"Shanty Village at Topanga Creek Awaits Doom – Development"

County to Get Landlord's Plans for Homes, Commercial Areas

by Robert W. Stewart
Times Staff Writer

Only a makeshift fence, fashioned from cracked wooden doors and a discarded window, stands between Murf the Surf's ramshackle cottage and the high edge of Topanga Creek.

But for half a century the two-room dwelling that Murf, otherwise known as John Murphy, rents for $240 a month has somehow eluded the winter floods that sweep mud, houses and sometimes people down Topanga Canyon to the sea.

Despite that run of luck, Murphy knows that his rustic creekside home is doomed – not by nature but by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, the landlord that own the ragtag collection of homes, cabins and shacks that for more years than most people can remember has squatted in the delta at the mouth of Topanga Canyon, at the eastern edge of Malibu.

On Tuesday the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider a set of plans that, if approved, will all but guarantee the destruction of what is left of the community at Topanga Creek, a funky, laid-back seaside shanty-town that sprang up after World War I, when flocks of Angelenos first began driving out the coast highway to escape the city for the weekend.

Homes, Shops, Channel

In place of the aging wooden cabins, weathered roadside businesses and the ever-changing creek channel, the plans would substitute sparkling new apartment buildings and condominiums, upscale shops and restaurants and a new multimillion-dollar channel to safely and permanently route Topanga Creek to the ocean.

According to one private estimate, the plans would allow the Athletic Club to construct between 700 and 800 residential dwellings in an area that now holds 80-odd homes, 10 businesses and an aging 24-cabin motor court.

Nearby, on the bluff east of Topanga Canyon Boulevard, north of Sunset Mesa, the Athletic Club has proposed development of a 20-lot housing subdivision, where lot buyers would spend perhaps $1 million to build their homes.

Attorneys for the Athletic Club insist that only the plans for the housing subdivision are definite. Specific development plans for the flood plain, where more than 80 cabins still stand, will come later. But it seems clear that it is only a matter of time before all the old structures are bulldozed and the community at the mouth of Topanga is just a memory.

80 Cottages Torn Down

The last remnants of the other half of the Topanga Creek community, on the beach side of Pacific Coast Highway, were obliterated in January, 1979, when the state of California completed demolition of 80 beach cottages once owned by the Athletic Club. The club sold the cottages and a 1.1-mile strip of Topanga Beach to the state in 1973 for $6 million.

"I think (the area) is going to get wiped out, no question about it," said Murphy, 36, who plays guitar in a band called Blue Juice and spins records for KBU, the Malibu cable radio station, when he's not riding the waves at Topanga Beach.

H. Randall Stoke, an attorney with Latham & Watkins, the law firm that represents the Athletic Club, put it another way: "I'm sure the club isn't looking forward to the perpetuation of that housing."

Understandably so. From its stately headquarters at 431 W. 7th St. in downtown Los Angeles, behind the beige brick, gilt-lettered doors and green and white awning, the Los Angeles Athletic Club manages a nationwide portfolio of top-shelf properties that hold little similarity to the shanties of Topanga.

Those properties include holdings on South Olive and South Figueroa streets in downtown Los Angeles, the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, more than 900 acres in Amador County, more than 1,250 acres near Lake Buena Vista in Kern County and shopping centers in Arizona, Arkansas and New Mexico. That's in addition to the 1,657 acres the club owns in lower Topanga Canyon.

Residents of Topanga Creek said the club pays little attention to them or their dwellings, most of which are all but invisible from Pacific Coast Highway.

Community Marked by Mailboxes

The only clues to the community's existence are two collections of weathered mailboxes.

One set stands just off the coast highway, east of a surfboard shop, at the head of a dirt road known as Topanga Canyon Lane. The lane runs down an incline to a low-lying clearing surrounded by towering vegetation, then stops at the creek. Residents call the locale "the Snake Pit."

The other set of mailboxes is around the corner, on the west side of Topanga Canyon Boulevard, a few hundred feet north of the coast highway. A gravel and dirt road snakes down from the west side of the boulevard to the Rodeo Grounds, a larger residential area up the creek.

To get to the Rodeo Grounds, residents must drive across the creek bed. In bad weather, they leave their cars on the boulevard and walk home on a footbridge over the creek.

The village that nestles along the edges of Topanga Creek is as close to a fantasy as the real world usually gets. It has the feeling of a place where gnomes and trolls and dark-water creatures from another world might find a happy home.

"I call it Ghetto Malibu," said Diane Miller, a 33-year-old massage therapist who rents a modest size house on the Athletic Club property about a hundred yards south of Murphy's cottage on Old Malibu Road.

Road Shored Up After Flood

The road that leads into the Rodeo Grounds was shored up with gravel after the last big flood, in February, 1980, buried a dozen buildings in mud and debris. The water line to the area is now suspended above the road on poles, along with the telephone wires and electrical cables.

Despite those precautions, several cabins still crouch below the level of the roadbed, barely visible, surrounded by thick ferns and overgrown weeds, apparently oblivious to the threat of another flood.

Many of the homes are neatly maintained, but the paint on many others is peelings. Plywood additions and jury-rigged repairs appear to be the rule rather than the exception.

There is a reason for that. According to a half-dozen creek dwellers interviewed by The Times, their leases make it clear that the Athletic Club takes no responsibility for maintaining the houses that it owns.

"In our leases, it says, 'We (the club) are not responsible for items A through Z. You will pay for everything. Don't come to us for any problems, because you are on your own.'" Murphy said. "They're just in it for the money right now, and who can blame them?"

Month-to-Month Leases

Murphy was one of a handful of residents who would allow a reporter to quote them by name. Since all the leases on the club property are renewed on a month-to-month basis, several residents said they feared that their leases would be canceled if their comments angered club officials.

The fear of being thrown out of what is perhaps the cheapest housing in all of the area is also a reason that residents usually don't complain about health problems on their property, several said.

"When we moved into this house, it was a disaster," said one resident, who asked not to be named. "I got staph (infection) from removing the carpets off the floor."

In addition to removing the carpets, that creek dweller recalled repairing holes in the ceilings and the walls and flushing out a family of rodents. The problems didn't end there.

The pipes in the old house were so corroded that the water pumped through them was undrinkable, even though the county waterworks pump station is less than half a mile away.

"All this green junk and stuff comes out," one resident said. So the people who live in that house buy bottled water.

Aging septic systems are another health problem.

Drain Fields Back Up in Winter

"Everyone has a drain field," another resident said. "We're in a delta, and the end result is that in wintertime, when the ground gets saturated, the drain fields start to back up. The pumping guy can come out here and pump out your cesspool and it will fill up again in a week. Basically you just have to learn not to take 16 showers a day, not to flush the toilet 80 times. I mean you're just faced with that."

One woman recalled that following a particularly bad season, she and the man she lived with were forced to build a cesspool. Actually, she said, it was more like a ditch. It was never inspected by county health officials. "Nothing is," she said.

"I would suspect that none of the houses would pass health codes," Murphy said. "This is not a modern community."

The county Department of Health Services inspects single-family dwellings for health code violations only when someone makes a complaint, according to Calvin Z. Miller, a senior public health specialist with the department's rural sanitation section.

