Malibu History: The Rindge Family

The Rindge Dam in Malibu Canyon, located 2.5 miles north of Malibu Lagoon, where Malibu Creek meets the Pacific Ocean.
The Rindge Dam in Malibu Canyon, located 2.5 miles north of Malibu Lagoon, where Malibu Creek meets the Pacific Ocean. During improvements to the Malibu Rancho, the 100-foot-high dam was built in 1925 by May Rindge, with a 574 acre-foot reservoir to control floods and conserve the water of Malibu Creek. The reservoir filled with silt in less than twenty five years and is under consideration for demolition, part of efforts to restore the Malibu Creek watershed and re-establish native species, especially the Steelhead Trout. Malibu hearings in 2013 continued to plan the $100 million dam removal project. The dam is one of the few vestiges of the Rindge period of Malibu.

Malibu History: The Rindge Family

Frederick Hastings Rindge.  Los Angeles Magazine.
Frederick Hastings Rindge.

In 1892 Frederick Hastings Rindge and May Knight Rindge, the fourth and last owners of the entire Rancho Malibu, purchased the 13,330-acre tract from Henry Keller's son Matthew, for a then fabulous price of $10 per acre (up from ten cents per acre 35 years earlier). They later expanded the ranch to 17,000 acres, buying up the holdings of homesteaders with adjacent property.

With the purchase of Rancho Malibu, Mr. Rindge realized his dream of the ideal country home: "A farm near the ocean, under the lee of the mountains, with a trout brook, wild trees , a take, good soil, and excellent climate, one not too hot in summer." He built a large ranch house in Malibu Canyon (beneath present-day Serra Retreat) to serve as a headquarters for the ranch. It was a working cattle and grain-raising ranch which through the many years of the Rindge dynasty was to become one of the most valuable large real estate holdings in the United States.

In 1903 the Malibu Canyon home was destroyed by a disastrous brush fire. Following the fire, the family lived in temporary tent houses and a cabin until two years later when Frederick Hastings Rindge died at the age of 48 in 1905. Following Frederick Rindge's death, May K. Rindge took over the management of her husband's extensive business affairs including the Malibu Ranch.

Battle against the Railroad

May Rindge, dubbed "Queen of the Malibu" by newspaper detractors, wanted most of all to be left alone to run her Rancho Malibu in peace. It was not to be. In 1904, the Southern Pacific Railroad applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission to build tracks linking the Long Wharf in Santa Monica with their northern tracks at Santa Barbara. The connection proposed was a straight line right through the Malibu ranch. A loophole in the ICC law prevented condemning a right-of-way parallel to an already existing railroad, so the Rindges decided to build a private railroad through Rancho Malibu to keep the bigger railroad company out. Mr. Rindge died in 1905 but May Rindge carried on with the plan and built 15 miles of standard gauge tracks called the Hueneme, Malibu and Port Los Angeles Railway.

Hueneme, Malibu and Port Los Angeles Railway
Hueneme, Malibu and Port Los Angeles Railway trestle over Ramirez Canyon above Paradise Cove. Photo: Malibu Historical Society, Los Angeles Magazine.

The line was completed in 1908 and remained in use until the 1920s, used mainly to ship grains and hides from the ranch operations via the Malibu Pier. It ran from Las Flores Canyon to a point near Yerba Buena Canyon in Ventura County, using the flat sandy land along the coast and spanning canyons with immense trestle bridges. The short life of this tiny railroad successfully turned the tide of development toward the San Fernando Valley and made the Malibu coast area the only part of Southern California that is today free of railroad traffic.

Battle against the Highway

The battle over the coast road through Malibu was much harder and ultimately unsuccessful. Early use of the Malibu roads was restricted to the Rindge family and ranch employees although they always allowed neighbors to cross, even giving them keys to locked gates. Others made free use of the beach route at low tide to travel south to Santa Monica or north to Ventura, whether homesteaders on adjacent land, smugglers, or tourists.

