Sunday, February 27, 2011
Malibu, the quiet beach community, where movie stars' homes line the private beaches, and the sport of surfing was turned into a national craze. The Chumash Indian village was called Humaliwu, meaning where the surf sounds loudly. They rode the waves in their tomol canoes. Life was good for thousands of years, until the Spanish showed up. The Spanish land grant of 1802 was called Rancho Malibu Topanga Simi Sequit. In the 1890's a wealthy easterner, Fredrick Rindge purchased the land grant. He wrote a book about his life and times, "Happy Days in Southern California." He referred to his Malibu as the "American Riviera." His widow, Rhoda, fought the federal government for 17 years to prevent the railroad from cutting across their land. They lost the battle, and the highway was soon built as well. Now known as PCH, Pacific Coast Highway is dotted with pricey restaurants, where celebrities go. Like Geoffrey's with the beautiful flower filled patio, over looking the ocean, that you never want to leave. Beau Rivage, a lovely Mediterranean Restaurant that was the favorite of Michael Landon and Johnny Carson, and Moonshadows, where Mel Gibson should have left a few hours earlier. Rhoda ended up selling parcels of their beloved ranch, to pay lawyers fees, and many of these choice parcels, Malibu Colony, went to movie stars in the 1930's. A weekend getaway from the summer heat, and long hours at the studios.
The Rindge's daughter, also named Rhoda, married Mr. Adamson, and they had a dairy, Adohr Farms (Rhoda, spelled backwards)I remember drinking Adohr milk here in the sixties. They built another home on the property, and established the Malibu Tile Works. Right there on the beach. There is good clay there. The red tile topped wall many a surfer has leaned their board against, was the Rindge/Adamson property wall. The pier dates back over 100 years. The Rindge family dock, and later used for the tile factory, in the 20's and 30's. The tiles are in homes and buildings all over Southern California. Very collectible now. The Adamson House was the showroom for the tile factory. The whole house is full of tile samples, in beautiful, vibrant, saturated colors, difficult to reproduce today. There is even an oriental rug design all done in tiles, complete with tile fringe. There is a huge tiled fountain in the yard, with the famous point break just beyond. The Adamson House is open for tours a few days a week.
With the building of the road, people began trespassing on the beautiful, untouched beach. 1926. The first Malibu surfer paddled out on a 10 ft. California redwood board.
After WWII, and the re-designing of the board, and use of fiberglass, the sport became more and more popular. Then, in 1957, Frederick Kohner published his book about his daughter's experiences hanging out with the crazy surfers at the beach. The popularity of the book, and subsequent movies, and later tv show, "Gidget", started the whole surf craze, and created a new musical genre.
This of course, did not make the surfers of Malibu happy, with swarms of hodads descending on their beloved turf. And surf. Well, you can't stop a wave, whether it be water or a cultural phenomenon.
I always loved to go to the beach and watch the surfers. I had moved to LA from Arizona in 1965. Arizona had plenty of sand, but no water. So, when I got here, I jumped right in. I got my St. Christopher medal, and striped shirt, bleached my hair blonde, and became a California Girl. I learned to body surf. I loved coming home after a day at the beach, slightly sunburned, gritty with salt and sand, and sleepy from the sun.
Years later, when I worked on the cult surf movie, "Big Wednesday" as a beach bunny and party girl,(type casting!) I learned all about the legendary surfers of Malibu. Miki "Da Cat" Dora, "No Pants" Lance Carson, and others. Some of the Malibu regulars were used in the movie as well, Johnnie Fain, who also appeared in many beach party movies, and Angie Reno. Being a part of that movie experience, ingrained in me a fondness for that time and place, and wanting to know more of the history.
When we went on location to the Hollister Ranch to shoot the film, they perfectly reproduced the wall at Malibu's Surfrider Beach, and built the little palm covered shelter that used to be there where everyone hung out. They needed that pristine look, before all the buildings and houses were built, on Pacific Coast Highway, and the bluffs over looking Surfrider Beach.
The real Gidget Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, is the weekend hostess at yet another storied PCH eatery. Duke's, named after the legendary Hawaiian surfer, and Olympic swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku. He also re-introduced the sport of surfing to the islands, after missionaries discouraged it. And he brought it to the Mainland. The restaurant has a kitsch Hawiian surf motif. You can buy Kathy's Dad's book there.
More recently,I had attended a couple of "Big Wednesday" Reunions at Duke's. They were benefits for the Surfrider Foundation. I met Kathy Zuckerman there, and many of the cast and crew from the movie showed up, and we all partied again.
I don't get to the beach much anymore, but when I do go, I always want to go to Surfrider, in Malibu. And nearly everytime I'd been there, I'd see Angie Reno there, eternal beach boy.
Malibu is world famous, for it's surf and celebrities. I'm sure Barbie and the Chevy helped to make it so, and all the movies shot there; it is such a part of American culture. People ask me at the Visitors Center where I work, how to get to Malibu. I try to prepare them, because for all it's glamor and fame, it's still just a quiet little town, and at Surfrider, it's just the sun, and the sand, and the surfers in the water, catching some tasty waves at one of the best surfing spots in the world.
Footnote: Last year, Malibu was designated the first world surfing preserve. In a ceremony performed by the Chumash people, it was recognized, and as such, will be protected because of its historical, cultural, biological and economic significance.