TOPANGA MESSENGER 7-29-04

"Topanga Ranch Motel Residents Get 30-Day Notice"

by Pablo Capra

On July 1, residents of the Topanga Ranch Motel were given a 30-day notice to vacate by owner Ray Craig, who is in the process of making a deal with State Parks to accept relocation funds for his 65-year-old business and retire.

The motel—which provides some of the last affordable housing by the beach (not to mention an ocean view), and is the only motel around that allows pets—has a rich history that is intimately connected with old Hollywood and William Randolph Hearst.

According to motel resident and film historian Dan Price, William Randolph Hearst bought the bottom of Topanga Canyon and much of the surrounding coastline in the Teens or ’20s. In the late ‘20s, Hearst built the motel cottages as a place where he and his mistress, actress Marion Davies, could put up their beach guests.

The ranch costume parties that Hearst and Davies held there were a fun get-away for the mostly Hollywood crowd who dressed up like cowboys and pioneers, and rode horses in the hills of Topanga.

According to Ray Craig, you can still see the foundations of a shower building and a dining hall that were originally built to serve guests.

In the ’30s, workers stayed in the cottages while they were expanding the PCH. They also moved several cottages that were originally on the beach side to the land side of the highway.

Hearst sold the bottom of Topanga to the Los Angeles Athletic Club (LAACO) in 1938 to keep his empire going during the Great Depression. LAACO first leased the cottages out to a motel in the late ’30s. It was called the Topanga Beach Auto Court.

Price says that famous actors reported to have stayed at the motel include Marilyn Monroe, Errol Flynn, and Peter Lawford.

In 2001, State Parks bought Lower Topanga from LAACO for $43 million dollars; and for the past three years it has been relocating its businesses and residents, and bulldozing its structures.

Permanent motel residents—defined as residents who had been living in the motel for at least 90 days prior to the August 2001 purchase—were paid between $50,000-$60,000 to relocate.

However Price—who hopes that the motel will be saved and continue to stay in business as a part of the local history—and the approximately 50 residents who have moved into the motel’s 31 cottages in the last few years are not ready to leave, nor are they being offered any compensation by State Parks.

“State Parks says that they already compensated all the permanent residents when they relocated people two years ago. They don’t consider the residents being vacated now as permanent or deserving any compensation,” said Stephanie Grayson.

Grayson started working as the motel’s manager shortly after she moved there with her family two years ago. Her husband Adrian Graham does the motel’s maintenance, and two of their three children go to school in Malibu.

David Wrightsman, senior land agent for State Parks, said that although residents who moved into the motel after the 2001 purchase are not eligible for State relocation funds, they may be eligible for some kind of county relocation funds.

Approximately half of the motel’s current residents are permanent, and several of them are planning to hire a lawyer and stay beyond the August 1 deadline.

Fifty-three-year resident Aneta Siegel, who died at age 86 in June, was one of the only permanent residents who moved into the motel before the 2001 purchase but wouldn’t accept relocation funds from State Parks.

“Where will I go?” she asked a Malibu Times reporter in February of this year, shortly after her eviction notice was served to her in a Santa Monica convalescent hospital where she was recovering from major surgery.

“I’m 86, and I’ve just been ‘86ed,’” she joked gloomily. Neighbors say that the fear of having to leave, culminating in the eviction, had put a big strain on her.

Siegel moved into her $30-a-month two-room cottage in 1951. She had spent her early life working as a secretary at the American Embassy in London, and attending London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Siegel also served with the Women’s Army Corps in occupied Berlin and produced radio shows for the Armed Forces Network there.

She was born in New York in 1918, and died in the Santa Monica convalescent hospital on June 1. She had no known family, but is remembered by her neighbors for her intelligence and quick wit.

Lower Topanga resident James Mathers, says that State Parks is not being sensitive to the fact the low-rent areas attract older people and people who can’t afford health care. He believes that the unnecessary strain caused by State Parks mercenary tactics has contributed to the deaths of five Lower Topanga residents, including Siegel.

“At 154,000 acres, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the largest urban park in the world. So why is there this urgency to evict the Lower Topanga residents and business owners who occupy less than two percent of the Lower Topanga purchase?” Mathers asked.

Motel owner Ray Craig believes that State Parks will turn the motel into offices or storage space for its rangers. At present, there is already one ranger living in the motel.

“My hope is that one day Lower Topanga will become a nice campground like Leo Carillo,” Craig said.

Kathleen Franklin, superintendent for the Los Angeles / Topanga sector, said that State Parks still has no general plan for what to do with the Lower Topanga property yet. “We’re waiting for funds to draw up the plan.”

Franklin says that the motel is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and therefore will be treated as a historic place instead of being bulldozed like the Topanga Ranch Market, or the houses of Lower Topanga residents. However, she said that some cottages may be moved to make room for an ambitious lagoon expansion project.

Concerning the motel’s new function, Franklin said that State Parks may choose to run the motel in its historic role as a motor court. It is also considering turning the motel into a concessionaire, a youth hostel, or office spaces for non-profit corporations.

But there are also those who don’t believe that the state of California will ever have money to build the park.

As Hayden Sohm, the Malibu area superintendent for State Parks, says, “In view of the current state of the economy, whether it will happen is anyone’s guess.”

...

LA WEEKLY 7-11-12

Arts News

"8-Foot-Tall Lego Man Washes Up on Topanga Beach; No One Gives a Damn"

By Simone Wilson
Photos courtesy of No Such Agency & Lab Art Los Angeles


Here's the difference between Florida and California:

When a giant 8-foot-tall Lego man washes up on the beach as part of a guerilla art project, Florida cops detain him and hold him in custody (as we saw last October).

