"Topanga Nostalgia Letter"

Dear Editor: 

Hi, my name is John Peacock, and I'm writing to you in regard to the Rodeo Grounds that was once situated at the foot of the Canyon next to PCH. 

I lived there for a few years in the early 80s in a converted gazebo that I'm sending you a couple of pictures of. The gazebo was on the property of Bob Smith, who was the photographer at the Santa Monica Outlook I think it was called. Bob had told me that if I made the gazebo livable I could have it rent free for a period of time. 

I recently came across an article by accident when I was looking up something to do with Topanga Canyon and discovered that Murphy had died ... Can you tell me when that was, it looks as though it might have been last summer, as the service was in June. I was probably one of many people who knew Murphy reasonably well as I used to surf the point there for about 5 or 6 years. I also worked in Brenda's Kitchen where most of the locals ate regularly, which was situated next to the bait and tackle shop where the Beach Boys Drummer was a frequent visitor before his death. I worked alongside Jack Lester and others at the kitchen, and because I'm an Englishman by birth, they all knew me as English John. Strangely enough I am now an Australian, and writing to you from Kirra Beach in Queensland, Australia. I emigrated to Australia in 1990 from California, basically because I wanted to surf the Australian points and beach breaks. I had been very happy in California, and have been back a few times over the years and always feel as though I never left, I love it there, but my life is here now as I approach 60. 

The water in Australia is much warmer and the waves more consistent, but I'll always remember Topanga for its vibrant mix of artistic personalities and how well accepted I became there. I was sorry to hear of its demise; but there were always rumours about when, not if, it would happen. 

I don't remember everyones names, but there were surfboard shapers like Robbie Dick, and surf movie makers, 3 of them I can remember, but unfortunately no names, (early onset Oldtimers disease I think). 

There was Dave Willis, who went back East after his girlfriend choked to death in a restaurant, there was Barretta, a very colorful character, there was Kim Lester, Jacks brother, both of whom, I believe were basically homeless, and there was Jeff who worked at Bob Dylans property as groundskeeper and had a guitar shop in Westwood, who I did some work with because my background was in the rock and roll industry before I took up surfing. 

I roadied for some major rock bands like Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Prince, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, AC/DC, Air Supply; The Cars, Stevie Wonder, Heart, Foriegner and more. 

I had recently retired from the road when I took up surfing and was working in Electronics in South Pasadena whilst living in Hollywood, and driving to the beach at night sometimes and spending the night at the beach in my car, getting up at the crack of dawn for the dawn session, and then driving to work, and then making the return trip in the afternoon to finish the day. Needless to say, that got old quick, so I got rid of the job, and moved out to the beach where Bob Smith offered me this deal. I had got to know him through working at Brenda's Kitchen, which by the way had previously been known as Chris's Kitchen. 

Quite obviously, I have spent a bit of time out there and no doubt there are hundreds of stories like mine. 

Just thought I'd share some of that with you, and if you know anyone who remembers me, please say hi and pass on my email address if you like...

Hope this made some sense to you, if you were at all interested. 

I've attached a few pictures of me and my VW Bus in the Topanga Beach parking lot and a couple of my British flag surfboard, as any of the locals if they remember me or it. 

--love and stuff, 
Gold Coast 



"Kidnapping Laid to Liquor Gang"
Fisherman Taken Off Boat by Gun-Toting Band
Officers Fight Rum-runners and Capture Two
Another Flees After Battle at Topanga Beach

Kidnapped by rum-runners, police believe, because of his knowledge of their activities, John Kovalevosky, fisherman of 639 Upland Avenue, San Pedro, was spirited away from his boat yesterday and no trace of him has been found. The Russian's craft, Isami, was moored alongside the San Pedro wholesale fish market when a speedy motorboat came up with a crew of armed men, and he was forced to accompany them.

Cruising in the vicinity of Santa Cruz Island last Saturday night, the Isami was commandeered by rum-runners, police say, and used in landing a quantity of liquor. Kovalevosky rowed a dory to the island for the men, it is reported, and then was permitted to return to his boat. He reported the incident immediately on his arrival at San Pedro.