Annual inspections are made only of buildings that contain five or more dwelling units. None of the county inspection records are available to the public, Miller said.

Residents said they generally do not complain because they are happy to be left alone, both by the county and by the Athletic Club.

Even the creek dwellers acknowledge that their neighborhood does not have the best of reputations.

"I think that the Malibu people would like to see this place go," said the woman who will not drink her tap water. "They think it's (full of) degenerates and druggies, that it's an eyesore, that what this area represents is really a negative part of Malibu."

The community does have its darker side. Local legend, undocumented but officially undisputed, holds that Charles Manson and his band of followers briefly made the canyon bottom home during the spring of 1968, before the group moved the Spahn Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, at the northern end of Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

There is no doubt, however, that on the morning of August 10, 1969, just a few hours after participating in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles, Manson followers Linda Kasabian, Susan Atkins and Steve Grogan made their way to a shack on the Athletic Club property. They stopped to visit a friend of Susan Atkins, stayed perhaps an hour, smoked pot, then hitchhiked back to the Spahn Ranch. The incident was recounted in detail at the Manson murder trial.

"Because of its openness, it (the area) still seems to attract all the lost souls," Murphy said. "I don't known why it is, but they just seem to get off the bus at Topanga…. You see just about everything out here. It's a real slice of life."

Spirit of Community and Camaraderie

At the same time, Murphy said, there is a spirit of community and camaraderie in the neighborhood that is unequalled in more well-heeled districts.

"Not that many people come and go," he said. "A lot of people have been here for a long time. I have rich parents and I was born and raised in a rich community and I found it very cold. Here I get up and I walk to the store in the morning and the store's 200 yards away. And in the 200-yard walk there and back I must say hello to 20 people. It's a beautiful thing."

Blanche Gaskins and her husband Charles have lived in the Topanga Beach Motel since 1965 and managed it since 1974. Now they own the business. Like everyone else, they lease the buildings and the property they stand on from the Athletic Club.

"A lot of people think this is a bad neighborhood. But it isn't," the 67-year-old Gaskins said in a Midwestern accent acquired years ago in Dodge City, Kansas.

"The guys that run around, they have long hair, long wild hair. Most of the people around here, a lot of them are surfers. A lot of them don't work a lot. But most of them, they’re not bad people. They're just casual. They just don't like to work too hard."

Topanga Creek for more than 50 years has been a jumping-off place for people tired of working too hard. Originally part of a vast land grant, Rancho Boca de Santa Monica, that bordered the eastern edge of Frederick H. Rindge's Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit, Topanga Creek by 1925 had become a weekend resort on the still-uncompleted coast highway to Oxnard.

A promotional booklet published that year by the company operating the Topanga and Las Flores Canyon stage coaches proclaimed, "Swimming is the leading diversion of Topanga Beach, though dancing claims its share of the popularity."

Topanga Beach Tent City and Bungalows, near the site of the present-day motel, advertised a dance floor for guests less than 100 feet from the ocean.

Nearby were a service station that sold Red Crown and Union gasoline "at city prices" and Marmont Studio, where tourists could buy original paintings as souvenirs of their visit to the canyon.

By that time the Los Angeles Athletic Club was already 45 years old. The club was founded in 1880 and reorganized in 1905 by Frank A. Garbutt, one of the founders of both Paramount Pictures and Union Oil Co..

A Guarantee of Financial Health

Garbutt, according to articles he later published in The Times, believed that real estate investments were one of the surest ways to guarantee the Athletic Club's continuing financial health.

In 1924 and 1925, as part of its acquisition program, the club bought a four-ninths interest in nearly 1,7000 acres in lower Topanga Canyon. The remaining interest reportedly was held by corporations under the control of William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate. According to Athletic Club records, the acquisition was negotiated by Harry Chandler, publisher of The Times and a member of the club's board of directors.

The club acquired Hearst's remaining interest in the property in 1943.

During the late 1920s and 1930s the managers of the Topanga property, who answered to Hearst, began leasing out for periods of 90 days tents and cabin sites along the beach an in the delta.

Soon visitors began to build more permanent structures on the land they had leased. Cottages and cabins began to sprout. The cabins were used on weekends by harried city dwellers who longed for a day or two near the coast and the mountains.

In the years after World War II, as the housing shortage in Los Angeles County became critical, more and more leaseholders began using their cabins and cottages as permanent residences, according to the old-timers in the community. Other leaseholders in turn rented out their cabins to others, sometimes making a hefty profit.

In 1956 the Athletic Club sold a large section of land at the southeast corner of its Topanga property to a private developer, who built what became the Sunset Mesa housing development. About the same time, the club began converting its 90-day site leases into long-term leases, some for periods of up to 17 years.

By 1963 the Athletic Club was making plans to develop the rest of its Topanga holdings, according to its attorneys. A year later the state Senate passed a resolution asking the state Department of Parks and Recreation to study the possible acquisition of Topanga Beach as a state park. Club officials abandoned their development plans while they waited to see what would happen. The wait lasted 16 years.

After years of negotiation the state finally acquired about 30 acres of the club's beach property in 1973. That same year the last of the long-term leases expired, and the club took over ownership of all the cabins and cottages on the land that had not been turned over to the state.

The state began condemnation proceedings on almost all of the rest of the Topanga property in 1979, but gave up the effort a year later, apparently after running out of money for park acquisitions.

That's when the Athletic Club dusted off its development plans.

State's On-Again, Off-Again Efforts

A senior Athletic Club official, who agreed to speak with The Times only on condition that he not be quoted by name, said that the present condition of the property along the creek is the direct result of the state's on-again, off-again attempts to acquire the Athletic Club holdings.

"They did nothing but back us further and further in the corner," the official said. "If they hadn't started all this threat of condemnation back in the mid-'60s, we would have gone down there and developed the area into a modern commercial property."

The low rents charged by the club were based on the clear understanding that residents would perform their own maintenance, the official said. In recent years, county rent control regulations have prevent the club from raising the rents to levels that would allow major renovations, he added.

The club does spend thousands of dollars a year on brush clearance to protect the area from fire. "That's quite a burden," the official said.

Although the houses on the club property may not be to everyone's taste, they do provide housing near the Malibu beach for people of modest means, he added.

After several years of study, the Athletic Club in 1981 proposed construction of four residential developments on mesas in the four corners of its remaining property. None of those developments showed up on the interim plan for Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains that was approved by the Board of Supervisors a year ago.

Proposed amendments to that plan, which are to be considered by the supervisors Tuesday, would allow the club to develop 30 one-house lots on about 60 acres, 40 of which are located directly north of the Sunset Mesa project.

According to county planners, that housing development would require moving perhaps 1 million cubic yards of earth and construction of a road up from Topanga Canyon Boulevard at a grade of about 20 degrees.

Development of the property north of Sunset Mesa is strongly opposed by residents of that development, who contend that it would create a stream of traffic from Topanga Canyon Boulevard through their neighborhood to Pacific Coast Highway.

Stoke, the Athletic Club attorney, dismissed that argument. Streets in the new development would be private, he said, and access through Sunset Mesa would be for emergencies only.

