Share this story

Hotel Laguna concept review includes workplan, some proposed design ideas, but lacks details 


A concept review of Hotel Laguna was presented to the Planning Commission this week, although there weren’t a lot of specific details for the commissioners to comment on, they did discuss the importance of renovating the iconic hotel to align with its historic appearance.

During the hearing on Wednesday (Dec. 1), a few commissioners noted that information, like potential materials for the proposed rooftop sign and a landscape plan for the rose garden, would have better helped them shape their feedback. 

There’s not a lot to comment on because there’s not much to the concept review, said Chair Steve Goldman. Although he and his fellow commissioners did emphasize the importance of studying the historic elements of the iconic hotel and sticking closely to those ideas for the renovation. 

Commissioner Susan Whitin suggested taking a forensic look at the paint colors, the rooftop sign, the courtyard (including planting and paving materials) and the awnings.

“A full historic, comprehensive review, starting from the opening of the building through (now) and we can come back and look at it comprehensively,” Whitin said. 

It should specifically look at the “period of significance” during the early 1930s when Hotel Laguna was first built, added Commissioner Ken Sadler. If it didn’t exist on the original building, it’s working against the proposal, he said, and if a proposed feature is different the reasons why should to be thoroughly explained. 

What they reviewed on Wednesday was “unnecessarily vague,” Sadler said. 

The report should be much more detailed and describe the different options for each feature, as evidenced throughout the hotel’s history, several commissioners agreed. 

Although the feedback commissioners did share was helpful, said Community Development Director Marc Wiener. He emphasized that there was no action or vote during the meeting, it was only for informational purposes.

Chair Pro Tem Jorg Dubin recused himself because he’s been engaged to play music in the hotel bar. Since it was an informational hearing, Dubin stayed in the room but did not participate in the discussion. 

Staff presented the short- and long-term workplans and projected timeline, asking for input primarily on the proposed exterior paint colors and rooftop sign.

Hotel Laguna interior

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

An interior view of the Hotel Laguna

Over the past 18 months, the city has been processing permits and entitlements and overseeing work for the renovation of Hotel Laguna, located at 425 S. Coast Highway. Although there have been some up and downs, including several stop-work orders, during the process. 

Most recently in May, following an appeal of the project, the California Coastal Commission found “substantial issue” regarding conformance with the Local Coastal Program based on potential inconsistencies with the LCP and the California Coastal Act. A portion of the work is still on hold until the CCC holds a de novo hearing.

In July, the city partially lifted a stop-work order on the hotel to allow the remodel of the first-floor restaurant, lobby, bar and kitchen areas to be completed. A temporary certificate of occupancy was issued for the restaurant and lobby, which are now open.

But there is still more work to be done, Wiener said. 

The 30-day workplan for the short-term includes modifying the stop-work order for the Marine Room refurbishment and replacing the blade sign on the front of the building in front of the door.

In the mid-term workplan, the next 90-120 days, includes submitting a design review application to repaint the building exterior (includes a power washing) and replace the gallery space tenant. 

Long-term workplan for the next 180-360 days includes renovating the hotel rooms (more cosmetic, not structural, Wiener confirmed), replacing the windows (requires design and historic review), CDP for exterior repair and maintenance work subject of the CCC appeal de novo hearing, CDP for grading that occurred in the plaza, design review and CDP for the Marine Room glass doors and windows and possible restoration of the rooftop sign.

Coastal Commission staff is scheduled to meet with city staff and the developer on-site next week, Wiener confirmed.

Most of the remaining interior work that needs to be done is on the basement level, specifically in the Marine Room, previously called the Coral Room. 

Sadler suggested reverting the Marine Room back to its old name of the Coral Room (to help avoid confusion with the nearby Marine Room tavern).

The space has historically been used for events, meetings, banquets, conferences and other multipurpose functions. The area is an open room format without fixed seating and is meant to be flexible. 

The room previously contained a large bar structure and a server station, which was removed in the 1960s, Wiener explained. A bar and service station is proposed to be rebuilt in the room, and use will continue as an event/multipurpose space. 