Two Captured

Police and deputy sheriffs working on the case believe the kidnappers to be part of a gang, two of whom were captured at Topanga Canyon Beach yesterday, while a third escaped in a hail of bullets, after a raid by Sheriff Traeger's prohibition enforcement detail.

The two men captured at the time of the surprise raid gave their names as A. B. Clift, 37 years of age, 123 Commercial Street, and Allen C. Smith, 122 Commercial Street.

The arrest of the two men followed a heated gun battle with officers under Capt. Benton, with Deputy Sheriffs Hastings and Dougherty playing a leading role. At the time the officers sprang from their hiding place in the rocks, the prisoners had just finished unloading the second dory-load of liquor transported to the beach from a speedboat lying offshore, according to Capt. Benton.

They Open Fire

When ordered to surrender, the men opened fire, but were unable to injure the officers who took cover behind near-by rocks.

Two of the men eventually surrendered but the third escaped un-injured amid a shower of bullets from the officers' guns.

The dory, cast adrift in the melee, was recovered and beached at Venice. Efforts to locate the speedboat which transported the liquor from the rum fleet to the dory were without success, as it disappeared in the early morning mists before officers could find a swift craft in which to pursue it.


"BUSINESS CORNER: Reel Inn Malibu"

By Homaira Shifa / Special to The Malibu Times

How many places in the world are there where there is an attorney in a business suit, a surfer with no shoes, and a well-known celebrity standing in the same line? Not too many. But, the Reel Inn in Malibu is one of those unique restaurants that attracts people from all walks of life. 

The Reel Inn offers a wide selection of fresh fish and seafood, including entrĂ©es, appetizers, salads and seafood platters, all at a reasonable price. 

Owner Andy Leonard came up with the idea for a restaurant when he moved to California from the north shore of Boston and couldn’t find the kind of seafood restaurants that are on the East Coast. 

“I drove along the coast and really couldn’t find what I was looking for, maybe two or three were kind of similar, but still not completely,” Leonard said. “I knew that this was a great opportunity.” 

Leonard’s wife, Teddy, who is the chief operating officer of the restaurant, said the restaurant is the “In-N-Out” of seafood, where everything is delivered fresh every day and the line goes out the door all day long when the weather is good. 

“We make sure everything we serve is environmentally correct,” Teddy said. “We get it from Seafood of the Pacific and from different parts of the world depending on where the fish is fresh. We don’t serve leftover fish or from cafeterias.” 

It’s hard to miss the clever and unique fish puns regularly posted daily on the sign outside the restaurant. Andy and Teddy have a list in their kitchen with all the ideas for the puns collected from the Malibu community. 

“The neighbors, especially a lot of screenwriters, call in and give us ideas,” Teddy said. “And if we use their idea, we buy them dinner.”

“It has sort of turned into a game,” Andy added. 

Although the Reel Inn has been serving Malibu since 1986, the building in that location has a long and interesting history dating back to at least 1946. 

According to a former bartender named Ralph O’Hara, it was a Mexican restaurant in the 1950s operated by a gay couple. A 6-foot-3, 240-lb. retired wrestler who went by the name “Fat Jack” McGurk by night and “Fat Jack” Borfona by day muscled the couple out, according to O’Hara, and renamed the restaurant The Raft in 1964, hiring O’Hara as a bartender. Fat Jack was later killed at Big Rock. In 1967 the restaurant was sold to Jim McDonald and remained The Raft until it closed in 1977. 

The concept of the restaurant in its modern-day incarnation is “family style, large portions, good prices, right on the beach,” Leonard said. The decor is a cross between surf shack and biker hangout, with vintage bicycles, antique decorations, surfboards and much more lining the walls. 

“It is a public version of his garage if you ask me,” Teddy said. 

Andy and Teddy live in Topanga and have a total of 10 children and three grandchildren between them. Teddy’s niece and son-in-law work at the Reel Inn. 

The Reel Inn has been profiled on several well-known television shows, including “The Chew” and “Man vs. Food.” Many celebrities such as Jerry Seinfeld, Michelle Pfeiffer and Paris Hilton regularly stop by. 