Plan Calls for 'Urban Center'

Less certain are development plans for the creek bed. A separate planning document that the supervisors will also consider Tuesday, the Malibu Local Coastal Program, calls for creation of an "urban center" at the mouth of Topanga Canyon.

About 10 acres at the mouth of the canyon, the plan says, are designated for commercial uses. "Hotels, motels, restaurants and other convenience commercial (facilities) could be located here to serve the visitors to the recently expanded Topanga State Beach."

Land adjacent to the commercial area is set aside for residential construction, with densities of up to 30 dwellings per acre.

Despite that, Stoke said Athletic Club officials have yet to decide exactly how to develop the creek mouth. Whatever they do will require construction of a flood control channel, at a cost of several million dollars, and filling in the low-lying areas that are now homes to some 150 creek dwellers.

That fill could come from the top of the 20-acre parcel on the west side of the property that the supervisors will be asked to designate for residential development, Stoke said.

Once the club has completed all its development plans, Stoke said, it may be willing to donate some of its property to the state for public use.

Aneta Dixon moved to the Topanga Beach Motel in 1951, when she was 34 years old. She has lived there ever since. Near the hulk of her 1946 Hudson, parked next to her cabin, she has cultivated a garden of bromeliads, begonias, palms, ferns and roses. She won't say how many animals share her tiny living space.

"I don't know how long the Athletic Club has owned this property," she said with a smile. "But I think they've had it damn near forever. Of course, I'd be in a terrible position if I have to move. I can't afford to buy a house. I'm 65 years old. In a way, it really makes you wonder."

Diane Miller is less troubled by the prospect of development.

"I feel that that kind of thing is inevitable with all the building that is going on," she said. "Hopefully, when they decide to do it I'll be on my way to another place, another life. I don't have any control over it. If it happens, it happens. You have to let go of things in life."


"Topanga Beach:
Topanga is a State of Mind"

by Jim Fitzpatrick

Editor's Note: Topanga Beach may become a state park. The land is currently owned by the Los Angeles Athletic Club and is leased to the residents. Most leases run until August 1973. However, reports indicate an escrow has been opened for the sale of the land to the state with the condition that all structures be removed. Whether Topanga eventually becomes a state park remains to be seen. In the meantime Topanga is private. Very Private! And the trespasser rip-off is pretty mean. Jim Fitzpatrick has been a resident of Topanga Beach for many years. He's experienced the good vibes and the bad ones too. He's seen what the beach has been, is now, and possibly will be. The following are his thoughts and a reminiscence of his home.

Before the throes of mankind had besieged the world, about 1931, there was a place a day's ride out of the hamlet of LA. At this place were many rituals of significant circumstance... these rituals were performed upon the sea at the mouth of a small riverlet. Knights of the sea performed feats of magnificence... from a stationary position upon the water, they would suddenly rise upon a swell from the sea and they would propel themselves forward and forward and forward and forward until they had ridden for virtually a short lifetime. They died not at the end of this feat, however. Why, many lived to repeat it time and time again. It was the long walk back from what is now Ted's Rancho that eliminated many. Tis myth of course; but there are many who have claimed to have performed just this feat... be it theirs then.

Now for a fable, which tis not assimilar to a myth. There once was a land upon the shore, and upon this shore stood a line of houses. Now these houses were not grand to be sure; yet these houses had the niceties that made the people smile that milled within the walls of these houses. These homes. These castles upon the sea. And for many years the shore upon which these people lived, was their shore. Then, people came who did not smile... these people looked hungry... so... so the people who smiled put up fences and barricades to keep out the people that looked hungry. Which leaves us to think that you shouldn't go places looking hungry, or, if you smile, you shouldn't have a bigmac in your hand.

If you think of a dog as a thing which has four legs, and chews socks, and slobbers on the evening paper, and shits on the carpet... well, then you don't know: Noah, Simba, Maggie, Jude, Bruce, Wolf, Kim, Macho, Barney, Rogan, Zorba, Byron, Kabeer, Digbee, Duke, Patches, Ml pup, Fido, Blue, Penelope, Luke, Willy, Oso, Jack, Heidi, Goomba, Misty, Polio, Whiskey, Schroder, Polo, or all and any of the 'crazy liddle ones' that have roamed the sands of Topanga.

Now the cats are different, of course. But then again it's a very similar situation At any given moment the eyes of: Lectric, lily Illy, Lick, Spyder Cat, Krishna, Choochker, Folley Bear, Tigger, Gremmie, Zelda, Freaky, White Junker, Black Junker or Micro Kitty could catch you in some position that you would rather have had gone unnoticed. But that's a cat's purpose... ah, the cats.

So then the people. The people. The people with the smiles, with the dogs, with the cats, with the houses. The people with the spirit that has made Topanga Beach what it is and what it always will be. Some were mothers. Others were fathers, and the others were the children of those mothers and fathers or the children of other mothers and fathers. All of these people have done things of greatness and nothingness; but the greatness of them all is the fact thai they have been part of the whole, and that whole has been the madness of all its parts. Where else do millionaires, welfarers, homosexuals, perverts, drunks, winos, drug addicts, lawyers, criminals, surfers, bikers, jews, wasps, radicals, fatties, skinnies, gurus, carnivores, fruitarians, vegetarians, omnivorians and all those in between, manage to cohabitate within such close proximity? Sure, the world is a mass of positives and negatives; but on any given day they all seem to be at Topanga. The stage is the beach and the players of the world are the people who live and have lived here. And so the people come and go... with them, they take or leave their smiles and dogs and cats and homes; but there is one thing that has remained in a relative state of permanence. The waves.

The waves. The waves at Topanga are their own special breed. Like all things, they are unique and they have retained that uniqueness ever since Dave Rochlen Sr. rode them farther than anyone else. The waves of Topanga have been home to me and many others. Home; secure in the blackness as your head parts the lip and the tunnel forms over your body and you're gone but not gone and you emerge and disappear and the sea flows into your soul and your body floats jnto the heavens... home free and smilin' and the mellowness explodes within your heart and no one but you can know the feeling.

The waves. The waves of yesteryear were the waves of today, as all waves are all the waves of all times; but the waves of yesteryear were not as populated. Is it good to tell you that? To reminisce of the days I surfed alone? Day after day. Days of surfing every wave you could catch. So exhausted that you have to sit and watch perfect waves peak, jump, throw, out at the point and then peel the distance of the beach. No, it's better to say that there were days of wind, or school, or work, or trespassers; yet still, those days were days of less people and because of that the memories of the waves make them great days. Days of offshore winds during a winter swell, surfing until the sun set... waves so perfect and golden... waves that captured the essence... waves that captured me in their cylinders.

That was then, this is now; it's different. The waves are surfed differently. Those moments, those moments of closeness and bliss, are fewer. It's hard to be alone with the sea when there are 36 people on and around you. So it's changed, the technique; but the waves are all the waves of all times.

So... sea-weed... so wee-weed has changed it all.
The people have changed.
The cats have changed.
The dogs have changed.
All of the facts have changed.
But the fables and myths and waves are all the time.

