Pancho & George Hurrell – Part I

During the Roaring ’20s and into the early depression years of the 1930’s, Florence (Pancho) Barnes typically spent weekends at her beach home, Dos Rocas, in Laguna Beach. Perched atop a 200-foot jagged bluff jutting out over Emerald Bay and the Pacific Ocean was her 10 bedroom home, designed by architect Frederick Roehrig (designer of the famous Castle Green). Sited on the cliffs facing the ocean, Dos Rocas afforded amazing panoramic views of the ocean, coastline and of the Laguna hills. At the northern end of Laguna Beach, this property was very private, as she owned the surrounding 40 acres along the cliffs in the area now known as Smithcliffs.

The Hollywood crowd, enamored with Florence, regularly made their way down to Barnes’ prominent mansion. Stories continue to this day of raucous partying, complete with liquor flown in from Mexico (at the height of Prohibition), and wild horseback rides in the nude in the moonlight. She built the first fresh water swimming pool in Laguna Beach right next to her outdoor patio-bar, including portholes in the pool wall so guests partying in the basement poker parlor could watch swimmers cavorting at her pool parties. And after Florence earned her pilots license in 1928, she installed a landing strip on her property so that her pilot friends could fly in for a visit, and also so she could fly movie moguls and film stars to her parties. Among the regular Hollywood guests were Silent film star Ramon Novarro, John Wayne, Erich von Stroheim, and Mary Pickford. Many famous and soon-to-be famous artists were also a big part of the scene at Dos Rocas.

Among Florence’s closest friends were Ramon Novarro (by now MGM’s top male star) and Nels Griffith, the son of William A. Griffith, then-president of the Laguna Beach Art Association and a well-respected plein air painter. One artist in particular became a fast and best friend of Florence in 1925. Florence and her first husband, the reverend Rankin Barnes, were invited to Christmas dinner at William Griffith’s home. The night would prove pivotal to this young artist’s career – a newly-arrived painter named George Hurrell. Hurrell had recently celebrated his 21st birthday on June 1, 1925, the day he arrived in Laguna Beach after a long road-trip from Chicago to further his artistic talents. George Hurrell had been encouraged to move to the thriving Laguna Beach art colony to ‘get serious’ about having a career as a fine art painter. Little did Hurrell know at that fateful dinner that Florence Barnes would change his life forever…

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Dr. Louis F. D'Elia is the custodian of the Estate of Pancho Barnes and a Trustee of the Flight Test Museum Foundation at Edwards Air Force Base.