“The good thing is that nobody’s going to bug you,” Leonard said. “We don’t have waiters or waitresses. You place your order and pick it up yourself. So nobody bothers you.” 

Teddy attributes their success to their kitchen staff. Most of them have been there for 20 years. 

The Reel Inn supports many local charities and nonprofits, including Heal the Bay, Surfrider Foundation and the local Boys and Girls Club. 

“I love the support we’ve gotten from the community,” Teddy said. “And we support the community, so it’s a win-win situation.” 

“The affordable rent has enabled us to treat people the way we do,” Leonard said. “We are delighted that we can do it and are still there.” 

The Reel Inn Malibu is located on 18661 Pacific Coast Highway near the intersection of Topanga Canyon Blvd. 

For more information about the Reel Inn, visit

LA TIMES 2-17-48

"Actor to Take Rap for Cat in Drunk Driving"

Allen C. Jenkins, 47, screen comedian, appeared before Municipal Judge Lewis Drucker for trial late yesterday on misdemeanor drunk-driving charges. 

The actor was in a more serious mood than he had been at the time of his arrest. He said he had left his cat, Smiley, brooding at home at 18622 W. Topanga Beach Road, because he was afraid the jury wouldn't appreciate that cat's court appearance.

"I'm going to take the rap for Smiley," Jenkins said with a grin. "Smiley's toungue-tied at home and very nervous about the whole thing." At the time of his arrest Jenkins averred that the cat was driving the car.



by J. Murf

I don't remember too much about 1952. I had spent my first five or six years of life toddling around the hills and fire roads near our house on Mulholland Drive. My big black lab named "Boss" was scared of gunshots; so between the two of us, that's about all we were scared of. We had seen snakes, fires, coyotes, and the wrath of my father... about the only thing we hadn't seen was the ocean.

So when we moved to South Topanga Beach that summer, I guess it was like an 'E' ticket at Disneyland. We both took to the water like fish. The bigger the waves, the more time we spent in them. Our adventures took us a little farther south than Ted’s, and as far north as The Point (restaurants). Ted’s was yellow, and The Point had a big easel with a paint brush pointing to it. The highway was just one lane each way, and the houses, like a railroad train, ran from one end of the beach to the other. We lived right in the middle, next to the green two-story house (the observation car).

Most of the time, it seemed, the beach was covered with sand, but sometimes all the sand would be gone, and there was nothing but rocks. It was at these times when the sea life was most abundant. The birds would never eat the mussels, so we didn't either, but everything else was fair game. Grunion, sea anemones, huge crabs, tiny crabs, abalone shells, and an occasional lobster were all on our map of hidden treasures. Even a baby seal would sun himself once in a while.

I would hunt for 2¢ returnable pop bottles, mom would look for shells, Boss would endlessly chase birds, and my little brother would endlessly keep getting lost. This, of course, put mom in a state of panic, but for me and Boss it was the great game of 'hide and seek.' Once, my brother even climbed up the drainpipe that ran under the highway, and was lost for hours. We found him of course, because he always left a clue for us... his swimming trunks!

The ocean was the main attraction. If anywhere in this world there is proof of love at first sight, love everlasting, it's the Pacific Ocean. From totally peaceful, to utterly menacing, it's spectrum rainbows from the pot of gold to the empty beer can (probably Brew 102 at that time). It's ever present waves could be gentle enough to slap you back on the sand, give you the ride of your life, or hold you down, down, and down, and then say, "Don't come back here without total respect!" Only Boss had no fear. They had some kind of nature 'deal' going, where he'd say, "Just let me get this stick back on land where it belongs," and she'd say, "OK, just let me help you." Amazing how much time they spent together.

I, too, spent excessive amounts of time in the water, and still remember my first respect lesson. Much to my mom's chagrin, I used to go out in the big surf on one of those four-foot, red-and-blue mats. I'd take off at the top of those one-story waves, shoot down the face, out in front of the crashing white water, and ride into the beach. This one time, however, I shot down the face and right off the front of the mat. The wave crushed me to the bottom, and then like superman, I was flying one inch off the bottom towards the shore. The next thing I remember I was lying on the beach, coughing up salt water and gasping for air... a few minutes later, though, I was right back out there. I mean the surf WAS UP!