But when the same thing happened early this morning at L.A. County's Topanga Beach...

... "law enforcement didn't do anything," says Hailey Hamilton, a PR person for the Lab Art gallery on 2nd and La Brea, where the artist behind the Lego man will be featured in a one-day exhibit tomorrow.

"He's still at the beach," she says of the Lego man, "and people are still just taking pictures of him."

Why has the reaction in California been so much more relaxed? Hamilton's theory is that "Everyone is just really friendly in California. Even the lifeguards and beach patrol are taking pictures."

Of that phenomenon, she sends us photo evidence (see left; click to enlarge).

Then there's the fact that guerilla street art has become almost commonplace in Los Angeles. If your gallery exhibit isn't foreshadowed by a defaced Sunset Strip billboard or ruby slippers/teddy bears hanging from telephone lines, you're not doing it right. And a series of paper-mache statements around downtown L.A. recently demonstrated that all an artist has to do for some media attention is throw a life-sized surfer on a dirt plot, then hide in the bushes and watch smugly as everyone frenzies to uncover his identity.

In the not-so-mysterious case of the Lego surfer, we know exactly who planted him in the Pacific: An international artist who goes by Ego Leonard. He's pulled similar stunts in the Netherlands, the UK and Florida, all with the same 8-foot model.

TIME Magazine named the Florida incident one of the "Top 10 Oddball-News Stories of 2011."

The same event today, however, has received almost no press (or police) coverage, aside from a small "iReport" on CNN.com. It appears this art project is either old news by now, or we Angelenos are just more accustomed to strange radioactive odds 'n' ends floating up during our picnics. Welcome to the party, 8-foot Lego man!

If no one shows up to confiscate the sculpture in the next couple hours, Hamilton says the gallery will come retrieve him. Kind of anticlimactic -- but maybe that's become the jaded reality of street-art-saturated Los Angeles.

Anyway, we'll bite. This guy is awesome. And the local surfers think so too.

If you run down to Topanga before sunset, you might still have a chance to snap a pic with this amazing existential sculpture dude before his trip to Lab Art. Tweet them to us, and we'll gladly add you to the hall of fame.









THE MALIBU TIMES 7-5-00

"The Mystery Man from the Magic Band"

By Susan Bunn

The L.A. Times calls it one of the best rock 'n' roll albums ever produced. Newsweek magazine said the group's music set an unmatched standard. Rolling Stone talks about the myth and legend of the great American outsider band, and, MOJO, a top music magazine of Great Britain, claims that Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band's re-released Safe as Milk album from the '60s remains "a towering achievement, an avant-garde pop masterpiece."

These comments come 30 something years after the tracks had been recorded during a cult resurgence of the album that introduced the songwriting talent of Malibu writer/actor Herb Bermann to the world. Four record labels, among them BMG, are distributing the re-release of what is now a rock 'n' roll classic CD.

"Captain Beefheart and I hooked up in 1966," recalls Bermann. "I was a poet. I was an actor on the run. I had done Kildare and Asphalt Jungle, the TV series, and I decided I could write.

"I lived on the Sunset strip where the best music was happening," he continued. "As all writers do, I had a trunk of fragments of work and poems and inspirational whatever."

Bermann describes the writers of that time in a direct line with the beat poets of the '50s, breaking all the rules. He is quick to point out that during that time they were not writing for the fun of it.

"We weren't recreational writers," he said. "We were politically involved in a difficult time. We were in an unjust war in Vietnam and we wanted to comment on it. We wanted to make a difference--we did."

Bermann is passionate in his belief that the greatest songwriting in this country occurred during the late sixties.

"I've collaborated with a lot of other artists and bands since then," he said. "It's been satisfying but we never reached this level."

Bermann's success with Beefheart put him on the map as a writer. He then drew on contacts from his decade of work as a television actor and moved into a new form of writing, the screenplay.

"The first job I did won me a Writers' Guild Award in the early '70s," Bermann said. "It was for a Sunday night mystery movie on NBC for Universal."

Even more important to Bermann was the fact that the script, about a terminally ill golfer struggling with breaking the news to his family, influenced public awareness.

"When an artist does something, he has no idea what kind of life of its own that piece or work is going to have," he said. "You just do it and they pay you and you go home and hope that you'll work again. Portions of that script were recorded into the Library of Congress, influencing a pilot program in oncology to help terminal patients and their families."

Bermann has lived in Topanga Canyon for more than half his life, for 35 years. A New Jersey native, he was strictly pavement before he found his home in Malibu.

"I wake up and there's deer gazing out my bedroom window," he said. "The birds start singing at about two-thirty in the morning. I didn't get that off Columbus Circle in New York."

Bermann's creative life is as natural as his surroundings.

"For me it was never a business," he explains. "The problem is you have to write about something. In order to write about something you must be moved or touched to touch others. You pick a form, there are boundaries within that form."

For Bermann, there is delight in the recent attention around his resurrected artistic achievements of the past. There is reverence for the opportunity to write in any form. His direction is clear.

"If you're really a seeker and a spiritual survivor, if you really recognize your own self as a work in progress, it's the journey and not the destination," he said. "Where I'm going is, if there's a story to tell, I'll tell it to the best of my ability. The human experience is so full of magic, mystery and wonderment that a writer worth his or her salt will never run out of stories."

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