Laguna Beach's Hidden Histories: The Main Beach Lifeguard Tower

Laguna Beach’s Hidden Histories: The Main Beach Lifeguard Tower

IMAGINE IF YOU WILL, Laguna Beach as a mythical kingdom by the sea:

The craggy outcroppings at “ROCK PILE” would have ballads sung about them – stories of brave men and women who dared paddle into the mighty, frothing waves. The mysterious decaying turret at VICTORIA BEACH would be known as the favored outpost for visiting scalawags and the mischievousness of the freebooters living there would be rivaled only by the diamond, pearl, and ruby-hoarding brigands of “TREASURE ISLAND.”

BLUEBIRD CANYON would be full of flocking fauna, swooping low and calling out songs of love and longing. Sometimes these sweet melodies would turn mournful, whenever when the cave-dwelling dragons of Laguna Canyon rode the hot Santa Ana currents into town. If help was needed the village elders would meet at MOSS POINT, before venturing to Eagle Rock to beg favor from the colossal sea eagles of SoLag. 
So it was written, carved deep in the sandstone and obscured from strangers by the sorcerers of Sleepy Hollow. 
Or…y’know…something like that. 

Laguna Beach Hotel De La Costa And Bath House Beachcomber July 1953

With Laguna Beach’s image-conjuring street names, and the dramatic scenery of the canyons and shoreline, this beach-town-as-mythic-realm metaphor isn’t such a major stretch. It’s a fun thing to imagine and retell to kids. Nowhere does this fairytale vision seem so potent as the hexagonal-shaped lifeguard tower at MAIN BEACH. If the story above was true and if our fabled version of Laguna Beach were threatened by a mighty kraken, our knights would be the city’s brave lifeguards and their fortress would be this picaresque (and picturesque) tower. 

That tower looks far more like it belongs to a medieval castle than an Orange County beach city. In a region that values the newest and the latest, the lifeguard tower is historic. It is iconic. It is so deeply ingrained in our city’s landscape as to almost seem inextricably tied to the town. 
Although, it’s worth mentioning, the lifeguard tower wasn’t always so highly valued. In the 70s, the city thought about destroying it, rather than bothering to keep up a building that was quickly becoming too small for the lifeguard force. In a story that fit the city like a glove, local grassroots activists fought to preserve the tower – not because of its utility, but because it was a source of inspiration for photographers visiting the beach.  

Main Beach Couple

Arts saved the building.  

“It’s a landmark,” former head guard Mike Dwinell told the LA Times in 1993. “It’s been the subject of many postcards and many paintings.”
Onetime City Manager Kenneth Frank expressed gratitude that the building was still standing and confirmed the structure’s importance to the arts. He told the Times, “All I know is it’s in more paintings of Laguna Beach than any other feature.”
Before escaping destruction, the great structure was actually part of a Union Oil Company gas station at PCH and Broadway. It was moved across the street in 1937 by a team of horses.

Main Beach Lifeguard Tower Union Oil Company

These days, the lifeguard tower is a secondary outpost for the lifeguards (who are headquartered at the north end of Main Beach). They use it for training, viewing, and storage. Though the building requires some upkeep – and it’s windows have been blown out multiple times by the onslaught of the sea – its fate is not in doubt. 

It will stand for a long time. A bastion of our fair city. 

And if the krakens ever do raid our shores, we’ll know exactly where to stage our defense.  

Main Beach Lifeguard Tower

*Historic photos courtesy of Laguna Beach Historical Society 

About the Author

Steve Bramucci

Steve Bramucci

A Laguna Beach ambassador, Steve Bramucci’s writing has appeared in the pages of USA Today, Afar, Outside, Huffington Post, COAST, OC Register Magazine, and other online and print outlets. His novel, Ronald Zupan and the Pirates of Borneo!, publishes with Bloomsbury in 2016. Follow him on Twitter @stevebram.

Get Inspired

Explore more of Laguna Beach.