Another time, when there was lots of sand and the surf was due to come up, my dad showed me a fun thing. In the early afternoon, when the tide was low, we dug a big trench straight down in the sand and out towards the ocean. Then, when the surf and tide came in, in the evening, the water would rush into the trench and shoot thirty feet into the air like a geyser…. While we were having a great time though, mom was trying to keep the high tide out of the living room. I think it was right after, that she started saying, "The beach house was too far away from everything."

I only remember a few other things. Like having to wash off the T.V. antenna to get reception, or building a model boat that took all summer... quick, easy to assemble, I think it said. No tools necessary -- ha. And then there was feeding the seals at the Sea Lion, or watching the fish at the Cliff House... but those were car rides... which took me too far away from my beach, my waves, and everything.

(Note: BOSS came back years later, reincarnated as ZORBA.)


"Will They be Interpreted?"

Among the Prehistoric Dead of Topango Canyon.
Coolbaugh excavating and soliloquizing at the ancient mound which he discovered, and a few of the massive skulls he uncovered.

Musty Study.

What Is the Story of the Ancient Mound?

Discoverer in the Topango Delves for It.

Over a Hundred Skeletons Already Found.

"Jack Rabbit Lodge" is the picturesque name given by W. W. Coolbaugh to his cabin four miles up the Coast from Santa Monica. Here, on a six-acre flat—the delta of Topango Canyon—Coolbaugh Is patiently waiting to prove upon his government claim. Coolbaugh is an old prospector and miner and in searching along the Malibu Coast for a claim upon which to file as a homestead he discovered that this fertile fiat was unsurveyed government land. Forthwith he took possession, and here he is monarch of all he surveys. He enjoys all the rights of a squatter, and is patiently awaiting the coming of the government surveyors and the day for making his final proof. It was while "holding down" this claim that he discovered the ancient Indian mound, whose mysterious and musty contents are partially revealing the story of the dim past. Topango Creek flows near by, bearing its message from the upper reaches of Topango and Garapatos canyons, pouring its feeble flood into the Pacific. Coolbaugh finds "books in the running brook, sermons in stone, and good in everything,” and the long hours of the winter nights he spends in an effort to piece together the bones and stones which have been uncovered during the balmy days.

While making a clearing of the meadow, his practiced eye was attracted to the oval-shaped and evenly formed mound, whose partial contents are today being investigated by the Smithsonian Institution. No sooner had this practical old miner sunk his pick into the soil that forms the covering of the mound than his unerring conclusion was that the hillock was the work of man. The earth was of a kind unlike that of the surrounding flat, and this proved to him that it had been carried there for the purpose of covering something sacred, or valuable, it might be, reposing underneath. Cautiously and with care he continued to excavate, until his spade came upon large boulders. Excavations were made at several different points and all with the same result. He selected the westerly side of the mound for operations, and after removing the stratum of boulders, he found himself working in a soft, black, ashy soil. At a depth of a few inches below the stone covering, he came upon the tops of the massive skulls of what he at once determined were those of a tribe of Indians that had roamed the Santa Monica Mountains long ages ago.

Up to this time the mound, which is perhaps 100 feet long by forty feet in width at the broadest point, has yielded portions of more than a hundred skeletons—and the exploration has scarcely been commenced. Coolbaugh continues to marvel at the discovery, not knowing what secret the next stroke of his shovel may reveal. Up to this time he has found nothing of metallic or intrinsic worth, aside from the value which the bones, implements, weapons, utensils, tools, idols or images may prove to the scientists who are endeavoring to read the story of another age brought to the surface.