So where do the times go? To the future and the speculations of what will be? Maybe. So it's up to you... up to you, because it's gonna be you pulling up to the parking place that once was my bedroom, and it's gonna be you who will gaze upon the waves that were my home, and it's you that will inherit the myths and the fables... enjoy them, for they are many.


"Thais Sykes: A Lower Topanga Girlhood"

By Susan Chasen & Pablo Capra

Thais Rust Sykes was born in Santa Monica in 1925. When she was two years old, she moved with her parents to live along the Topanga lagoon. From 1927 until 1945, Thais and her parents were a part of the vibrant community that inhabited Lower Topanga, including movie stars, surfing pioneers and hard-working families who opened businesses to serve the burgeoning California car culture.

In 1926, Thais' father, Clayton Rust, purchased the lease on a gasoline service station at the mouth of Topanga Canyon. Over the years it evolved from a tiny shack with one pump, advertising "City Prices" to a full-service gas station and garage.

Thais's mother, Ina Thrasher Rust loved to grill and she opened a little restaurant, Rust's BBQ near the gas station.

"She was a good cook and had three or four friends that she hired to help her," says Thais of her mother. "The highway workers and truck drivers came there to eat her good food. I think she stayed there until WWII started and she went to work for AirResearch Corporation near LAX."

They called the area the salt flats. At first they lived in a small cottage there. Then, Thais's father purchased a larger house nearby. During these years, about two dozen of Thais's relatives lived in Lower Topanga, operating several local businesses. It was also there that Thais first met a little boy, Jack Sykes, who she would marry after they met again years later. He grew up on Topanga Beach among celebrity neighbors, which included Greta Garbo and Shirley Temple.

The gas station, which had sold Richfield gas, burned down at one point and Shell Oil rebuilt it out of metal, which Clayton didn't like as well. He eventually sold it to a neighbor, Fred Clark. Clark later rented it out to the Cole Brothers, two young men from the Rodeo Grounds who made and sold surfboards there.

Next door to the gas station was the Step Inn restaurant owned by Lucy Loggins. A grocery store, known as Potter's Store, was originally owned by Thais's aunt and uncle, Blanche and Roy Rust. It was sold to Charles and Eleanor Potter, who lived up the knoll behind the lagoon.

Potter's Store was moved across the street and eventually became part of the Malibu Feed Bin..

In the 1920s, Topanga Beach was a center of bootlegging activity. In 1925, a sting operation resulted in the arrest for liquor sales of a sheriff's deputy and a fire deputy, along with five other Topanga Beach residents. Enforcement officers under the county district attorney posed as movie actors to purchase the whiskey.

In 1928, there was a shootout on Topanga Beach when rumrunners, after unloading a second dory-load of liquor from a speedboat offshore, were surprised by sheriff's deputies hiding behind the rocks. They refused to surrender and began firing at the officers. Eventually two gave up, but a third got away. They were suspected members of a liquor gang that had kidnapped and possibly killed a Russian immigrant fisherman after he told authorities that they had commandeered his boat near Santa Cruz Island for running rum a few nights before.

These activities were too early for Thais to remember, but they might have had something to do with three barrels floating off shore one day after a rainstorm. Thais's father and his friend, John Fondukis, a Greek fisherman and a neighbor on the lagoon, went to pick up the barrels and had a great time when they turned out to be filled with whiskey.

Clayton, the son of a traveling preacher, moved to California in about 1912. He helped survey Topanga Canyon Boulevard, worked at the Orcutt Ranch, and drove a school bus in Santa Monica before moving to the lagoon. Thais was named after a young girl on his bus route in Santa Monica Canyon who died in a tragic teakettle-scalding accident. He met Ina Thrasher in Agoura at the home of Ina's grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Davis Penland. Thais's family on her mother's side extends back five generations in California. Her great grandmother Penland was born 1858 near Sacramento and her Davis family descends from the namesake of that city.

Her maternal grandfather, Josiah Thrasher, had a ranch in Lower Topanga on a lane that once ran along Topanga Canyon Boulevard from approximately the Rodeo Grounds entrance to Brookside Drive. He grazed cows on pasture dotted with oaks and sycamores. When the area was to be buried with fill from construction on the coast highway, he moved to Canoga Park.

Thais was six when, in 1932, her house was moved about a mile up the road to make way for all the fill dirt, about 800,000 cubic yards, from a three-mile project to straighten out Roosevelt Highway - now knowas the Pacific Coast Highway - and put in a new bridge over the lagoon.

"The Star Moving Company prepared everything - getting the house detached and ready to be moved. I did see it on the truck early one morning before I left for school. When I came home it was in its new location 9/10ths of a mile up Topanga Canyon. It was raised on large wooden beams under each corner. They were removed one at a time to lower it in place."

At its new location, near Brookside Drive, deer nibbled at the flowers in Ina Rust's beautiful gardens. Tiles on the top step in front of the house spell out the name "Rust." It was a few years before the upper floor was finished.

"There were stairs and the flooring - just a big room. We played there and about once a month, my grandmothers, aunts and cousins came to quilt. They had lots of room and there was light from the four gabled windows. We still have quilts they made."

Eventually, two bedrooms and a bath were added upstairs, as well as a small dining room and a laundry room downstairs.

Outside, Ina, who loved to grill, hosted frequent large barbecues for friends and family.

"There were many parties and everyone had fun, especially all the young cousins who loved playing in the creek."

There weren't many fish in the creek, but one day, after heavy rains, Clayton snatched a large trout out of the creek with a rake.

Clayton's cousin Cleo and her husband Fred Wendell and their daughter Avis lived across the creek from the Rusts. They once tried having an Easter Egg Hunt, but rattlesnakes found the eggs first.

Among other relatives nearby, on Brookside Drive, were Thais's mother's sister and her family - Mary and Carl Kays with their children Carl and Marilyn. Thais and Marilyn grew up as sisters, hiking up and down the creek, making photo albums of movie actors, and going to the beach.

"It didn't matter how large the waves were - we just had fun. When the tide was out we searched for anemones on the rocks near the lagoon….For our lunch when we were at the beach we were given 25 cents - 15 for a hamburger and 10 for a soda. One afternoon the Hindenberg flew along the coast. It was huge and beautiful."

Once they went swimming at the beach with another neighbor - Ida Lee Carrillo - when they were caught in a riptide. Ida Lee's father, Ottie Carrillo, saw what was happening from shore and called for help.

"We were picked up just before Sunset Boulevard. We were having a great time, but Ida Lee's dad was frantic."

Ottie Carrillo's brother was the actor Leo Carrillo, who in his later years became a strong parks advocate. The Carrillo family history dates back to the Californio days.

Ottie and his wife lived on Brookside Drive. Tragically, Ida Lee was later killed in an automobile accident near Fresno when returning from Stanford to attend the Stanford-USC football game.

Like today, Lower Topanga was often threatened by fires and floods, and Thais's family saw its share of natural disasters and watched many houses washing down to the sea.

On November 23, 1938, Thais was at Madison School in Santa Monica and the children watched a fire in the mountains from the second story windows. She didn't know it was moving toward her house.

