Malibu History: Development & Diversification

March 2003 satellite image of Malibu coast roughly from Paradise Cove at the eastern edge to Trancas Canyon on the western edge.  The area was primarily farmland in the 1930s but has been intensively developed.Copyright
March 2003 satellite image of Malibu coast roughly from Paradise Cove at the eastern edge to Trancas Canyon on the western edge. The area was primarily farmland in the 1930s but has been intensively developed.

Malibu History: Development & Diversification

"Oh, the happy vaquero! Who would be a banker when he could ride the smiling hills and hide himself and horse in the tall mustard! Who would be a slave to desk and electric light darkness in a back room, when sunshine is free to all? Aye, a liberal competence is splendid, but slavery is often it's price. But then we cannot all be vaqueros" . . .
Frederick Hastings Rindge, 1898

In the Twentieth Century Malibu made the transition from a unified Rancho with one owner to a diversified community of homes, rental units, and commercial areas with the land subdivided into more and more parcels. The process started in 1926 when May K. Rindge's Marblehead Land Company began to lease and sell property within her Malibu holdings to pay mounting legal bills from her fight against public agencies who wanted to extend public roads onto the Malibu Rancho. Ironically, her failed fight to exclude the public roads opened up Malibu to multiple ownership for the first time.

Almost from the beginning, Malibu was associated with glamor and wealth: first the aristocratic Rindge family and their fight to keep the vast estate exclusively theirs, then the influx of Hollywood royalty, and later the sun gods and goddesses of the American post-War youth culture came to be epitomized by the Malibu surfing and beach scene. Today's Malibu still basks in that legacy and continues to make new legends as billionaires (and mere millionaires) vie with regular people to hit the beach.

The history of Malibu from the 1920s to Cityhood in 1991 is organized into these pages:

Late December sunset behind the Malibu pier.Copyright
Late December sunset behind the Malibu pier.

Continue with Malibu History: Cityhood ...

Sources and Recommended Books about Malibu's Development

These books offer a wonderful introduction to Malibu and its history, with many specifics and details not generally available. Highly recommended.

  • Malibu: California's Most Famous Seaside Community, by Marian Hall, is a delightful book with the details of Malibu's development from the original Malibu Beach Movie Colony up to 2005, with many beautiful current and historical photos illustrating the narrative.
  • Malibu : A Century of Living by the Sea by Julius Shulman and Juergen Nogai, is basically an architecture book but is also far more. Its flawless photos of Malibu homes span the entire history from the Rindge Rancho to the 2000s with insightful commentary on the trends and architects who created the trends in each period. Many of the photos show more than the home, supplying a glimpse of life in Malibu at the time.
  • My Fifty Years in Malibu by Dorothy Stotsenberg, is a rich serving of personal reminiscence and research about Malibu's history, recent past, and current issues illustrated with an excellent collection of historical photos. The Stotsenbergs moved to Malibu in 1949 and have been actively involved in the community since. The privately printed book is available in book stores in the Malibu area.
  • WW II Homeland Defense: U.S. Coast Guard Beach Patrol in Malibu, 1942-1944, by Ronald L. Rindge, is full of details, including the author's personal memories and experiences, of Malibu during World War II. Available at the gift shop of the Malibu Lagoon Museum if out of print elsewhere.
  • City of Malibu, General Plan, November 1995

In addition to the above publications, the archives of the Malibu Times -- articles by Rick Wallace in particular -- are invaluable, providing fine-grained details to illuminate the rich texture of Malibu's past and present. Other periodicals from Malibu, the Los Angeles area, and beyond have written about Malibu and its inhabitants. The Los Angeles Public Library, Malibu Branch, houses many unique items of Malibu history which can be uncovered there.

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