Article and photos by Pam Linn

It was definitely a reunion, but not the usual sort where no one recognizes the chubby ex-cheerleader or the flabby former football hero.

Everyone seemed instantly recognizable Sunday at the Old Topanga Beach reunion of artists, writers, musicians and surfers who inhabited the unique enclave three decades ago. The mix of ages (from four to eightysomething) was broad as ever.

"I was as old as the sphinx back then," said Carroll Pratt, now of Mendocino, whose son Scott, 31, is a still photographer for a production company. "These reformed wild kids are all grown up."

Indeed, much of the talk centered on just how wild they were in the '60s; "Woodstock on the beach," according to one. A home video of the times played all afternoon in a black tent, and photos and tall tales circulated among fairly sober celebrants.

Jim Oppliger, now Chief of Homicide at the Fresno District Attorney's office, said, "I lived here in '68 and '69, the wildest years here. Rock star Jim Morrison of the Doors was here and Canned Heat."

Filmmaker Walter Littenberg allowed that they were doing a lot of drugs in those days. "Everyone seemed to be able to hold jobs. Monday to Friday they had regular lives, then on the weekend, the whole beach was blitzed," he said. "I was a real estate broker then, made just enough money so I could enjoy the scene."

His wife, Gaylord Burke Littenberg, called it the "quintessential beach scene. When the state tried to take over the beach, Lloyd turned a one-minute take-over into a 10-year battle. There were seven 'last' summers, and we gave one bureaucrat a heart attack."

"We had parties and charged money so we could pay our rent," said Bob Hawley. "It was quite a lifestyle. A lot of us are still looking for that. Some moved to Hawaii."

John Marrow and Cynthia Ho live on the Kona side of Hawaii, where he says surfing is great for him. Craig E. Halley, called the "real spirit of Topanga Beach" by friend Lloyd Ahern, said, "Time has stood still for us. I live on the same kind of beach in Maui, continued the same lifestyle as here. The only difference is now people are naturally high instead of on chemicals."

Ahern, who only got as far as Pacific Palisades, called it "the Camelot of the west coast. You couldn't have been able to make this up."

George Van Nay was in UCLA Law School. A good surfer and swimmer, he held the world record for 50-meter butterfly in 1959. "To me the world was 100 yards wide. I used to run down the beach to the point every morning at six and swim back," he said. "I wrote Haiku on my final exam; I knew I was leaving to write an epic poem. Drugs diminish your perception of the moment; studying Zen teaches you to live in the moment. I gave up drugs."

They all remembered Beer Can Larry, the mayor of Malibu. He had the thinnest personality and the fattest body," Van Nay said. "Nobody condemned him or tried to do anything about him. They just let him be who he was."

The private beach was famous (or infamous) for its dogs; every house had at least two. "There were spies at each end of the street, and when they saw the dog catcher's truck they rang the air raid siren and the dogs all ran home," Scott Pratt said. "It made the dog catcher crazy."

Ken Helms knew there would never be anyplace like it, so he moved to Park City, Utah. "I changed from a beach bum to a ski bum."

Artist Jimmy Ganzer, who founded Jimmy G's clothing, didn't get any farther than Topanga. "Imagine renting a house here for $135 a month. Fitzpatrick's was the first house on the beach; Victor Mature had lived there. We had a hot shower right on the beach. It was a wild creative bunch of people," he reminisced. "Almost all have been in the arts."

And there were lots of musicians; the neighborhood had its own rock band, Blue Juice, led by singer, writer and guitar player John (Murf the Surf) Murphy, with drummer Jeffery Ort, bassist Don MacVicor, guitarist Ken Helms and George Trafton playing rhythm guitar.

Ort, an art major with six years experience working in an art gallery, said, "I had just graduated from UCLA when I came here. It changed my life. Now I live on Point Dume, surf all day and work at night (as a waiter at Tradenoi). It's something you can't stop. You'll die if you stop."

Sarah Dixon said, "Peter and I were the first to go. We were able to find a lot on Sealevel Drive with a beautiful beach," she said. "But what I missed was the ghetto life we had here. Everyone knew everyone. I don't think you could ever find the diversity, the unpretentious, funky lifestyle."

Historian Paul Lovas tries to keep in contact with everyone. "I lived here from '64 to '74; I moved just across the street."

Marge Bernstein, whose house on Tuna Beach is about as close to the old neighborhood as she could get, organized the 24th anniversary bash. "The land had been owned by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, but we all owned our houses," she explained. "When the state annexed the beach, we were told we had to move the houses off or they would be demolished."

Vicki Andersen moved across the street to a "fixer upper," from which she evacuated during two fires. After her son Christian, now a studio prop master, had left school, she moved back to the Valley to take care of her mother. "This is very emotional for me. I didn't want to leave," she said.

"She was the first female surfer I ever met," said Scott Pratt, who grew up with Christian. "She was my dream mom."

Annette Smith, whose father, Dr. Russell Smith, was one of the original residents in the 1950s, moved about the farthest – to Anchorage. "I grew up here, and I used to baby sit Norman Ollestad and Scott Pratt." She gave up the beach to fly the Alaska Pipeline for Alaska Airlines.

Actually, it was Dough and Reva Meredith who moved the farthest, to New Zealand. They didn't make it to the party, but Bernstein put out a notebook so everyone could write letters to them. "They were devoted to everyone here," she said. "So it will mean a lot to get the letters."

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