Laguna Beach, CA
United States
Mountain Rd. & beach Laguna Beach Garden of Peace and Love since 1 December 1989
without names
Coast Inn cruisin' toward revamp
The Coast Inn, which as the former home to the Boom Boom Room bar played a part in Laguna Beach's emergence as a hub for gay nightlife in the 1970s, could be restored and reopened next year, according to the property's new owners. The Coast Inn closed in 2007 to the dismay of many locals. But Laguna residents Marcella and Chris Dornin recently purchased the property at 1401 South Coast Highway with the aim of turning it into a “modern beach cottage” while paying respect to its vibrant heritage.
The Dornins have experience in hospitality and development, and jumped at the chance to renovate the property – a 24-room inn, restaurant and bar – that is a part of the city's history. Chris Dornin said he heard the Coast Inn was the second hotel to open in town, behind Hotel Laguna, in 1928. “It's just about restoring some of Laguna Beach's history and character in a modernized and current fashion that's going to be more enjoyable for the future,” Dornin said.
In its early days, the Coast Inn lured Marines stationed at nearby El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to its beachside bar and restaurant, Dornin said. The bar, the South Seas, had a goldfish tank, which patrons would pluck and eat, he said. Beachgoers would walk in off the sand from volleyball courts that formerly were a stone's throw from the building, he said. Councilman Kelly Boyd remembers working there as a kid in the 1950s, busing tables. His father, Robert, leased and ran the restaurant for roughly a decade. The Coast Inn later housed what came to be known as the Boom Boom Room, a prominent gay bar that played a pivotal role in the city's gay nightlife in the '70s and '80s.
Locals tried to stop the closure in 2007. Activist Fred Karger made a documentary called “Save the Boom” and showed up at a City Council meeting with a wheelbarrow full of petitions, pleading with the city to step in. Up until the recent purchase, the former owner wanted to turn it into a boutique hotel but it was appealed to the state Coastal Commission on public-access issues. The owner eventually halted the project.
It's a boon for the community to have locals, who know the history and the town, to bring the building's tradition back, Chris Dornin said. A lot of things won't change. There will still be a bar off Coast Highway, an oceanfront restaurant and 24 rooms – but a few things might be moved around. A rooftop bar might take some of the food and beverage space from the downstairs area, which they'll use to expand some of the smallest hotel rooms into larger two-story rooms, Marcella Dornin said. The hotel lobby will be right off the bar.
There won't be substantial additions, just renovations of the current space, the owners said. The Dornins hope to make a spot for locals and tourists alike to hangout once again. The look of the property, which is a hodgepodge of three architectural styles, will change to a uniform “modern beach cottage” façade. Laguna-based Horst Noppenberger is the architect. Chris Dornin said that “it's going to be a really nice boutique oceanfront hotel.”
They're working with LGBT activist Audrey Prosser and artist Louis Longi to bring a sense of community to the space. When the building received its historic status from the heritage committee, it required the property have an “interpretive center,” sharing the property's history. The owners are working with Prosser to come up with something that the community is proud of – such as a plaque, photographs and stories, Marcella Dornin said. “I can't tell you how excited I am to preserve its cultural richness, not just for the gay community but for the city,” Prosser said.
The Garden of Peace and Love, at the end of Mountain Road, has the ashes of residents who died from AIDS in the '80s, Prosser said. The garden is city-owned property but has been maintained by locals over the years. The owners hope to work out something with the city so they can refurbish the small garden. Prosser said she has a list of volunteers ready to get their hands dirty.
Photo © Anna Reed Orange County Register

17 March 2014
Joanna Clay, Laguna Beach, CA