IF YOU HAVE even an ounce of swashbuckling spirit, you can’t explore Laguna’s ever-eroding cliff sides and cavern-filled canyon trails without daydreaming of pirates. It’s easy to imagine an 18th century scalawag guzzling tankards of rum on the sand after burying a chest brimming with gold. Spend a day on the hidden beach at Treasure Island, accessible only by climbing over rocks or swimming around a craggy headland, and you might find yourself glancing over your shoulder, longing for a one-legged buccaneer with a parrot to wade up on shore.
Nowhere is the town’s pirate mystique so potent as on Victoria Beach. There, battered by the unending cycle of tides, stands a lonely stone turret—affectionately called the “Pirate Tower” by locals. The tower is sixty feet tall and seems to have been birthed directly from the sandstone cliffs that surround it. For residents and visitors alike, the sight of the structure and its small, unevenly shaped windows launches visions of retired freebooters keeping their weather eyes peeled for the sight of the Jolly Roger on the horizon.
These surreal imaginings may not be based in fact, but research proves they aren’t pure fiction either. The tower’s origins aren’t particularly mysterious. It was built in 1926 as an enclosed staircase to the beach for William E. Brown, a senator from Los Angeles. After coming to California in 1882, Brown developed into an avid and acclaimed painter—making Laguna Beach a natural fit for his dream home. The tower was surely influenced by its owner’s aesthetic tastes and love of Laguna’s diverse geography.
In the early 1940s, Brown sold his home to a retired naval captain, Harold Kendrick. Kendrick was a lifelong pirate aficionado and found himself attracted to the home because of the odd, slightly askew tower. Records call Kendrick as “eclectic and fascinating as the buildings themselves” and go on to describe how he would dress in pirate regalia and invite local kids over for games and stories of the sea. Winners of Kenrick’s puzzles and scavenger hunts received “cold cash”—the chance to grab a handful of money from a change bowl kept inside the refrigerator. The tower itself often made an appearance in Kendrick’s tales and children longing to buy candy knew to search its many cracks and crevices for slyly hidden coins. According to the Laguna Beach historic register, “finders were keepers.”
These days, the property has switched hands a number of times and the tower is kept under lock and key—a skeleton key, one hopes, pockmarked with flecks of rust. The stories of coins tucked between the stones are all but forgotten now. Still, as long as the tower is standing, it will inspire the imaginations of bold spirits young and old longing for the days of wild-eyed rogues sailing under the black flag.
If you visit, don’t be embarrassed to poke around the tower’s base…perhaps there’s still some treasure left after all. Note: The Pirate Tower can only be accessed at low tide.
LEARN MORE at the LAGUNA BEACH CITY REGISTRY: www.LagunaBeachCity.net/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=2520