What’s in a name? Local park dubbed Louise Leyden for namesake’s artistic acclaim and popularity among residents
By Carlos N. Olvera
Up on the palisades, sitting at the edge of the promontory point overlooking Doheny State Park is the Dana Bluffs Community. The development, on 16 acres, was first laid out to be a hotel site in the 1887 boom era of San Juan by-the-Sea. Its development was like most Dana Point developments, tough. But permission was given in early 1973 over objections from residents that the land was now in public domain since a portion of the site was designated a park in 1887 and it had been in open use for decades. But research noted the county disclaimed the property in 1897 and again in 1925. That did not deter the group from seeking help from the 1972 Orange County Grand Jury. The approval remained, but with a condition that a park be created there.
The name Louise Leyden Park, after longtime Capistrano Beach resident Louise H. Leyden, was chosen by the residents and dedicated in April 1975 with County Supervisor Thomas Riley in attendance. The small, but exceedingly scenic park was situated at the terminus of Via Verde, just off of Camino Capistrano. Originally, Via Verde was planned to continue down the bluff to connect with Pacific Coast Highway below. When that plan was abandoned, a walking path down to PCH was also considered but neither idea ever came to fruition.
Born Louise Hannon, in Fresno in 1898, Leyden married Donald W. Leyden, the son of Harrison Leyden who was the resident superintendent for the development of Capistrano Beach under Doheny.
The family lived in the Doheny House, which remains as a historical structure of Dana Point today, thanks to the efforts of the Dana Point Historical Society. They later had a home near the corner of Calle de Sol and Vista del Mar, which overlooked Estrella. It was a two-story, Spanish Revival design, one of the homes from the Doheny era. In the early morning on Thursday, May 16, 1991 it became a parking lot. Neighbors heard the commotion and were in awe of the sight. The Orange County Board of Realtors bought the property in 1974 adjacent to their office. It was razed to make way for expansion.
Few knew of the pending demolition of a Leyden landmark. Those in the know included Barbara McCarthy of the Capistrano Beach Chamber of Commerce and longtime resident. At the time she was quoted as saying, “The building was a wreck. Over the years it hadn’t been kept up at all.”
As then-chairman of the Dana Point Planning Commission, I was surprised with news of the demolition. At the time, the city had just started its historic preservation plan.
Louise’s husband Don, the superintendent of the Los Nietos Land Co., died in 1951. They had one child, Robert, who died in 1972, and two grandchildren.
Louise moved to Doheny Place, adjacent to Pines Park, in the early ’60s, where she lived out the remainder of her life.
Louise was an award-winning painter displaying her work at many of the Laguna Beach art faires. You can still find some of her paintings for sale on the Internet. She was a member of the Soroptimist and won a fellowship to Zurich, Switzerland for art. She specialized in landscapes and eucalyptus trees. She frequently would return to the Fresno area to teach and display her art. She showed at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. In 1972 she was commissioned by Laguna Federal Saving to do an oil painting of the Western White House in San Clemente. She is listed in “Who was Who in American Art, 1564-1975” by Peter Falk (editor).
When interviewed in 2009, Gwynne Simmons said, “We had the pleasure of being neighbors to Louise when we moved to Doheny Place in Capistrano Beach in April 1968 until she passed away in 1978. She introduced us to the area, taking us to the Pageant of the Masters for our first time, taking us to Chamber of Commerce meetings, inviting us out on a sailing ship cruise to view from the sea the potential building sites along Camino Capistrano, etc.
“She left us baskets of figs on our doorstep, mysteriously, until one day we saw who was delivering those delectable treats! She shared her hollyhocks with us that she said she had gotten on the isle of Majorca off the coast of Spain when visiting there in her youth. She enjoyed seeing our three little boys growing up. And in her last years, she enjoyed visiting with us, sitting under the trees on the patio for tea and banana bread! I feel very honored to have known her generous spirit.”
Carlos N. Olvera is chair select of the OC Historical Commission and mayor of Dana Point.