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Malibu History

The Rindge's Ranch

Frederick Hastings Rindge purchased the thousands of acres of the Rancho Malibu in 1892. A Cambridge-born and Harvard-educated heir of over two million dollars, Frederick moved west with his wife, May Knight Rindge, and three children: Samuel Knight Rindge, Frederick Hastings Rindge, Jr., and Rhoda Agatha Rindge.

In addition to their Santa Monica home, the Rindges built a Malibu Canyon ranch house named Laudamus Hill. While Frederick shrewdly invested in oil, utilities, and insurance and increased the property by over 4,000 acres through negotiations with neighbors, Frederick delighted in exploring his ranchland on foot and writing verse. He published several books included a memoir, Happy Days in Southern California. 

Frederick dreamed of transforming Malibu into a destination to rival the rivieras of the Mediterranean, but faced practical challenges to his plans in the form of fires (one destroyed the Malibu ranch in 1903), the Southern Pacific Railroad, and other ranchers in need of improved thoroughfares between Santa Monica and Santa Barbara. The Rindges were not eager for any stretch of their vast land holdings to serve that purpose.

After a lifetime of poor health, Frederick H. Rindge died in 1905, leaving all of his property and plans to May K. Rindge.

The Queen of Malibu

After the death of her husband, May K. Rindge dedicated her life to keeping her family's 25-mile slice of paradise along the pacific intact. May quickly founded the Marblehead Land Company in order to officially manage her many assets. May set to realizing one of Frederick's plans–a railroad to nowhere. Thanks to a law that prevented duplication of an existing railroad line, May directed the laying out of 15 miles of track across the beach. This needed constant maintenance, but was sufficient to keep the Southern Pacific Railway away. 

As the years passed, the automobile presented an additional challenge to May's plans to prevent the establishment of a public right-of-way through her property. The series of lawsuits and counter-suits that followed came with press coverage dubbing May the "Queen of Malibu." The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. The decision to allow for the construction of the Roosevelt Highway–eventually the Pacific Coast Highway–was the first landmark case won on the grounds of the "great beauty" the "scenic highway" would provide to the public. 

After spending so much in court over the years, May was in need of money-making ventures. With ceramicist Rufus B. Keeler leading operations, Malibu Potteries began production in 1926. It quickly became well-regarded for its vibrant ceramic tile, which still adorn buildings from the Adamson House to Los Angeles City Hall today. After a devastating fire in 1931 in combination with the Great Depression, it stopped production in 1932. Nine thousand boxes of tile were salvaged.

Also in 1926, May began renting out temporary beachfront lots. Attracted by the idea of tranquil beachfronts, silent film stars jumped, the press and public interest followed, and the near-mythic Malibu Movie Colony was born. 

Despite these efforts and the prior sale of some land and other assets to family members, the Marblehead Land Company filed for bankruptcy in 1936. Construction on May's 50-rooom Serra Hill mansion stalled, and the Marblehead dramatically reorganized. 

When May died in 1941, she had $750 to her name. 


Malibu after May

After her death in 1942, the Franciscan Order paid $50,000 for 26 acres of the Rindge land, including May's unfinished hilltop mansion, and Malibu Potteries tiles. The Serra Retreat remains to this day. 

Frederick and May Rindge’s only daughter, Rhoda Agatha Rindge Adamson, maintained much of the Rindge land with her husband, Merritt (“Smoke”) Huntley Adamson, as the well-regarded Adohr (Rhoda spelled backwards) stock farm and eventually, the Adohr Farms dairy. Their home, the beachfront Adamson House, features extensive examples of Malibu Tiles. The Adamson House was designated a California Historic Landmark in 1977 and houses the Malibu Lagoon Museum. 

The Adamson House sits right off of what is known as Surfrider Beach. It is said that in 1927 the legendary Duke Kahanamoku, who was staying with Ronald Colman at #16 in the Movie Colony, brought a group of locals down to the beach through a hole in the Malibu Potteries fence and taught them how to surf. A few decades later, screenwriter Frederick Kohner was so intrigued by his teen daughter Kathy's tales of summer days spent surfing in Malibu, and asked if he could write a novel inspired by it.Gidget resulted in films, a TV series, and a general enthusiasm for surfing as hobby, lifestyle, and also a place. Malibu. 

While the Colony became permanent and even more exclusive over the years, and the number of boards in the water increased, the old grant of Rancho Topanga Malibu reflects its origins through the horse properties still threaded throughout the hills and creek beds of the area. More recently, the City of Malibu also hosts an Annual Chumash Day: Native American Powwow and Intertribal Gathering.

In the late 1960's, the fledgling predominantly white George Pepperdine College was located in predominantly black South Los Angeles. The college's leadership considered suburban locations for an additional campus in response to racial tensions and uprisings, including those after the murder of Larry Kimmons.

Members of the Adamson-Rindge family donated 138 acres and offered an additional 58.7 acres to Pepperdine College for a Malibu campus. This campus opened to students in September of 1972.

Sources: Randall, David K. The King and Queen of Malibu; The Serra Retreat Story; The Malibu Lagoon Museum. The Story of Malibu