Denise Westgaard-Pike, a Laguna native, earned the praise of her peers recently and was named realtor of the year for 2016. She was also elected to serve a fourth term on the board of Laguna Board of Realtors, which besides representing the interests of brokers and agents actively fundraises for charity. Like her father, one of the town’s best known lifeguard chiefs, Westgaard-Pike finds life an adventure and aims to help people by helping them find a home or make the community a better place.
Q: What was it like growing up in Laguna Beach?
A: I moved here as a young kid in 1964. If you think Laguna is cool now, you should have seen it in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It was a very small town back then; everyone new each other. There was the typical influx of people in the summer, which was fun. It was super safe and we walked everywhere. It just had that really nice feeling in town, quaint. It’s still a cute and charming town, but new money has come in and houses have changed significantly since my days growing up here. People wanted to come here because of its quaint charm and comfort, but ended up changing the houses and making them bigger, which has brought a different feel to the town.
Q: Westgaard is a well-known name in Laguna.
A: My dad, Dean, was a lifeguard here for 17 years and the old lifeguard station was memorialized after him; his name used to be on the lifeguard station. When they rebuilt it they took it off. But he is still well-remembered. Back in the mid ‘50s he worked as a lifeguard in Laguna on the weekends while he went to college during the week days. He continued as a lifeguard when he became a professor at OCC. He did a lot of things. He was the first to sky dive over Main Beach into the water. Roy Holmes skydived with him too. They did it annually. He even skydived a week before he died of cancer. The following week, his ashes where spread over the same place.
Q: What about the Himalayas? Rumor has it you hiked it.
A: No, it wasn’t the Himalayas. Rumor has it wrong! It was Kilimanjaro and my dad and brothers climbed it. I really wanted to go, but had to stay behind with my mother so she wouldn’t be alone in a foreign country. But it was just one stop in our travels. My dad had taken a sabbatical from teaching in 1974 and we went around the world backpacking, living on about $5 a day, staying in hostels. We were all certified scuba divers and dove all over, including the wrecks from World War II. We also spent three months living in New Zealand, renting a house next to another family, Hank and Shirley Boyd, who were longtime Laguna Beach locals. I went to school there, too. We dove all over the coast and many times traded lobster for petrol!
Q: How did you wind up in the realty business?
A: It wasn’t something I set out to do. I had graduated from Laguna Beach High School and finished up at San Diego State. I was working at a restaurant in Laguna where I eye’d the cute chef working there. We got married and in 1987 moved to Hawaii. All three of our boys were born on the Big Island and we lived there for 10 years. In 1995, still in Hawaii, I got my real estate license and sold timeshares and residential real estate. Times were pretty good.
Q: But times were not always so good to you.
A: While in Hawaii, my husband was offered a promotion to work at the Ritz Carlton in Palm Beach, Fla., which was fantastic, so we moved back to the mainland in 1997. From Palm Beach, we moved several times with the Ritz, to South Carolina and Georgia. Then we ended up in Bermuda Dunes near La Quinta, bought a house and put our kids through school there. October 2009 hit and afterwards we pretty much lost everything; my husband lost his job, we lost our house.
Q: Why did you return to Laguna?
A: After a year of not working, my husband was offered a job as an executive chef at the USC Athletic Department, so he said let’s move to L.A. I said let’s move to Laguna and you commute to L.A. In 2010 we moved back to Laguna where my youngest child was going to be a freshman at Laguna High. Well, we had moved to the canyon and later that year the floods came and we lost three cars. But I consider ourselves lucky. We ended up all okay, my husband and sons were out rescuing people in the high waters. After that, we went to much higher ground and moved to Arch Beach Heights where we still are today.
Q: And you returned to real estate?
A: A couple of years ago I joined Team Laguna. I now work full-time with 10 other women selling homes and managing rentals. It’s a very nurturing environment where we all work together. Plus half of us have lived in Laguna most of our lives. It’s just a great atmosphere.
Q: Any thoughts about the real estate market in 2017?
A: I’m getting different views from different people and all I can say is no one has a crystal ball to see what is going to happen. It also depends on how you look at things. But you know, it’s Laguna, and there is nowhere like this town. Hopefully Ma and Pa can still stay here.
Q: Ma and Pa?
A: The demographics point that a significant amount of the population in Laguna is 65 years and older. Their homes can become difficult for them keep up as well as to navigate, such as steps. Yet there is nowhere they could go and still have a beach life. This is something we are working with at the board, helping seniors. Like we did with the Boys and Girls Club, where we painted, built up and cleaned their whole yard, we also fixed up a home for an elderly couple. We’d love to do that on a larger level, something we are dipping our toes into so we can give back even more to our community.
1190 Glenneyre Street
Laguna Beach, California 92651
By Gina Dostler