Then & Now: Heisler Park

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An aerial view of Divers Cove and Heisler Park in the 1940s (Courtesy of Laguna Beach Historical Society)
An aerial view of Divers Cove and Heisler Park in the 1940s (Courtesy of Laguna Beach Historical Society)

Heisler Park is a favorite of locals and tourists alike, with its breathtaking ocean views, picnic areas, public art and cliff-top walkways lined with palm trees and flowers in bright orange and purple hues that call to mind the striking sunsets seen from this lookout. It’s a romantic stroll for couples, a popular place for lunchtime walks and vacation photos as well as an inspiring setting for plein-air painters. But this Laguna Beach landmark might have never been.

While the park site was earmarked in a 1906 tract map for the Laguna Cliffs subdivision by Howard G. Heisler and his partners, the developer later had a change of heart, according to Eric Jessen, a board member of the Laguna Beach Historical Society and retired chief of the former Orange County Harbors, Beaches and Parks District. The city of Laguna Beach’s Historic Resources Inventory also details how Howard reneged on his offer to preserve the prime coastal property for public use.

Luckily, Cliff Drive resident Elmer Jahraus—a prominent business leader in town—opposed this move, took the matter to court and won. His action saved this piece of land for future generations to enjoy. The property, which had been deeded to the county by Howard and his wife in 1924, was transferred to Laguna Beach in 1931, nearly four years after the city incorporated, and formally dedicated as a park in 1932. While many believe the park is named after the developer, he insisted that it be named for his recently deceased wife, Lucinda Jane Heisler, shares Jane Janz, a local historian and third-generation Lagunan.

Plans for the park had begun to take shape in the late 1920s with suggestions from prominent landscape architect Lucia Fox Edwards of Pasadena, who had a cottage in Laguna. She advised the city that the narrow swath of land was better suited for passive uses rather than a children’s recreational area, Jane says. Amenities were added over the following decades including a lawn bowling green, clubhouse, gazebo, picnic tables and benches along the stretch from what’s now Las Brisas restaurant to just past Myrtle Street.

Interestingly, Jane says, the park land was once divided by septic tanks, which city leaders decided in the 1930s to move in order to open up the space and eliminate the odor, instead opting to run all sewage through the treatment plant in the canyon.

Heisler Park today (Photo by Robert Hansen)
Heisler Park today (Photo by Robert Hansen)

Today’s park visitors would never guess this site’s stinky history. Not only a vista point for people, wildlife can often be found amid the tropical and California native plants: Rabbits sometimes are seen hopping along and hummingbirds flit from flower to flower in this little slice of paradise along Laguna’s coast.

—Written by Laguna Beach Magazine Staff

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