The History of Casa Laguna
Around 1918, one of California’s premier builder/architect teams, Frank Miller and Arthur Benton, collaborated to produce a magnificent seaside “castle” in Laguna Beach for Miller’s wife, Marion. When the massive concrete, stone, and pressed-block structure was completed in 1921, it was appropriately called, “Mariona.” The impressive edifice still exists on the ocean cliffs just west of Casa Laguna. It is now called Villa Rockledge and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
About the time that Mariona was being completed, a small home was built just east of the Rockledge compound, on the opposite side of a winding dirt road that would one day become Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Based on the building’s Mission-style architecture, its location, and the fact that the distinctive pressed-blocks used for most of the construction are identical to those used for Mariona, it is believed that this building was built by Miller as a family cottage or guest house. Now called the Mission House, this building serves as Casa Laguna’s reception area and main parlor; and also houses the Mission Suite. A second building was constructed on the same property in about 1931, probably to house Mariona’s caretaker or gardener. This building is now the inn’s “Cottage” suite.
By the 1930s, a paved and bustling Pacific Coast Highway separated Miller’s beachside property from the hillside buildings. Frank Miller passed away in 1935, and his wife eventually sold the property on the east side of PCH. In 1945, a parcel of land between what is today the Mission House and Upland Road was purchased by Dewey Howard, a wealthy developer who owned several motor-inn type motels in the Los Angeles area. On this spot, Howard constructed a multi-unit complex that opened in 1946 as the Casa Laguna Motel. Photos of the original structure can be seen in the Mission House hallway, and pictures of Dewey, his wife, Gracie, and friends, are located in the parlor’s corner hutch.
Casa Laguna existed as a motel and later as an artist colony until 1977, when it was purchased and converted into a bed & breakfast inn. By that time, the Mission House and Cottage had been added to the Casa Laguna complex, although the original pressed blocks and classic architecture were hidden by years of “upgrades” and layers of paint.
In February 2000, the inn was purchased by local businessmen and partners, Paul Blank and Francois Leclair; and a passionate restoration was undertaken. Layers of paint were removed from the unique decorative pressed blocks and rare Catalina tiles. Modern materials were replaced with original-style wood and masonry. The buildings were soon returned to their original Mission-style appearance, and on June 15, 2000, Casa Laguna Inn was recognized as a “Registered Historic Structure” by the city of Laguna Beach.
Today, Casa Laguna Inn & Spa represents nearly a century of Laguna Beach history; and its architecture is highly representative of the Mission-revival style of Frank Miller and Arthur Benton, creators of historic Villa Rockledge, and Riverside’s famed Mission Inn. Francois Leclair, now sole owner of Casa Laguna, has pledged to insure that Casa Laguna’s historic origins are preserved for the enjoyment of the inn’s guests, and for future generations of Californians and visitors.
On August 6, 2013, hotel inspectors for AAA auto club announced that Casa Laguna had been chosen as one of their top 10 favorite historic hotels in the United States.
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