"My uncle came to get us. We were allowed to go through because we lived there. There were huge flames on the right side of the road on the way up the canyon. It was pretty frightening. My aunt and uncle's house on Brookside Drive did burn, because no one was at home. My dad fought to save our house…He got buckets of water from the fish pond, ran to the second floor, out the window and onto the roof where the sparks had set fires. Then he would slide down the roof, and go back to the pond again for more water. He did save most of the house except for my bedroom. It was burned and completely open to the sky. The next day my mother cooked Thanksgiving dinner for all the family.

"After the fire in 1938, there was a terrible flood in 1939. There were two elderly people living in the Rodeo Grounds that had no way to get out. John Fondukis and my dad set up some type of pulley system…to the other side of the creek and John went across on the pulley. …His boat was attached to the ropes and he carried the people one at a time back to safety."

During the war, Thais volunteered for aircraft sightings on the coast, working Friday nights in a two-story building located across from the site where The Getty Museum was later built.

Thais's husband Jack Sykes recalled that during the war, there was a machine gun nest in front of his house on Topanga Beach and howitzers were set up along PCH above the houses.

"They dug large holes in the sand for the soldiers to observe any unusual actions."

Jack's house was on a beachfront section of Old Malibu Road that took off down along the beach near the intersection of the coast road and Topanga Canyon Boulevard. His house was the third house down from the lagoon. They had a gangplank they pulled up to keep high waves from splashing in the house.

One of his neighbors, an older woman, thought he was very cute when he was about 5 years old, so they took long walks together on the beach. It turned out these walks were with Greta Garbo.

Once Jack cut himself badly on broken glass while sliding down the bluff behind his house.

"My dad thought I should go to the hospital in Santa Monica. Shirley Temple lived at the end of our road. I don't know why but she needed a ride to town and she came by at that very moment. I sat on her lap on the way to have stitches in my leg. At the time I didn't think much about it. We saw her once in a while and she was always very nice and pretty. She was about 15 or 16 and I was 8 or 9.

"Thais and I met on the beach when I was 10 or 11. She was older than I was. Then we didn't see each other for a long time. I was in the service and we met again about 10 years later when she was living in Santa Monica. We were married in 1956 in Santa Monica."

Thais and Jack visited Thais's old house in 1993 and met George and Katie Wood. The Woods bought the house in 1963 for $14,000, still renting the land from the Los Angeles Athletic Club. They ultimately lived there for 38 years, the longest of anyone - raising their two children, April and North, to play in the creek as Thais and Marilyn had.

"Jack and I noticed that the river bed has risen over the years. There was a steep bank to get to the creek when we lived there, and now it is almost level with the house. …The Woods loved the house and garden and were so unhappy to have to leave them."

In 2001, State Parks bought Lower Topanga. The house in which Thais grew up was identified as an historic resource, an example of an early 20th century Cape Cod-style vacation home, a unique type of American vernacular architecture. It reflects the 1920s "surfurbia" development from Malibu to Newport Beach, which arose with affordable mass-produced automobiles.

After the land was purchased, State Parks decided that the Woods, along with all 125 other Lower Topanga residents had to move off to make way for public park use and that virtually all the homes should be demolished. The Woods moved to a mobile home park in Ventura more than four years ago, hoping that a ranger would move into the house and that its historic status would mean their home, the site of so many memories as well as the legacy of the Rust family would be preserved. It is currently boarded up with no plans for public use or restoration.

Photos courtesy of Thais and Jack Sykes with special thanks to Thais and Jack's daughter Lori Ardis for scanning copies for The Messenger.


"Going for Broke to Battle Blaze"

by Ron Russell
Photos by Cassy Cohen

Inferno: Residents of remote Topanga Canyon enclave ignored warnings to abandon their homes. As the flames drew near, they set backfires that saved up to 40 houses.

Into the wee hours, they watched in horror as flames roared toward their Topanga Canyon homes.

A few wondered if they had done the right thing by ignoring repeated calls to evacuate.

But something kept Shane McMahon and half a dozen of his neighbors in lower Topanga from abandoning their little corner of paradise Nov. 3, even after firefighters had given it up as lost.

Shortly after 5 a.m., as flames shot over the ridge above their homes and there was nary a firefighter in sight, they decided to go for broke.

At the last possible moment, McMahon and his friends lighted three backfires that with the wind's help zoomed up the ridge and met the oncoming inferno like a first baseman outracing a runner to the bag.

In the aftermath of the devastating Malibu fire, "Shane's backfire" was the buzz of the canyon this week, as die-hard residents credited the volunteers with saving up to 40 houses in one of Topanga's oldest and most bohemian neighborhoods.

"No question, if they didn't do what they did, a lot of us would have been burned out," said Domonic Anselmi, 25, who sells pottery and outdoor furniture nearby on Pacific Coast Highway.

Others complained that a decision by fire officials to make a last stand at PCH and Topanga Canyon Boulevard left their neighborhood of mostly older rental houses half a mile west of the boulevard out of the equation.

"We begged them to send us some men and equipment," said Samantha Gann, 40, a fitness trainer who keeps three racehorses in the community. "They just told us we ought to leave."

In the end, everyone did except McMahon and his friends.

"It [the fire] was gnarly as hell up there," said Robert Overby, 43, known in the community by his surfer nickname, Baretta. "These guys are heroes."

McMahon, 38, a surfer and construction worker who has lived in the canyon 20 years, was philosophical.

"We like to think of ourselves as rugged individuals up here," he said. "If there's no one to help us, we'll fend for ourselves."

McMahon said he had watched firefighters use backfires to squelch a 1970s blaze in the canyon. What he learned then, combined with his surfer's knowledge of wind currents, helped him decide when to set them, he said.

"It's not something I'd recommend anyone do except firefighters," he said, "but in this case it was either do it or watch our homes burn to the ground."

Long a hideaway for surfers, artists and aging hipsters, the neighborhood at the mouth of Topanga Canyon near Pacific Coast Highway is tucked away across a creek via an unpaved road off Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Vehicles must ford the creek to get there. During heavy rains, residents leave their vehicles on the side of the creek nearest the highway and use an elevated footbridge to get to their homes.

The community lies on the edge of 1,600 acres owned by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which has been trying for years to sell it and which leases to residents on a month-to-month basis.

But few seem to mind the inconveniences. "This is like a last oasis," Baretta said. "Every other coastal canyon but this one has been cemented over already."

Several residents who asked not to be identified said they understood why fire officials were reluctant to send firefighters and equipment into the community with the blaze raging just over the hill.

"You get equipment into a cramped space like this and if the fire comes there's no way you're going to get it out," one man said.

On the night of the fire, most residents cleared out about midnight after officials first called for them to evacuate.

About 2 a.m., officials issued a second plea for residents to leave, followed by a third warning at 3:30 a.m., once the blaze leaped across nearby Tuna Canyon.

By 4:45 a.m., as it became apparent that the blaze would roar over the ridge above the community at any moment, McMahon asked fire officials to set backfires on the ridge but was told they were to busy fighting the flames elsewhere.

That's when he and the others took matters into their own hands.

The idea behind a backfire is to burn off an area in front of an oncoming fire, thus robbing it of the fuel needed to continue its march. However, firefighters say miscalculation or a sudden wind change can make the tactic risky, even when performed by professionals.

