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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Documents from 1940s and ’50s Foretold Different Fate for Malibu

• Lagoon Was Once Slated to Become a Luxury Yacht Club and 500-Boat Harbor

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN


The state park’s Malibu Lagoon restoration plan has focused community attention on the 31-acre wetland and generated fears and a lawsuit. Arguments continue to rage over whether the restoration plan is too extreme and if it will have a negative impact on the surf break.
However, there was a time when the lagoon—and the beach so famous for its surf that it was recently named the world’s first surfing reserve, faced complete destruction.
Longtime Malibu resident Louis Busch reminded the Malibu Surfside News that in 1946 the lagoon was set to become a yacht harbor, complete with berths for 500 yachts, a two-story concrete boat garage for 180 more boats, a 60,000-square-foot clubhouse, 11 acres of dredging and a massive 4700-foot-long breakwater that would have meant the end of Malibu’s endless summer for surfers.
The Malibu Quarterdeck Club and Yacht Harbor development, headed by Edward D. Turner, would have “partially realized the dreams of the late Frederick Rindge, onetime owner of the entire Malibu, soon to be realized with the completion of the Malibu Quarterdeck Club and Yacht Harbor,” a brochure from the 1940s proclaims.
“Rindge during his lifetime had envisioned the Malibu, with its picturesque mountains and unrivaled beaches, as ‘the Riviera of America,’ a dream, however, that he was not destined to see accomplished,” the brochure continues.
Turner saw the Malibu Lagoon as “a site for the construction of a yachting center in the Southland comparable with the famed Miami Quarterdeck Club.”
Cliff May (1909-1989), the architect famed for developing the California ranch house, was enlisted to design a clubhouse and surrounding grounds in a “style reminiscent of the South Seas.”
The plans called for “hand-hewn redwood with aquamarine tile roofing...a 14-foot glass windshield, constructed of specially treated glass and metals, and inverted like the prow of a ship, will be placed atop the breakwater to protect bathers and those dining on the outdoor terraces and in dining rooms.”
The optimistic Turner reportedly built a construction shed to house the heavy equipment required for the project and began work before final approvals from the county were in place.
However, Rhoda Adamson, Rindge’s daughter, who still owned the Adamson House with her husband Merritt Adamson, vehemently opposed the plan, as did William Hubert, the owner of the Malibu Pier, and other members of the community.
The battle raged for over a year in front of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
In September of 1947, Turner began excavating for the foundation of the yacht club. In November he held a BBQ in the Malibu Colony celebrating the driving of the first pile for the clubhouse. Two weeks later he was dead, leaving his stockholders scrambling to retrieve their uninvested capital.
A second effort, spearheaded by Henry Gutman, president of the Malibu Improvement Association, reportedly had the blessing of the county and the federal government in 1966. The 1960s marina would have been easily accessible from the San Fernando Valley. Concurrent plans for a multi-lane freeway through the Santa Monica Mountains would have transformed what is now the Civic Center into an interchange.
“One of Malibu’s fondest dreams, that of establishing a small craft harbor, with all its attendant lodging, dining and recreational facilities, now seems closer to reality,” a 1966 advertisement for the proposed marina stated.
“The county has approved the idea of private financing for the harbor and the Federal Government has expressed interest in the project since being assured space within it for Coast Guard facilities,” all that remains is the lease negotiations with the state, bilateral approval of the over-all project, and completion of the various stages of development leading up to the Marina as planned by the Improvement Corporation and the state.”
There would have been little need to worry about the plight of California brown pelicans, great blue herons or other resident bird species—most were rarely seen, with populations hovering on the brink of extinction due to DDT use. However, the environmental movement had begun and the project met furious opposition.
“Many new and exciting changes are taking place with each passing day in Malibu,” veterinarian Herbert Snow, president of the Chamber of Commerce in 1966, wrote. “The Malibu of tomorrow will be a blend of proud past history, coupled with a progressive and orderly development.”
The Los Angeles Regional Planning Commission that year estimated that the population of Malibu would expand to 117,000 by 1980.
Snow was correct that many changes would take place in Malibu, but the yacht harbor wasn’t destined to be one of them. Malibu’s surfers, environmentalists and the lagoon’s bird and animal population can be glad of that.

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