Every summer, thousands flock to Laguna Beach to enjoy The Pageant of The Masters, a one-of-a-kind art exhibition that is arguably one of the most unique productions in the world. For ninety minutes, the audience enjoys tableaux vivants, or “living pictures” which are stunningly accurate re-creations of works of art, with real people posing to portray the subjects.
This year, the Festival of the Arts celebrates it’s 85th anniversary with the Pageant of the Masters production of “The Grand Tour.” Performances continue until August 31st.
The Pageant of The Masters is known for the amazing technical production, the original musical score played by a live orchestra, and the cast of dedicated local volunteers. But many do not know that this Laguna Beach classic as an Irvine connection.
The Festival of The Arts began in the depths of the Depression, when locals in Laguna Beach were struggling to keep their artist colony alive.
“In 1932, they began their crusade…to find new ways to display their wares. Ideas were presented, locations were discussed. How and when would be the most profitable time of year for the event?”
-Merle and Mabel Ramsay “Laguna Beach: The First Hundred Years.”
The Festival of the Arts began that summer as a showcase for local artists and The Pageant of The Masters was started a year later. Both events were staged at various locations around Laguna Beach. One of the favored spots was a eucalyptus grove next to the Women’s Club. (near present day City Hall) The Laguna Beach Arts Association negotiated with the city to purchase the land, but an agreement was never made. A new permanent home was sought and the present Festival location in Laguna Canyon was selected.
The Irvine Connection
The land was part of James H. Irvine’s ranch.
“The site of the Festival of Arts and Pageant of The Masters was to be a community park, which was chosen in 1938. In April, the citizen’s of Laguna Beach passed a “Park, Music, and Advertising Tax” of 10 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation to purchase and develop the Irvine property.”
“The original deed stated that the city ‘shall use said property for the following purposes only, and for no other, to wit: for the construction, enlargement, improvement, maintenance and operation of the outdoor amphitheater now situated theron and known as Irvine Bowl, for the production and holding of concerts, theatrical performances, festivals, exhibits and any all forms of public entertainment and recreation.”
-Belinda Blacketer “History of Laguna Canyon.”
The Irvine Bowl was dedicated on November 16, 1941, but the advent of WWII stalled the Pageant’s performances for the next four years. Then, in 1947, after James Irvine’s death, the park was donated to the City of Laguna Beach by the Irvine family.
“James Irvine donated the Irvine Bowl and some adjoining acreage to provide the city with necessary recreational and cultural facilities. The Bowl soon became an indispensable community institution and made possible the present development of the famous Laguna Art Festival.”
-Robert Glass Cleland “The Irvine Ranch”
If you’d like to see a fun and informative documentary about the Pageant of The Arts from 1958, click here to watch..