Coolbaugh has conversed with old timers, whose parents and those before them frequented these parts in the latter part of the seventeenth century, but so far he has been unable to find even faint recollection of the time when the mouth of Topango Canyon was used by the Indians as a burial ground. One of the families of Spanish descent had heard in the long ages ago of an Indian legend, which, handed down from father to son, seems to connect the incident of the wholesale burial with the first outbreak of the "Smoking Mountain," which is not far from the outpost of the Indians' happy hunting ground. According to this legend, in the days before the face of white men had been seen along the Coast of Southern California—before the natives of the mountain canyons that run into the sea had ever seen the white wings of explorers' or pirates’ ships as a speck on the broad expanse of sea—there occurred an Indian massacre, when all of the inhabitants of a Topango village were killed bv a marauding enemy that fell upon them. The bodies of the dead were piled in a heap, according to the prevailing custom, covered with stones, and a funeral pyre burned over their heads. The fire thus started, so the legend runs, leaped deep into the fissures between the rocks; it gave birth to the mountain, whose intermittent smoking continues to this day.

The massacre of an entire village in those days, for the petty crime of stealing a cow, was not unusual; but the connection between this ancient grave and the origin of the burning mountain, as carried in the legend, is a turn to the story which Coolbaugh is unwilling to accept as gospel truth.

The old delta philosopher, whose nightly companions are the bones or warriors of a once proud and defiant race, has found among other things a rude stone device which he at first believed was either a weapon or some implement of husbandry or culinary use. But this theory he has since abandoned and is satisfied In his own mind that it was undoubtedly the mace or royal scepter, which was carried by the man of large frame who as a herald always announced the approach of the chieftain of the tribe. When Sir Francis Drake visited along these shores more than 300 years ago he reported having found the chief, or king, as Drake called him, thus accompanied. The chief was invariably distinguished by wearing an ornamental chain of a boney substance "every link or particle thereof being very little and thin, most finely burnished, with a hole pierced through the middest." Small links answering this description have been discovered in the mound. There are other links that might have been used as wampum. These consist of shells strung on sinews or fiber, rubbed down to a circular shape. In the burial of the Indians of that day it was the custom to lay the weapons and effects away with the bodies of their owners. It was also their practice in preparing the bodies for burial to double the knees against the chest, and thus bind them firmly with a stout cord. The bodies uncovered at the Topango delta are for the most part in this position, although some of them have evidently fallen over. Beside them, too, are found the stone implements, the flint arrow heads and the other bone and stoned rills, needles, implements and handiworks and tools of the craft.

But the generally-accepted theory of Coolbaugh as well as of those who have viewed the ancient burial mound is that the burial antedated the coming of Drake by many years, as the stories that were told by the natives to the Padres in 1776, when Junipero Serra visited the Malibu coastline, included no recital of a general slaughter during the years immediately preceding. The memory of those then living, coupled with the tales that had been told to them by their fathers and grandsires, carried the history of the canyons back to Drake's time. The next backward step leads to Cabrillo, the Portuguese navigator, who sailed the waters of Santa Monica Bay as early as 1542, touching at the mouth of the Santa Monica barranca. He found the natives who flocked to the beach to greet him a friendly race and their relations during his brief stay were pleasant. In their recital to him of their tribal customs, they spoke of the practice of burying the dead, rather than cremating them. They also told him that it was their practice to place at the feet of the sitting dead such articles as they may have owned. Those stone tools were to indicate the occupation of the dead. In exhuming the remains found in the Topango Mound. Coolbaugh finds the stone implements and dishes thus placed. With them he finds also bone whistles, such as might have been used by these Indians who sang funeral dirges, with accompaniment whistled through a deer's leg bone.

One of the first skulls brought to the light of day was found to have a long flint arrowhead deeply imbedded in the region of the temple. Several of the other skeletons show deep fractures such as might have been inflicted by battleaxes or tomahawks, but as yet no war clubs or axes of any description have been discovered. Another of the skulls had horns, which protruded from near the front of the ear cavity and encircled the head. These horns, which were two or three inches In length, were apparently of the same bone composition as the skulls and had evidently been a part of them; but they were so slender and mellow with age that at the first handling after exposure to the air the horns became separated from the skull.

Older Articles

About Me

My photo
Los Angeles, California, United States
Official website at