McMahon said that after he and the others set their backfire, a strike force consisting of 14 county jail inmates were rushed in to provide support.

"They did one hell of a job," he said. "I'm talking about guys who were cutting down eucalyptus trees that were still burning."

Only one house, whose occupants were out of town, was lost in the community, and McMahon said it could have been saved with just a few more volunteers.

And the reaction of fire officials to the backfires?

"For the record I don't think they liked it," McMahon said. "But privately we had firefighters tell us we saved the place. That has a way of making you feel good."

Times staff writer Lois Timnick contributed to this story.

LA WEEKLY 10-17-2003

"Best Bait Shop: Wylie’s"

by Marc Cooper 

As the scorched hills over the Pacific Coast Highway still smoldered after the great Malibu fire of 1956, and smoky haze hung over the bay, I remember my father packing me in the car one Saturday and speeding toward the beach to make sure with his own eyes that Wylie’s bait shop had survived the blaze. A half-block north of Topanga Canyon, on the inland side of PCH, Wylie’s stood, to our relief, completely unscathed by the flames. 

Almost a half-century later, it looks just about the same: exactly the way a world-class art director would build a bait-shop for a fully authentic big-budget movie. A clapboard rectangle of no more than a few hundred square feet supports a red-tiled roof. A couple of sawed-off pier pilings in front were probably used to tie up horses ridden down by the hill-dwellers above. Inside Wylie’s, the same hardwood plank floor creaks under your heels. Frayed netting and glass floats hanging off the ceiling recall the tiki craze of the Kennedy era. Faded photos of barn-door halibut, bug-eyed rockfish and one or two kayak-size bass are pinned to a wall behind the counter. Green and red scrawlings on a yellowing pane of glass record high and low tides.

If Wylie’s had burned down in 1956, you could have bought monofilament and lead sinkers at the bait shops on the Malibu Pier, at Paradise Cove, at Corral Beach and at Tom Cod’s old place off Washington and Lincoln. Today, Wylie’s is the last fisherman’s store on PCH between Santa Monica and Oxnard. It’s the last standing bait shop, the last place to buy a fishing license, and the last place to buy fresh bait.

Bill and Ruth Wylie opened the tiny store in 1946 as an offshoot of their sporting goods business. And almost immediately, Wylie’s became the go-to place for serious local fishermen. For the next two decades, when the bay still teemed with fish — when you could limit-out on bonito off the Santa Monica Pier, fill two buckets in a short morning with surf perch from the north end of the Venice parking lot, see schools of corbina sucking sand crabs south of Surfrider Beach, and drift for keeper halibut in front of the old Getty — it was Wylie’s who outfitted you.

Most people, myself and my father included, always assumed the gruff, trash-talking, somewhat androgynous guy behind the counter was, in fact, Wylie. Actually, it was Bob Varnum, who ran the store from the early ’60s until he passed away in December of 2000. Bob would bitch and cuss at the slightest provocation. But he’d also take all the time necessary to show you how to tie a surf leader, how to keep fresh bait on a snelled hook, and how to rig for pier fishing. Stopping in to buy a burlap sack of fresh mussels, or a white carton or two of live soft-shell sand-crabs — bait we could just as readily purchase in any other shop — was merely an excuse to spend some time with Bob, catching up on what was biting where and on what.

As urban runoff, PCBs and commercial overfishing of sardines and anchovies strangled the local catch, only Wylie’s survived. As Bob got older and began to falter, his business partner, the original owner’s granddaughter, Ginny Wylie, began to spend more and more time in the shop. Today she runs Wylie’s alone: six days a week, 12 hours a day, living in her grandparents’ makeshift home behind the shop. And it’s no overstatement to say that Ginny is godmother to a loyal legion of surf fishermen, those of us who still wade into the breakers and — using lugworms, rubber grubs, or hand-harvested sand crabs — still battle for perch, croakers and corbina. At her strategic outpost, Ginny’s clientele runs the gamut from gardeners to movie stars. You’re as likely to bump into Cuba Gooding Jr. as a newly arrived immigrant from Michoacán while waiting to pay for hooks and sinkers. Wylie’s continues to be to other tackle shops and sporting goods stores as a Main Street hardware store is to Home Depot.

Unfortunately, the state of California is threatening to wipe out this half-century-old tradition. The patch of PCH that Wylie’s sits on, and extending into the mouth of Topanga Canyon, the last ramshackle, bohemian holdout in Malibu, has recently been acquired by the state. Now earmarked for expansion of Topanga State Park, the residents and businesses — including Wylie’s, the old motel, the noted Reel Inn eatery — all face relocation. Wylie’s wooden bait shop has been declared a historic preservation building, but not the business itself. The relocation contractors that represent the state have already lowballed Ginny, offering a laughably low amount for her residence. And they have failed so far to grant her an acceptable lease-back of the store.

But messing with Ginny Wylie is like taunting a fearless barracuda. She’s refused to settle for any lease that won’t fully guarantee the ongoing operation of the bait shop. "Do they think I’m just going to hand over a 57-year-old business to them?" she said defiantly as I was stocking up on surf leaders the other day. "I would tear this place down myself before letting them take it away." The state bean counters have handed her a 90-day eviction notice, but no one who knows Wylie thinks this is even remotely the end of the battle. Ginny’s got some formidable attorneys. Captain Ron Baker, host of KMPC’s Fish Talk Radio, has taken up her cause. So has the Topanga Messenger, the local paper. But mostly, Wylie’s has an army: 50 years’ worth of appreciative friends and customers who are not about to let our greatest bait shop get turned into a parking lot.

Drop in and see Ginny. She’ll teach you how to fish. 18757 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, (310) 456-2321.


"Back Story"

by Steve Pezman
Photo by Fred Pompermayer

Topanga: Chumash for “where the mountains meet the sea”

A point break a few miles south of Malibu, Topanga works the other half of the year. Not good enough often enough to be a destination for long road trips, it can be hard to drive by it on the way to somewhere else when it’s working. There used to be a colony of rustic, weathered cottages lining the beach shoulder-to-shoulder from the creek outlet at the top of the point, toward Chart House Point at the south end. The closely bunched cottages constituted a wall that you had to be invited beyond, or sneak through, if you weren’t connected. If surfers were out they’d be residents or the friends of residents and occasionally you would note it being empty though good.

At its best, entire sections zipper, one after the other, demanding an unending speed trim. The rare wave made far down the beach from a point takeoff is notable, as usually it outpaces you eventually. Southerly and northwest swells miss or are blocked but on wests it is a stellar gem. The one downer: the rocky bottom is too sharp to put your foot onto, so instead, sans board, you do stomach-sucked-in skimming.

By the ’60s, the circa 1930s and 1940s cottages had become mostly rentals for fringe dwellers, dropouts, intellectuals, film industry hopefuls, a few UCLA students, and eccentric beach families. My friend Bob Beadle lived there in 1964 and 1965 while attending UCLA and I would drop by to surf on the way borne from a night job over the hills in the Valley. Hailing from the coast south of L.A. and normally one of those drive-by guys, I soon realized the wave’s potential. I also discovered that, in character with the surroundings, Bob’s roommates and neighbors constituted an outlandish mix, who were all surfing their way through an improvised stage of life.

