Through fires and festivals, psychedelic evangelism and mansionization, the house on the hill has stood watch over Laguna Canyon — a sentinel whose face has changed over the decades, but whose mystical appeal hasn't.
"It was a magical house," said Lillian Kahan, 93, who called the rustic perch home for 42 years. "It sounds kind of dumb to say that, but it's true."
On a recent evening, Kahan and current owner Marie Voss reminisced about living on the 6-acre property, which stretches down a steep, cactus-dotted hill to the back side of the Sawdust Art Festival grounds.
They chatted in Kahan's living room in a Lake Forest senior community, where she's lived for about a decade.
The house was a welcoming place despite its secluded location, both women said, a place where friends, neighbors and relatives congregated to enjoy each other's company and get a little closer to nature.
Now it's up for sale again, and the pair said they hope to see it passed on to someone who appreciates its history.
"The right person's gotta go up there and love it," Kahan said.
An apricot tree that Kahan planted bears fruit in a small yard landscaped with succulents. A patio with just enough room for two lawn chairs looks out to a sliver of ocean in one direction and winding Laguna Canyon Road in the other.
The babble of small fountains and the tinkling of wind chimes floats over a faux boulder retaining wall that Voss built.
Kahan — whose accent exposes her Brooklyn roots even after nearly six decades on the West Coast — and her late husband, Harry, first passed through Laguna Beach when they were on vacation. They decided they liked it.
Soon they managed to "acquire" the property, Kahan said with a coy smile, complete with a pot belly stove in the living room for chilly canyon nights. Property records say the house was built in 1930, though there's little information about who lived there before the Kahans moved in in 1958.
There, the couple grew to love their adopted hometown, embedding themselves in the community of artists and outsiders for which Laguna Canyon is known.
At the house, the retired couple hosted big parties, cooking up hot dogs on an early 1900s-era wood stove for anyone who stopped by. When they marveled at deer, hawks and mountain lions, it seemed like the curiosity was mutual.
"I was a little Jewish girl from an apartment," Kahan said. "So it was a completely different life. We lived almost like we were camping."
From there, the Kahans watched Laguna evolve, from quaint beach hangout to the "posh" community it is now, she recalled.
By the time the late '60s rolled around, the couple learned to keep an eye on "Dodge City" down the hill. There, residents including former Harvard professor and LSD advocate Timothy Leary experimented with drugs and, well, dodged the authorities.
In the book "Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World," by Nicholas Schou (a copy of which Voss keeps on her coffee table), Kahan's husband is referred to as "an elderly man who lived in a house overlooking Woodland Drive, [who] let them conduct surveillance from his property."
But as the book recounts, the moment the man left town, the "hippies," in order to maintain their plants, tapped into the couple's water line.
Reading from the book elicited a cackle from Kahan, who remembered returning from a long trip only to find that whopping $70 water bill.
But Kahan said she had a bit of a hippie streak herself.