Building Chronology by Rita Cofield, B.ARCH.
Historic photos of the Coast Inn show unpaved roads at S. Coast Blvd. and Mountain Road (formerly Cypress), indicating that it may have been constructed prior to its opening in 1929. The Coast Inn opened for business May 16, 1929. J. H. “Pappy” Smith and his wife raised their five children in a suite on the second floor. The Smith brothers (no relations) served as general contractor for the property. The architect was Sam Smith. The Coast Inn incorporated Spanish Colonial Revival style elements as well as design detailing typical of 1920s era commercial properties including red clay tile roof and stucco cladding, multi-light metal casement windows, and prominent roof signage. Oral history states that “Pappy” was quite ingenuous when it came to illuminating his business because streetlamps had not yet been erected; he added car headlights from automobiles to the northwest corner of the Inn. A notable aspect of the property was its distinctive stepped form which utilized the slope of the parcel from its frontage along Coast Boulevard (South Coast Highway) to the coastline of the Pacific Ocean.
Pappy Smith and his four sons, Karl, Bob, Dick and Bernard, and daughter, Betty Jean, created a friendly way-station for travelers. In 1977, 49 years later, the Coast Inn was “famed throughout the West and has served customers from literally throughout the world. Weary travelers still enjoy fine food, drinks, and comfortable quarters in a seaside setting…and go on their way refreshed. Yep, and the Smith Boys were still giving guidance to those same travelers who want to know how to reach Disneyland or Sea World…just as they have for 49 years. It’s all part of the great Smith service and tradition…just the way Pappy wanted it.” The News-Post, June 29, 1977
There is an article that states that it was Mr. Smith who built Cypress Road (now Mountain Road) using a team of mules in order to give his guests clear access to the beach.
Postcard, dated 1/22/1930
The new hotel was modern throughout in equipment, had phones in all rooms, maid service, was on the American plan, breakfast included. The ground floor was occupied by a café that fronted South Coast Highway. The front elevation of the Café had two large fixed windows and two single-door entries. There was an arched entrance for automobiles to a free parking area behind the hotel. (Although the granddaughter tells me this was an add-on look to the postcard, that the Coast Inn never had a garage.) The second level contained the Smith family quarters. A row of one-story hotel rooms or attached bungalows was attached to the back of the Café. The Coast Inn was situated up to the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Already recognized as an art colony in the 1930s, a new wave of these entertainment industry professionals firmly established the reputation of Laguna Beach as a creative community. In 1932, the first Festival of the Arts was held and, in 1934, residents organized the first annual Pageant of the Masters. The tourism industry had an unprecedented boost in December 1933 with the repeal of the Prohibition Act, creating for restaurant/bar establishments in resort areas, leisure-themed businesses and tourism ventures.
A postcard postmarked 1935, has Mr. Smith advertising for his new hotel, indicating that he may have reconfigured the Coast Inn and opened the Tap Room inside the Coffee Shop in anticipation of obtaining a liquor license.
“A little more time by the sea occasionally means a little more time on earth eventually.” Come to Laguna Beach; stop at the Coast Inn, at the water’s edge; a new modern Hotel, Coffee Shop with Tap Room, and Patio that is different. Free parking space. J. H. Smith, Mgr
The Coast Inn obtained one of Laguna Beach’s first liquor licenses in 1933. Beer and other liquors were available for sale along with serving drinks in his restaurant on the property. Mr. Smith, along with the help of his two sons, also began distributing beer under a private label, Barbarous Beer. A second level with balconies was added above the row of bungalows by 1932. The hotel’s ocean front was expanded from three to four floors with improved verandas and wooden decks overlooking the Pacific. Two eye-catching towers were added to attract tourists and flags and signage decorated the roof.
Mr. Smith opened the Coast Inn’s first restaurant in 1930. The photo above is likely their newer version opened in 1950. The first bar was opened in 1936 and it was dubbed the South Seas, located at the upper level of the stepped slope. This location would become the famous South Seas bar in the 1940s, and later the Boom Boom Room in the 1980s when the bar was located on the lower level of the stepped slope.
In 1945, the property was occupied by the Coast Inn hotel, liquor store, Palm Garden and Dining Room and the South Seas bar. The commercial space along South Coast Highway was later reconfigured to accommodate the tap room cocktail lounge, restaurant and liquor store. The photo is of Caroline Smith with her oldest son, Dick, who was one of Laguna’s first three policeman 1931-1939. Often Dick would drive the motorcycle when he was assigned to roll out the stop sign downtown and wait in the Broiler diner (owned by Dick Metz family) with 5 cents coffee till someone forgot to stop.