Since its early days as a haven for starving artists, Hermosa Beach has retained a gentle, Bohemian air about it, from the bathhouse on the Strand to the comic-book store on Pier Avenue, its walls strewn with life-size super heroes. Hermosa residents represent an even balance of up-and-coming singles, family types and those for whom time stopped when Joni Mitchell dropped off the pop charts.
One of the events that captures the city's character is the traditional, end-of-the-summer Fiesta de las Artes.
Like most crafts shows, the fiesta has its share of the stained glass, handmade jewelry and ceramic pottery that lends a certain uniformity to fairs from Santa Barbara to the Peninsula. But the Hermosa fair offers a little more.
Perhaps the fiesta seeks them out. More likely, they seek out the fiesta. In any case, it seems to draw like a magnet those who never really left the '60s--or those who would like to return, if only for a weekend.
"It's not like Westwood, or most of the other fairs," said Wendy Lee of Palos Verdes Peninsula. "They have a lot of nice things, but they're too commercial. It's like going to an outdoor department store. Here, there's a real homey, nostalgic sort of feeling.
"I even found myself buying this," she said, laughing as she displayed a record album entitled, "The Engaging Beam of Axonda." "It's very peaceful music; I guess it reminds me of days gone by," she said wistfully.
The nostalgic air that pervaded the fair was not entirely coincidental.
"We do try to create our own aura, which probably is a lot of that late '60s feeling," fiesta director Bill Fowler said. "After all, the fair got its start in 1968, so we were right in the middle of all that. I think we have made a conscious effort to retain that flavor. Adding to the atmosphere were artisans like Joni Trembley, one half of Ocean Magic Jewelers. Wearing flat, Roman-style lace-up sandals, a faded cotton-print skirt and T-shirt, her long, straight hair skinned back in a ponytail, Trembley displayed a sample of her handiwork.
"This is an energy-focusing wand," she explained, holding a foot-long silver rod with three-inch-long quartz and amethyst crystals on each end. Trembley said she is waiting to sell the wand to a faith healer, because she believes in quartz's special properties.
Well, as the flyer said, "when carried or placed near the body, the crystal purifies and balances your mind, emotions and aura." Aura is a word that turns up a lot in Hermosa Beach.
Elsewhere, the next generation of artists got the chance to express their creative consciousness in the form of fluorescent colors on white T-shirts.
Kneeling gingerly on the hot pavement, Shauna Benard, 3, of Manhattan Beach, squirted magenta, bright pink, chartreuse and silver on the minuscule shirt before her. With a final fillip of lime green in the corner, she pronounced the work done.
And how did the artist arrive at the unusual mix of colors? "I just picked one and one and one and one and . . . " Well, you get the idea.
Bob Benard surveyed his daughter's creation with a mixture of pride and puzzlement. "I guess she's just a free spirit," he mused.