"Thanks for the Memories…"
by Robert R. Feigel
Photos by Frank Lamonea, John Clemens, Anthony Friedkin, and Woody Stuart
TOPANGA BEACH EXPERIENCE: 1960s - 70s
Author: Paul Lovas (as told to Pablo Capra)
Publisher: Brass Tacks Press
For me, reading this small, but potent book was both strange and exciting.
Strange, because Paul - who is 7 years my junior - became part of the beach community I know so well at a time when I was in the process of leaving it. As a result, much of what he experienced either happened after I'd left or involved a younger generation.
Exciting, because he fills in so many of the gaps that were missing from my own experience.
For example, I finally found out what led to my friend Woody Woodward's near fatal stabbing and what happened to the houses just south of "The Yellow Submarine" house that used to belong to the Roach family.
After reading through Paul's smooth, often humorous, narrative and looking at the photos from that period, I'm almost sad that I missed the transition from the Topanga Beach of the early-mid 60s to that of the late-60s after I'd moved to Maui.
Paul's book sets the scene for some wonderful counterculture exploits that have since become part of coastal legend and shouldn't be missed. Take George's narrow escape from the cops. It is one of the funniest things I've ever read and Shane's ongoing battles with the fumbling, frustrated dogcatcher is classic. They must have driven the authorities mad more than once.
On the other hand, some of the antics were already part of local beach culture years before they were reinvented by later arrivals.
No rocks on the roof for me. When the noise from one of the band's practice sessions would drive me bonkers, I'd sneak out of my little room above the garage at Dr Schweiger's house (just north of the "Yellow Submarine") and slightly loosen one or two of the fuses that powered the living room in the main house so all the lights and amplifiers would suddenly die. Because I'd only loosen the fuses just enough to disconnect the electricity all the fuses looked just fine when George or Davey or Jay or Jeff would come out to check with a flashlight. By the time someone finally thought to test if they were screwed in tight (probably Craigy), I was half-way to Costa Rica.
We'd also wreak unmentionable havoc on trespassers (aka "outsiders") with pellet guns, slingshots, deflated tires and dog poo on their car seats. But I'd like to think our generation was just a bit more original and a lot less obvious.
After all, Topanga Beach was a more balanced little community back then.
By balanced, I mean it was made up of a wide assortment of different people: old, young, rich, poor, families, gay couples, loners, lovers, artists, business people, actors, cops, ballet dancers, models, surfers, students, teachers, carpenters, filmmakers, lifeguards, writers, musicians, stuntmen, lawyers, sailors, even a professional golfer cum poacher and an award winning soundman. And, for the most part, we all got along, accepting each other's differences and respecting each other's space.
All that was starting to change by the time I left for Maui in 1968 and I returned two years later to a fragmented, harder, less open community made up mostly of people under 30.
Not that this is in any way meant as a criticism of Paul's photo rich book or the period it covers. The times they were a changin' anyway. And not just on Topanga Beach or in Southern California. American society was in the midst of major changes from sea to shining sea, and the laid-back, easy going lifestyles and optimistic expectations of post war America had finally given way to overdoses, suicides, flag draped coffins, blind patriotism and thoroughly corrupt politicians and their supporters. In other words, it was replaced by cynicism, hedonism and me-ism.
Paul's book is a must read for anyone who wants to taste the magic of a beach community that was completely eradicated just for being different, as well as by everyone who ever lived at Topanga Beach before the bulldozers and remembers how special it was.
For me, the book's last paragraph says it all:
"Leaving was sad, but moving on for many was a good time to explore. People went out and started seeing new places to surf and live their lives. There was a new era coming, and it wasn't bad, but the old one ... boy, you couldn't beat it if you were at Topanga."
Thanks for the memories Paul....