Albert Trevino, 74, said that a few days after the landslide in Bluebird Canyon, a few people were allowed 15 minutes to venture into the precariously dangling home to recover keepsakes and valuables. Trevino's home was one of 20 destroyed or severely damaged when the coastal hillside collapsed in the early morning hours of June 1.
Trevino said his son, Laurence, and a neighbor, Dave Hagen, grabbed a few items from the home, including a painting of the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano that Trevino bought at a garage sale for less than $100.
"Might have been $20 at the time," Albert Trevino told CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.
The painting had hung on the living room wall for 20 years, but just two months before the slide, it was moved to another room. A lucky thing that was. The living room is now hanging over the cliff, and remains strictly off limits.
When he was able to go through some of the rooms, the younger Trevino grabbbed the painting. "The only reason I grabbed it was because my mom loved the mission so much," said Laurence Trevino. "At least that way they'd always have something they love if they moved into a new house."
The Trevinos took the painting to the home of Dave and Pat Hagen for safe-keeping.
"I stepped out, around the corner, and said, 'Oh my God, that's so beautiful,'" said Pat Hagen, who is an artist.
She was the first to notice the artist's signature on the 1923 painting, entitled "Evening Shadows," and realized the painting of a woman standing in front of the mission was the work of Joseph Kleitsch.
Kleitsch is one of the giants of California Impressionism, a movement that helped establish Laguna Beach as a significant art colony in the early 20th century. Kleitsch captured California landmarks in oil before they were changed by time. He had a home and studio in Laguna Beach before his death in 1931.
Pat Hagen called Albert Trevino.
"She said, 'Do you know what you have?'" he recalled. "I said, 'No I don't. We like it very much.'"
"She said, 'This is a really remarkable painting.'"
Hagen invited Ray Redfern, a Laguna Beach art dealer, to look at the painting, and he, too, recognized it as a Kleitsch — and appraised it at $500,000. A Kleitsch painting recently sold at auction for slightly more than $367,000.
"I've had calls from Hawaii, New York, California," said Redfern, owner of Redfern Gallery. "All my major clients are interested in the painting."
Because of the value of the painting, Pat Hagen and Trevino called the Laguna Art Museum, which agreed to house it in the director's office. The museum has four paintings by the Hungarian-born Kleitsch, who was especially known for his paintings of Laguna in the 1920s.
Redfern said the painting is even more rare because Kleitsch painted the mission when few others were around to document the storied landmark in such quality. "The historical significance will bring in five times more than others," he said.
Redfern said he is brokering the sale of the painting for free for the Trevinos.
"There's no insurance coverage for landslides. It's zero," Albert Trevino said. So he and his family are to use the sale money to build a new house.
"The miracle is that we lost the house worth $1.8 million," Albert Trevino said. "Isn't life just a series of twists and turns? You don't know what can happen."