There was ex-Marine turned writer/magazine founder-to-be, Bill Cleary, who along with erudite Professor David Stern (UCLA), was collaborating on the Surf Guide to Southern California, the first-ever surf guidebook. Stern later donated his extensive research for another scholarly, definitive, but never-published book entitled Notes for a Book on Surfing, 1963, to the Surfing Heritage Foundation. (He had become a rabbi by then, living on a kibbutz in Israel with his family.) Following the book project, Cleary teamed up with one-time lifeguard gone Makaha Skateboards impresario Larry Stevenson to found the brief but brilliant Surf Guide Magazine, introducing Playboy-style interviews and (in my opinion) what was, at that time, the most avanti cover in surf mag history.

The early issues were brainstormed at Topanga and some articles assigned to roomies (i.e. “Mexican Malibu” by George Van Noy). Eventually a satire-laced Surf Guide column by fellow resident Bob Feigel provided Surfer founder Severson with enough fuel to pressure Surf Guide into submission.

Neighbor Larry Krause became a recognizable figure when filmed walking past Grant Rohloff’s camera with board underarm wearing a swastika-emblazoned Nazi helmet (mind-you, just ten years after WWII). Grant, the only active surf filmmaker north of L.A. at the time, was also a Topanga guy. The Fitzpatricks resided in an actual family home on cottage row, with dad providing a vestige of oversight to the lot of them, including his precocious, skate-brat/surfer son Jimmy. Surf Punks guitarist Steve Dragon hung out. His brother Daryl and gal friend Toni would soon become recording celebrities, known as Captain and Tennille. This was, as you were often reminded, a Hollywood beach. Even Dora used his assumed entry privileges into everywhere, via Cleary at Topanga, to reap the waves there.

By the later ’60s, Topanga, like other beach towns, had turned a bit more radical. A life focused around surfing became a passive way to thumb your nose at all the surrounding conventions. Generations turned over at the beach too. The 50s, then the 60s and 70s cycled through their own casts, memberships filtered by the nature of the place. Then suddenly, it was over. The cottage leases were nulled by the State, the structures bulldozed, the beach opened to general public use, and a parking lot was installed. Topanga was restored to a scarred version of its former self: a canyon-stream outlet, a sandy crescent sweep, washed by waves that peeled right. But now you paid to park.



Lost Hills Sheriff's Station and Public Safety REPORT

"Surf Scrap"

by Suzanne Guldimann

A fight between surfers at Topanga State Beach on Aug. 17 left the victim frightened but reportedly not seriously injured. The victim of the incident stated that the fight began "with a verbal argument regarding surfing territory" between him and the first suspect while surfing. During the initial incident, the suspect "addressed the victim with profanity." The suspect then surfed close to the victim, who "feared a collision" and pushed the suspect's surfboard with his hands in an attempt to separate their paths. The victim stated that he rode the wave to shore and began to leave the beach. As he looked behind him, he saw the suspect "following" and picked up a rock "for protection" and hastily left the area. The victim stated that he "believed he was safe" when he reached his vehicle and dropped the rock. He was then surprised by a second suspect who reportedly struck him twice in the head. The victim stated that he attempted to escape by running eastbound on PCH, but was confronted by the first suspect and a third man. The first suspect reportedly struck the victim with his fist; the second man used his surfboard as a weapon, striking the victim in the chest, and allegedly pushing him into the right lane of traffic on PCH. The victim stated that he was knocked down. The assault continued until "a member of the group called for the first suspect to end his attack." The three men then "walked out of the victim's sight."


"The End of the Innocence: Malibu in the '70s"

By Mike Perry
Photos by John Kiewit

At the Hotel California, I was the New Kid In Town living Life In The Fast Lane making sure that there was no Wasted Time. A hopeless Victim Of Love with all those Pretty Maids In A Row... but I'd try and try and Try And Love Again. One day, many years later, I would realize that this place was not just a Point Breaker even a place on the map. Malibu was indeed... The Last Resort.

The list of the songs within the Eagles hit 1976 album Hotel California reads pretty well as the story of many people's experiences in Malibu in the 1970s. It was the time that Malibu finally, slowly and effortlessly yielded up her soul. Succumbing to The Great Progress, she was stitched up with concrete, poisoned with effluent, and slowly lay down her beautiful form under the weight of 20th century sin and spatter paint. The Malibu died an unnatural death, but it took a decade to crush her spirit. The ants who dwelt within the close confines of her few miles of coastline labored day and night to keep busy, keep high, keep on keeping on. When is life a style? When is style a life? Rest in peace fair Malibu, for having killed you once they cannot do it again. All that they can now do is gild the carcass and put up the parking lots.

Malibu in the 70s was an understanding. No one lived there who didn't get the jokes or the horror stories. You didn't notice the actors unless they noticed you. The Sheriffs and the CHPs (Two types of cops for a city the size of the North Shore?) were very efficient and no black man ever drove through Malibu without getting pulled over at least once. Everything, and I mean everything East of Topanga or inland of the PCH was 'Town' and one did not go into Town unless one absolutely had to.

Some, of course, always had to. So, while the maids from El Salvador and the gardeners from Michoacán walked the solemn hallways of their mogul master's estates, enjoying the sunrises and the sunsets in laborious silence; their bosses screamed their way to a quadruple bypass, fighting to support their 'Malibu Lifestyles' from deep within the bowels of 'Town.'

After '69 and the war and the acid and the... oh shit, just everything that came with that decade, the '70s were seemingly quiet. Peace and love for your brother became 'peace for me' and 'love as many as you can.' The city of Los Angeles was in the middle stages of fermentation and Malibu was, to most, a quiet suburb out North where some movie stars lived. It was in fact the last line of nature on the edge of the surreal time bomb that was becoming L.A.

Mountain lions still survived in the remoter areas, and some of the older residents up Encinal and Decker Canyons still shot deer for food and burned wood for their winter's warmth. And though Porsches ('Malibu Volkswagens') were common, you could still see unknown old movie stars hanging up, but not out, at the Malibu Inn for breakfast; same as they had since the forties. No one sensed that it wasn't really Mickey who was 'the next candidate for crucifixion.' It was the stage upon which he'd danced his finest tangos, Malibu herself. It was a time of colossal, if slippery change, and the 'Bu' reflected and concentrated the juices. As surely as there is a beginning there is always an end. The 1970s marked the clinical end of the old way of life in the Malibu.

Two types of people have always surfed Malibu: The Residents and The Rest Of The World.

For The Rest Of The World, Malibu was a good, solid point break famous for opening the doors of the plague of surfing popularity. Sandra Dee and Annette were only connected to Crazy Kate by a thin strand of DNA and X chromosomes, but the connection was tenacious and Malibu got used, and used hard for her fruitful First Point. Straight over the Santa Monica Mountains through Malibu Canyon, Topanga Canyon and later, Dume Kanan Road, the 'Valleys' poured into the one surf spot, augmented by a never ending river of shorter, brighter surfboards traveling up from town on the main vein, the Pacific Coast Highway.