A structural engineer hired by the city found it to be structurally sound, Wiener confirmed. 

While the exterior wall is still intact, glass doors were installed to connect to a lower outdoor deck. They are considered an exterior change, requiring a Coastal Development Permit, which is still tied up with the CCC, Wiener explained.

Renovation on the room has stopped, he added, but city staff intends to modify the stop-work order to allow the refurbishment of the interior. The rest of the basement is essentially complete, he said. 

“This is really the final piece of the lower level that will eventually be issued a temporary C-of-O [certificate of occupancy] and be reopened to the public, continuing its historic use,” Wiener said. 

If the sliding glass doors are not approved, they can be removed or become a very expensive “curtain,” said DJ Moore of Latham & Watkins, who spoke on behalf of the Laguna Beach Company, the lease owner of the historic hotel. 

LBC, which is headed up by local real estate developer Mo Honarkar, provided a video showcasing the renovations. The Honarkar family is committed to restoring the hotel in a way that honors its rich history, but also provides modern comforts, Moore said. 

“Their goal is to realize the hotel’s full potential as a historic community asset and benefit to downtown Laguna Beach within the building’s existing envelope,” Moore said. 

They’ve worked with city staff to resolve past issues, Moore said, and they want to move forward with the rehabilitation of the iconic property. The primary use is not changing, he emphasized, which will hopefully address some of the concerns raised. 

Hotel Laguna historic sign

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy LB Historical Society

A historical photo of Hotel Laguna showing the rooftop sign

Most of the discussion on Wednesday revolved around the hotel’s history, with a lot of focus on the rooftop sign.

The proposed rooftop sign would be approximately 37 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It would need a variance because of its size, Wiener noted. 

Commissioners were very hesitant about the sign, primarily because of its size and potential lighting needs. It’s the size of a boxcar, noted Commissioner Steve Kellenberg. Several agreed that that they lean toward historically accurate signage. 

Sadler also pointed out that the rooftop sign was not always present and asked for a study of the sign’s history.

Plans are still very conceptual, Moore confirmed, and the rooftop sign hasn’t been designed yet.

Proposed paint colors include a gray for the trim and a light off-white for the body of the building. Commissioners didn’t have specific feedback on the paint colors, but did comment that it should align with the historic look of the building. 

They don’t typically do a historic review of paint colors, but that can be added into the process, Wiener said. 

There was also some concern that the power washing could potentially damage some of the more fragile stucco on the structure.

They also asked that the workplan return with more information on the hardscape and landscape design. 

A handful of public speakers commented on the project and were split between concern and support for the project. 

Several mentioned the hotel’s historic significance in the city and emphasized the delicate care that needs to be taken to ensure Hotel Laguna is properly restored.

Resident Gene Felder mentioned that the “humongous neon sign” would need a variance and is unfair to other businesses. And it wasn’t always there, he added, sharing several historic photos of the hotel that don’t show the rooftop sign. 

“Get rid of the sign, forget the sign, the sign has no historic significance,” Felder said.

It’s a beautiful building, he said, and should soon be added to the national register for historic places, Felder added. 

Other commenters agreed about the hotel’s historic significance and suggested staying as accurate as possible. 

Some speakers were excited about the project and appreciate the attention to detail that’s already going into the project. It will bring that part of the street back to life when fully restored.

Resident Karen Martin wished the project had been done sooner. 

“The restoration is phenomenal,” Martin said. “This is an amazing opportunity for the residents and for the town.”

The historic features inside the building have been renewed and opened up, she said. Parts of the building were gutted in the last few decades and were in horrible condition, Martin noted. It’s great to see the Honarkar family take the risk and put so much work into the project, she said.


Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.


Shaena Stabler, President & CEO -

Lana Johnson, Editor -

Tom Johnson, Publisher -

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

Email: with news releases, letters, etc.


Email: for questions about advertising


*The content and ads in this publication do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the publisher.

© 2024 2S Publishing, LLC - All Rights Reserved.