The first wave of lawsuits for more access started in 1907 and were not settled fully until 1917 by which time both Federal and California state courts decided in Rindge's favor, that she could restrict access to roads crossing her private land, including the beach. However, that victory was upset in 1919 when Los Angeles County bowed to public pressure and used the courts to condemn the right-of-way and begin construction of a road. Mrs. Rindge continued the fight in court, and to resist survey and construction work, but merely delayed the road. Overcoming all of May Rindge's objections, the County Road through Malibu Ranch was finally opened for the public on November 3, 1921.

Even while the long string of cases between the County of Los Angeles and Mrs. Rindge were still in court, the State of California decided to construct a highway along the coast. On June 11, 1923, Mrs. Rindge lost her case in the United States Supreme Court, and a road easement was granted to the State of California through the Malibu Ranch. The state highway right-of-way followed the route of the County Road in some places and in other places it was constructed parallel to it. Mrs. Rindge continued to fight on other grounds and to resist any start of construction. When state highway employees arrived to begin work, they were met at the Las Flores gate by forty of Mrs. Rindge's armed guards on horseback who kept the work crew off the ranch for three days. The State eventually was awarded title to the right-of-way through the Malibu Ranch in 1925 by the Superior Court and the final order of condemnation was issued two years later.

The new state highway was named "Roosevelt Highway" originally and is now Pacific Coast Highway, opened to the public between Santa Monica and Oxnard in June 1929, 22 years after the first court action. There was a gala ribbon cutting on that day with the Governor presiding. An era of California history ended on that day, as the last Spanish Land Grant to have remained privately intact was now crossed by a public road that separated the land from the shoreline. The isolation of Malibu was over. Mrs. Rindge created the Marblehead Land Company to manage the sale and lease of property in Malibu to outsiders, necessary to raise cash to pay her extensive legal and tax bills.

"Road Closed" signs are not uncommon in Malibu due to rock and mud slides that plague the Pacific Coast Highway against which Mrs. Rindge fought. Some old-time Malibu residents have long memories and refer to such closures as "Rindge's Revenge."

The Legacy of the Rindge Family

In 1924-1926 the Rindge Dam was constructed on Malibu Creek (photo, top of page) and in 1928 May Rindge started construction of a great 50-room house on "Laudamus Hill" in Malibu Canyon overlooking the sea. She started Malibu Potteries to make tiles, a commercial venture to add to ranch revenue and also as building materials for the Laudamus Hill home and a second home on "Vaquero Hill" (today's Malibu Lagoon Museum) by her only daughter, Rhoda Rindge Adamson. During the Great Depression of the 1930s all of her ventures fell on hard times and losses accumulated on the once prosperous property. When May K. Rindge died on February 8, 1941, at the age of 76. her precious land was in insolvency and she was practically without funds. Her unfinished "castle" along with 26 acres acres of land and thousands of crated Malibu Potteries tiles, were sold in 1942 to the Franciscan Order for $50,000 (today's Serra Retreat House, rebuilt after a 1970 brush fire).

The Malibu Potteries building east of the pier burned in 1931 and was never rebuilt. The site later became the home for several years of the Malibu Yacht Club where modern catamarans and outriggers launched to sea as the tomols did in the days of the Chumash. The corrugated iron shed, which once was the engine house for the railroad, was partitioned and remodeled many times for several stores and businesses. In 1984, it too was razed to become the site of a modern office building.

Rhoda Rindge Adamson's home on Vaquero Hill was acquired by the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1968 with the intention of demolishing the house to provide a parking lot for Surfriders Beach. But the Rindge spirit lives on! For fourteen years the Malibu Historical Society fought against the destruction of the last vestiges of Malibu's proud past, with tenacity reminiscent of May K. Rindge and Rhoda Rindge Adamson. Through their sustained efforts the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house, with its thirteen isolated garden acres and irreplaceable extravagance of Malibu Potteries tile, was spared to become the Malibu Lagoon Museum.

The Rindge family continued to live in Malibu as valued contributers to the community. Notably, in 1968 the Malibu campus of Pepperdine University was founded primarily through a gift of 138 acres of land at the foot of Malibu Canyon by the Adamson-Rindge family. The generations of the Rindge family in Malibu are shown on this chart (click for larger size):

Rindge-Adamson Family Chart

Continue with Malibu History: Development & Diversification ...

Acknowledgement: The material in this section is adapted from The Story of Malibu, presented by the Malibu Lagoon Museum.

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