What's It All About?

To celebrate Laguna Beach’s 96th birthday, join the Laguna Art Museum for a lecture on the city’s history presented by Eric Jessen.


Advance tickets recommended.

Museum members: $7

Non-members: $14


About the Speaker

Eric Jessen retired from his position as Chief of Acquisition, Planning & Development for Orange County Harbors, Beaches & Parks (now OC Parks) in 2005. He was with the department for 31 years.  Prior to that, he was a master planner for large projects including Balboa Park in San Diego and Howard Hughes landholdings in California and Nevada.  While he was in college, Eric did the historic landscape restoration of the Villa Rockledge, Laguna’s only home on the National Register of Historic Places. Eric’s undergraduate and graduate work was in physical geography and biogeography, both at CSU Long Beach.


Eric started with the County Harbors, Beaches & Parks Department in 1975 when they had about 7,000 acres in regional parks. During his tenure, the system grew to 41,000 acres in regional harbors, beaches, and parks, 1100 acres in local and community parks, and ten historic sites. He laid the groundwork for an additional 20,000 acres that have since been established. He personally negotiated the dedication for Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park in his living room at 463 Bluebird Canyon Drive in 1979.


Eric has played a vital role in establishing twenty of the County’s regional parks, including Aliso & Wood Canyons and Laguna Coast Wilderness Parks, Limestone Canyon & Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, Upper Newport Bay Ecological Preserve, historic sites including the Helena Modjeska home in the Santa Ana Mountains and the Irvine Ranch Historic Park. His last large construction projects included reconstruction of the Irvine Mansion as the Katie Wheeler Library in Irvine.


Eric’s ancestors settled in Santa Ana in the early 1870’s, where they built carriages and farming equipment for the county’s pioneer farmers, including James Irvine II. As the business transitioned into the automotive era, his grandfather developed the automatic transmission.  His great grandfather, John Peter Jessen, also founded the Santa Ana Marble works.


In 1916 the Jessens built a home on a sandbar known as Balboa Island. In 1923 his dad’s uncle, Charlie Dean, who was captain of the USC Trojans football team from 1919-21, built their first Laguna home  and established one of Laguna’s first insurance companies. Eric’s family maintained homes in Los Angeles for career purposes, where he was born in 1946. He was raised in Beverlywood and settled in Laguna full time in 1966 when he went to work for Jack Hornbeak’s Chevron Station next to Benton’s Coffee Shop on Main Beach and then Laguna Nursery.

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