Malibu: From Ancient Village To Enduring Celeb Colony
The name Malibu is said to come from the ancient Chumash village of Humaliwo, meaning “loud surf.”
And from its days as home to an ancient tribe, to its site as cattle ranch and farmland, to its fame as the birthplace of modern surf culture and backyard getaway for the stars – Malibu has captured the hearts of those near and far for almost 500 years.
Located at the present-day Malibu Lagoon, Humaliwo was a regional capital for the Chumash, a hunter-gatherer, seafaring people who lived in organized, efficient villages that dotted the coasts and cliff areas from Malibu to San Luis Obispo.
It’s hard to believe that a mere 500 years ago, the Chumash and Tongva tribes lived in Malibu in large, multi-roomed grass huts sealed with pine pitch and asphaltum, a natural mineral derived from escaping oil pockets in the ocean. Well-appointed shelter, a staple of modern Malibu life, draws some common themes with the original native culture here and their tradition of making pottery and other home decorations out of local materials.
The Chumash made a nutritious acorn bread and meal from the fruit of the abundant oak trees, building their plank tomol canoes and even minting their own money out of olivella seashells. This money was used to trade with other Chumash tribes up the coast and on the Channel Islands (and the Tongva people south of Malibu).
The mainland Chumash would make the often-rough canoe voyage to the islander tribes on the Channel Islands to exchange tools, household items, steatite that they used for cooking pots, and food.
The last woman found on San Nicolas Island in 1853 was the inspiration for the children’s novel “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell.
On October 10, 1542, Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo arrived at a large village from which natives came out to greet him in canoes. Some historians believe that he had arrived at the Malibu Lagoon, now site of the famed Adamson House, built in 1930 by the daughter of Malibu ranch landholders Frederick and May Rindge. There is even a mural in the Adamson pool house and a plaque on the patio commemorating Cabrillo’s arrival.
Two hundred years after Cabrillo claimed 13,000 acres of land for the king of Spain, the next group of colonists arrived. In 1769, Franciscan brothers came up from well-established colonies in Mexico to convert the natives into Christians and good Spanish subjects.
The Chumash were mostly peace-loving and welcomed the newcomers, helping them build the missions and gradually assimilating into their structure (often at the bottom of that structure). The Malibu-area Chumash were known as the Ventureños, and the Tongva peoples were known as the Gabrieliños for the missions they built. The population dwindled after colonization from roughly 22,000 to 2,800 by the 1830s. Today there is only one federally recognized Chumash tribe in California, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.
The next significant figure in Malibu history was José Bartolomé Tapia. As a boy he had trekked through the Malibu area on the De Anza expedition in 1775. In return for his military service, he petitioned the Spanish Government for a land grant for some of the terrain he had seen during his youth – and the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit was created in 1804 out of the roughly 13,000 acres claimed for the King of Spain. José Tapia’s widow sold the land to her grandson-in-law, Leon Victor Prudhomme, but after the Mexican-American War, Prudhomme’s claim was rejected by an American judge. But he was still able to sell it to Los Angeles vintner Matthew “Don Mateo” Keller in 1857.
During the Gilded Age, New England industrialist Frederick Hastings Rindge bought the Malibu ranch (1892). Known as the King and Queen of Malibu, the Rindges built a Victorian ranch house on a hill in Malibu Canyon named Laudamus Hill. But tragedy struck and the home was destroyed by fire in 1903. In 1904 they built a mansion in the West Adams district of Los Angeles, and in 1905 Frederick died. His widow continued to manage the ranch in Malibu and began building a 50-room mansion on the same Hill. She did not finish the mansion, and the Fransiscan Friars in Santa Barbara purchased the property in 1942. They used the mansion until 1970, when a particularly vicious fire whipped through the canyon and destroyed all but the basement and the nine-car garage. The friars used the foundation of the mansion to build their current retreat facilities, which have a panoramic view of the former Malibu ranch, to the sea.
May Rindge’s impact on Malibu is probably most evident through her locally sourced terra cotta tile company called Malibu Potteries. The tiles were used all over Spanish revival properties in Los Angeles, including the Mayan Theater (opened 1927). Rindge found the clay near Zuma Beach after an unsuccessful dig for oil. Rindge hired the ceramicist Rufus B. Keeler, known for his famous glaze formulas.
At the height of production, 125 employees produced over 30,000 square feet of tile a month from their factory near the Malibu Pier. The 1929 stock market crash caused the factory to close its doors briefly, and then a devastating fire in 1931 closed it permanently.
For decades, May Rindge fought against plans for the coastal Roosevelt Highway in the name of private property and conservation. Eventually she was overruled, and the last stretch of Pacific Coast Highway was built through the easement on the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit.
In 1979, Bob Harris started Malibu Ceramic Works after purchasing a trove of vintage Malibu tile from May Rindge’s unfinished mansion – tile that had been thought lost in a fire. From their kiln in Topanga, they produce decorative tile in the style of May Rindge’s original company.
And the good news is that Dave’s Carpet not only cleans area rugs that rest on beautiful Malibu tile, but we can expertly clean the tile as well.
At Dave’s Carpet & Upholstery Cleaning, we offer professional cleaning services for residential and commercial needs. You name it, our professional cleaners will do it. From restoring and cleaning your carpets, couch, rugs to our top-notch upholstery services, we offer the best prices in Malibu and the entire Los Angeles County.
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