says Stutz

At the end of 2020, the City of Laguna Beach Arts Commission reinstalled the sculptural love seat. The original bench was created of weaved stainless steel and did not weather well in the oceanfront environment. The artist replicated the bench in bronze, a more durable material for the site and accentuated the interwoven ribbons of the rainbow. The sculpture renovation was funded by the lodging establishments and City of Laguna Beach.

In his initial proposal, Stutz characterized his sculpture. “The ocean, more than anywhere else, captures the idea of flux – the tides, shimmering light, the sun and moon, pebbles tiptoeing across the sand that was once stone. I propose a 10-foot-long woven stainless steel bench that will bring this sense of change, connection, and energy to the Mountain Road beach access overlook.

“Sited on the south side of the overlook platform, western light will reveal a backlit effect as one approaches the bench. Shadows cast through the many openings in the form will play upon the concrete walkway. The bench’s shape recalls the look of a footprint in the sand, a smooth beach pebble, and the twisting curves of a wave breaking on the shore. Its stylized wave crest imparts a sense of whimsy and exaggeration informed by the faux art deco design of the original Coast Inn.”

Boom Boom Room

Thirty-six years ago, Porterfield and Chadima met on this exact spot – where visitors to the Boom Boom Room overflowed into the street. Although they funded the installation six years ago (on their 30th anniversary), it didn’t come to fruition until 2017. 

Of all the legendary clubs in South Orange County, few have a history that echoes as loudly as the Boom Boom Room, which found its home inside the Coast Inn off of PCH. The Boom Boom Room closed in 2007 after a Beverly Hills billionaire purchased the Coast Inn.

Art in ocean

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Nicknamed the “Boom Boom Bench” 

As described by those present back in its heyday, “It was a crazy time.” On a holiday weekend – such as this past Memorial Day weekend – 200-300 men and women would spill out on to Mountain Road for one of three reasons: Either the Boom Boom Room was too crowded, too hot, or the patron wasn’t old enough to be admitted.

In those days, the holiday weekend would begin at Little Shrimp (now El Ranchito), move on to Main Street Bar and Cabaret, then Ron’s of Laguna (now Selanne Steak Tavern), and finally at 2 a.m., to Harbor Lights in Dana Point for breakfast.

A day’s itinerary might go something like this: First stop in the morning – West Street Beach, then the Boom Boom Room for a Tea Dance, back home for a shower (and maybe a nap) and dinner, and then at 11 p.m., a return to the Boom Boom Room for the Dance Party, which lasted until 2 a.m.

“As a ‘courting bench,’ featuring seating on both sides, it will feel a bit like sitting in a coaster car on an old-fashioned Tunnel of Love ride,” said Stutz. “This is a subtle acknowledgement of the adjacent Coast Inn property as a place where generations of people made connections with each other. Whimsical, intricately crafted, elegant, and durable. This sculptural bench will express the energy, movement, and natural beauty of the Mountain Road Overlook.”

Garden of peace and love

“For many years during the AIDS epidemic, when so many were shunned by their families as they discovered not only their sister, brother, son, or daughter was sick with AIDS but was also gay,” says Craig Cooley, president of LB Pride 365, “this area near the Pacific became a place to share their passing.

“It is a beautiful view. While not sanctioned by the City of Laguna Beach at the time, nonetheless many, many ashes were cast in what they named the garden of peace and love. How many? No one really knows, there were no official records kept. But many residents attest to it being 300+ or more. Recently, when the city was upgrading many of the entrances to the ocean, they did a beautiful thing, offered a commission for an art piece, the Rainbow Bench, and recognized in their communications the garden as an official resting place not to be disturbed.”

For a map of Art in Public Places (not every piece is listed), click here. 

To apply for the Arts in Public Places program, click here.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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