Print

Laguna Beach – A Look Back

Courtesy of Laguna Beach Historical Society

Last week we looked at Laguna’s haunting, now this week let’s look at a Laguna mystery.

The first post office to be founded in town was at the general store in 1887 but under the name “Lagona.” The postmaster – Nicholas Isch – successfully petitioned for a name change to Laguna Beach.

The second main post office would be built on the corner of Beach and Broadway in 1938, and served the city only through the mid 1940s. It was in a Mediterranean revival style in a rectangular footprint, stucco siding, and red tiled gable roof. As traffic downtown grew, its location posed access issues and it was rendered unusable after just a few years.

The building stands today, very much in appearance to its days as a post office. The facade and even front steps are identical. Trees on either side of the steps are gone, and a wall lamp is now placed to the right of the front door. The ornate tile around the front door is sadly gone, and the current door makes the building look older than it is – and is a work of art in itself, which is part of the mystery. Who would put such a beautiful door on an abandoned post office?

After the post office moved out, the structure served various commercial and community interests, and was bought and sold multiple times. The mystery lies in why it sits, apparently abandoned in the middle of our downtown, and on top of that, for many years.

Laguna Beach A Look Back 11 5 19

Click on photo for a larger image

Laguna Beach Post Office, date unknown

Public records tell us it was last sold in 2006 to Buck Fine Arts for an undisclosed price. 2019 tax records assess it at $4.1 million. Buck Fine Arts appears to no longer exist, or at least is not findable.

Little known to locals, Gerald Buck was apparently using the space to house what may have been the largest collection of art and books done by California artists. Mr. Buck was a Newport Beach developer who was a lover of the arts and used his fortune to amass a large collection.

He was gregarious yet private but had enough of a reputation to sit as a trustee of the Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian.

After purchasing the former post office he extensively renovated the inside, incorporating state of the art climate controls, exhibition lighting, and sliding storage racks. We know this because he opened the gallery rarely for invited guests, usually artists he respected. But, just as today, there was no exterior signage, and no indication the building was occupied.

In case you were planning to contact Mr. Buck requesting he open this gallery, don’t bother. He passed away at a Tijuana clinic being treated for throat cancer in 2013. His wife passed in 2013 as well, leaving his estate to his two children in a trust.

The long-hidden treasure was donated to UCI by his trust in 2017, consisting of over 3,000 original works, valued at tens of millions of dollars. Experts who have examined the works were thrilled to find art they had assumed may have been lost or destroyed. Some called it the greatest collection of California art in private hands in history.

Yes this amazing and rare collection was hiding right here in River City...in plain sight.

So one mystery may be explained – explaining what was in our old post office all that time.

But now another...despite Buck’s death, no apparent sale of the building is recorded. It apparently is still owned by the trust. Is it now empty, with its contents recently moved? Does the family ever go inside? Will they ever sell it? And yes, the most common comment – wouldn’t it make a great restaurant?

• • •

Laguna Beach Historical Society is located at 278 Ocean Ave. They are open Friday - Sunday from 1 - 4 p.m. For more information, call (949) 497-6834 or visit www.lagunabeachhistory.org.