The site known as Bluebird Canyon Farms has been home to an eclectic and colorful cast of characters over the years. Mirroring the history of Laguna Beach, its story is one of creativity, survival, and reinvention.
Prior to European settlement, what is now Laguna Beach occupied the territorial border of the Tongva and Acjachemen people. Known by the Spaniards as the Gabrielinos and Juaneños respectively, the Tongva and Acjachemen people resided in well-defined permanent villages and seasonal camps up and down the Southern California coast and into the San Joaquin Hills along Orange County’s central coastline.
The first recorded settlement on the site was a homestead established in the late 1800s to early 1900s. During this time, according to stories told by the Laguna Beach Historical Society, the owners, along with the Skidmore Brothers, built a drilling derrick on site for mineral exploration. As the story is told, one night the derrick caught fire, and was completely consumed and destroyed. In 2011, while excavating to install new utilities on site, pieces of large charred timbers and remains of an old cable anchoring system were uncovered which may be have been part of this original installation.
In 1926 the land was purchased by William and Al Schleicher, two brothers who established the Tom Sawyer Camp for Boys. This program provided summer camping experiences for Southern California youth on the property until the summer after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. At that time, the Schleichers were compelled to relocate the camp further inland for fear of a subsequent attack on the West Coast. The property was sold to the Hopkins family who used it as a retreat until the early 1960s.
From the early 1960s until the late 1970s the site was transformed into an Artist’s Colony led by Roger Van De Vanter. A renaissance man, Van De Vanter is a multi-media artist whose work is exhibited in many private collections worldwide including the White House and Guggenheim Museum. His technique for creating multi-layered rubber sandals made popular by Cher in the 1970s, was the inspiration behind the Rainbow Sandal Company. Van De Vanter was an original member of the Sawdust Festival, an art exhibition run democratically by local artists each summer in Laguna Canyon. In its heyday Van De Vanter’s “Colony” hosted a variety of celebrated individuals, including Merry Prankster and author Ken Kesey, guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix, Sonny and Cher Bono, Timothy Leary, and members of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love troupe led by John Griggs.
As that era came to a close, members of the “Colony” drifted away and the site fell into a long period of abandonment and disrepair, becoming a popular hang-out of vagrants until it was purchased in 2010 and efforts began to transform the property into its current incarnation, Bluebird Canyon Farms.
Redeveloping the property from an eroding hillside filled with trash and debris into a thriving, operational farm took four years of hard work. Spearheaded by the current owners, this project required stabilizing the site, removing invasive plants, restoring native plants to combat erosion, complete renovation of the historic buildings, and construction of all infrastructure needed to operate a permaculture farm. Please visit our Farm Tour page to see the results of this labor of love.