Two of Laguna's most extraordinary residents were the subject of a trio of stories that captivated the audience at the Laguna Beach Historical Society presentation Tuesday at City Hall.
Aviation historian Barbara H. Schultz gave folks a peek into the lives of pilots Moyes Stephens and Florence "Pancho" Barnes and Richard Halliburton, who was only included because he was Stephens' passenger.
Barnes was one of the foremost pilots in the so-called Golden Age of Aviation.
Although never a licensed pilot, she was a pioneer aviatrix who flew in the first National Air Race for women in 1939, nine years after she had captured the women's speed record and founded the Women's Air Reserve the following year.
Barnes successfully fought an attempt to bar women pilots from the air during certain times of the month, Schultz said.
Although she married four times, femininity was not Barnes' strong point. She was photographed in a dress when she was six, but not often after that, Schultz said.
"She could swear like a sailor for an hour and never repeat herself," said Schultz.
Barnes worked alongside her ranch hands, raised horses and rode them in rodeos. Barnes reportedly was dubbed "Pancho" after an escape from Mexican bandits with a man she called "Don Quixote," who called her Sancho. She preferred Pancho, Schultz said.
By any name, she was a party girl. She hosted parties at the Happy Bottom Riding Club in the mid-1930s, a way station for pilots stationed at Fort Edwards, and in her Laguna Beach home on her grandparents' North Laguna estate, now known as Smithcliffs.
Guests included Hollywood stunt pilots, actors and actresses and the socially elite, according to the Historical Society's newsletter, "Laguna Life."
There was a rather crude runway for landings that was short and headed straight for the ocean. It has been reported that a least one pilot failed to stop in time and landed on the beach.
Barnes' parties were as raucous as the hostess, hence Grandma's order to move the house that she had inherited from her mother, along with a tidy fortune, which the heiress ran through rather quickly.
Barnes' storied life ended in 1975. She was 73.
Barnes crossed paths with Halliburton through Stephens, a pilot most popularly known for piloting Halliburton around the world, which led to the adventurer's fourth and most famous book, "The Flying Carpet."
Although Stephens was a big name in aviation history, Halliburton was a draw for the Laguna Beach audience, although of less interest to Schultz.
Councilwoman Toni Iseman asked if Schultz had less respect for Halliburton than for Stephens.
"I didn't know him, and I don't know if he had the soul or substance that Moyes had," Schultz said.
Coincidentally, the next morning Iseman participated in a special council meeting on the stalled remodel of Halliburton's home in South Laguna that has created some vibrant debate about city's policies on alterations to historical structures.
"If I ruled the world, I'd go out and buy a case of wine and some snacks and invite everybody to sit down and figure out how to do this right," said Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger.
Councilman Kelly Boyd advised purchasing at least two cases of wine, probably appropriate.