Many surfers from town were good. Very good. Glen, Allan, Willy and Nathan to name a few. And some were so regular that they were nearly local. Nearly. But when the sun went down, when the disasters struck and when the winter's full moon swells arrived, they weren't there. That special experience was reserved for the ones who gave up as much as they got from the place, just to live there. Most Malibu surfers of the '70s simply wouldn't live anywhere else. It was a complete little satellite with all the things you'd ever need. You could breathe the air and speak the language as well. You might have had to live by your wits or off of someone else's, but if you could make a buck, you were already home. Funny. I can't remember anyone ever living on welfare in Malibu; although more than a few probably could have qualified.

Malibu may have been used by the surfers, but she had her way with them too. Malibu surfers had a look. They developed a style and a manner that was classy, yet casual. They had the best of the longboard era's cool neatly married together with the crushing charge of the new age of aggression. What essence of style had Lance dropped on those sands? What powerful spirits had Mickey left behind with his last flyaway kickout? Some of Nat's power was there also; a legacy of the great swells of '67 and '69. Those influences and in fact all influences stained forever the surfing of Malibu. A melting pot always retains some traces after each meltdown.

As for the Residents; The three best Surfers in Malibu in the '70s came from Topanga Beach. Dave Hilton, Jay Riddle and George Trafton, in that order. They might not agree, but it's my call and I'll wear the heat. (Apologies to Mike Stevenson, you are a legend.)

Davey Boy was taught by Rabbit Kekai, and it gleamed through his style like a beacon. Fearless and contemptuous in a crisis, Davey's whole aura was an equal match for the sea. Dave was every bit the California equivalent of Gerry Lopez. He was an intense and private individual with a craving for perfect waves. He had no need for publicity though, and like his close friend George Trafton, he remained a near mystery to the general population. Apart from some rare footage in Cosmic Children and a brief photo or two at Secrets and Hollywood By The Sea, Dave's powerful performances were on show only to those who were at the right places at the right times, the same as he. Knowing how to be at just the right place at just the right time was only the beginning of Davey's immense repertoire of surf skills. By comparison, the rest of the surfing world hardly knew the time of day.

Jay Riddle was an athlete and a very great talent. A matador with a natural gift. The Riddler always had an inside line going and only he knew where it was headed. Smooth, powerful and acutely aware of style, Jay could ride anything in any condition. Big-shot surfers from near and far shuddered to think of their fate if he'd chosen to compete overseas. An undercurrent; Hilton and Riddle enjoyed a quiet rivalry for years. It was the kind of simmering battle that would do honor to any two athletes, but to outsiders, you'd never know it was going on. Dave and Jay never acknowledged their pushing of each other, but it was there all right. Greatest of friends, but their seething drive to outdo each other in the water levered their abilities to radical, even extreme heights.

George Trafton spent his winters parked at Rights and Lefts... ALL winter, every year. He rusted two brand new Chevy 4X4's to death there. On the inside of the back cover of the Hollister Ranch sales brochure, there's a shot of three people on horseback riding along the 'virtual paradise' that is the foreshore of the Hollister Ranch at minus low tide. Look carefully down the beach and there's George's first Chevy. He's sitting beside it alone, in a beach chair, soaking rays after a long morning's session. Two O'Neill super suits lay across the hood. One warming (for the incoming tide push) and one drying out.

'The Mole' as his friends sometimes called him was a happy guy with a ferocious appetite for fun. The most fun he knew of was surfing, and so he specialized. George probably holds the record for the highest number of perfect waves ridden in California. It would still be a record today. No one's surfed more perfect waves alone at the Ranch and that's for sure. At home in the 'Bu', G.T. had that arrogant, but graceful style that defined the Malibu surfer. His natural ability and his extreme wave knowledge allowed him to make the unmakeable. And tubes? Tunnels are a mole's domain. Hot beyond compare, cool to the acclaim, George was the third member of a very exclusive triumvirate. Hilton, Riddle and Trafton. I'm sorry, but if there were any three better guys around the place at the time, they must have been night surfing. I didn't see them.

With Lance and Mickey off the boil, The Pit bulldozed and the inmates running the asylum, the other local talent faded into the wallpaper. They surfed Dume (not with an accent grave over the 'e' as in a real estate agent's bastardization to de-toxify a place-name that sounded to the potential buyer's wives like 'DOOM!') and they surfed Trancas and they surfed Zuma and they surfed Zero. They discovered new spots, guarded old secrets and they surfed really fucking well. There was so much talent in the Malibu area it would take two pages to list just the hottest guys, and girls.

While the locals were talented, they were also very wary. Crowds killed the fun, and for kids who grew up in a semi-wilderness, the transition to city-styled surfing was unsettling to the core. Their core. They couldn't, wouldn't adapt, so they died or they left. Drugs swiftly filtered out from 'Town' and more than a few kids were swallowed by what they were swallowing. Others looked around and just didn't have the prior experience to enable them to cope. As it was with the Chumash, so it was with the locals. For the first time in their young lives, places other than home were looking good. Parents' guest houses went vacant as their children spread to the far horizons, and for the newcomer, a new rental market bloomed. The County closed the school at Point Dume in the mid-1970s because there simply weren't enough kids to fill it.

So here you have a situation wherein the local surf population with cars and money were considering their options. The younger locals; many affected by the drugs, mags and the crowds were digging-in for the duration. They would survive or die trying. While the stoked-up visitors, accustomed to fighting for their wave space, reveled in the seeming freedom offered by the point wave medium. And hey, it was much nicer to look up toward the Serra Retreat than looking inland from Hermosa, wasn't it?

But the family dynamic was shifting too, and many Malibu families were… uh, experimental. Some were shocking. As the decade moved from hip to hop, from hemp to coke, anarchy reigned in some of the softest cribs in California. Sadly, surfing became the only sanctuary for many and it was this narrow focus, coupled with too much money and too little love, that was the undoing of some fine people. As across the whole of the United States, the rising tide of the cashed up eighties brought with it the deadly flotsam of addiction and excess. The new wave of overflowing self-focus crashed heavily on the sea wall at the Colony as well as other, even more private shelters. People died. People got burned, burned out, and many people just bailed. Too much may have not been enough for some, but it was far, far too much for the rest.

The narrow focus wasn't entirely destructive though. Having surfing as their main outlet led many to great heights both personally and professionally. There rose from the tumult a number of survivors whose skills would go on evolving. Their daily lives metaphorically imprinted by the surfing experience. Their desire to improve with each generation indelibly tarred across their hearts. Surfing may have been the rock upon which they anchored their teenage years, but now it's become the exoskeleton within which they raise their families.

I'm sure you've heard it said that the '70s were merely the time wasted between the '60s and the '80s. The decade that was merely a transition between other more highly decorated decades. 'Bland, flavorless and lacking even in good music...' recent historians haven't been kind. But in that one place, as a perspective from the inside, it was a peak. The best efforts of those who had survived the hippy epoch were applied to the new age and the new equipment with extraordinary results. For many Malibu people, it was the finest minute in lives which are yet to play out their finest hours.

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Los Angeles, California, United States
Official website at www.brasstackspress.com