Searching for the King and Queen of Malibu

I am endlessly interested in the history of Los Angeles. With it’s rapid 20th century rise from farm town to thriving metropolis the city’s past is filled with fantastic tales just ripe for exploring. It’s like one big puzzle, both physically and historically, and the more I study it the more I understand how its various pieces come together to form the special place it is today. Take Malibu. The exclusive coastal colony on the edge of the county is often dismissed as the playground of the rich and famous and most stories about the town revolve  around the exploits of the famous with an occasional fire or mudslide thrown in. But these superficial images give little evidence to the area’s truly fascinating history.

King and Queen of Malibu

Last year when I visited the Adamson House I first received a glimpse into this storied past. In the visitor’s center I learned of the Rindge family who once owned most of the area. I heard briefly of a lengthy fight for control of the area and a mysterious railroad to nowhere. It sounded like an interesting story but as things go I soon moved on to other things.

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Then, about a month ago, I came across a book called The King and Queen of Malibu – the True Story of the Battle for Paradise. Written by David K. Randall it tells the entire story of the Rindge family and their enormous efforts to preserve Malibu as their personal Eden. I eagerly read the book and found a tale more fascinating than I could ever imagine.

Frederick Rindge was a chronically ill, Harvard educated heir to a vast fortune. Acutely aware of the fleetingness of life he pushed his body to the limit exploring the vast American expanse in the late 19th century. When he came to Los Angeles he found small town on the brink of a population explosion. Sensing the opportunity for greatness he chose to settle in the area and build his own personal fortune (donating the bulk of his inheritance to his Massachusetts home town). He married, raised a family and became one of the most important figures in Los Angeles history. With tremendous business sense he amassed a vast fortune investing in property and industry. He built buildings, created companies and helped shape LA into the metropolis is today.

Despite his rich fortune Frederick Rindge was a humble man who was very devoted to his faith and family. Seeking a refuge away from the spotlight he purchased a vast quantity of land in Malibu, built a mansion and turned the coastal property into his family’s private paradise. But this was not to last. Los Angeles was expanding rapidly and Rindge found himself struggling for control of the land with settlers in the canyons and eager visitors from the city. After his premature death his wife, May, continued to fight for control of the land. Now facing the railroads, the automobile and the American government May fought a lengthy battle that she was destined to lose. The very town that Frederick helped build became too powerful to fight and Malibu changed from a private paradise to the city it is today.

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The King and Queen of Malibu is a fascinating read and I found myself transported through time to the area’s past. Painstakingly researched it’s a well told story of the Rindge family and Los Angeles as a whole. In fact, I was so enthralled that I decided to seek out the Rindge family landmarks just as I had previously with the Clark family. Unfortunately, most of the places associated with Rindge are long gone. He built two beautiful buildings in Downtown LA that are now a Carl’s Jr. and a parking lot. The house in Malibu burnt down during Frederick Rindge’s lifetime. Another house in Santa Monica at Wilshire and Ocean has been replaced by an office tower. But there was one location still standing – the Rindge Mansion in the West Adams district.

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Built in 1902 the mansion is an imposing structure. When it was built West Adams was the most exclusive neighborhood in Los Angeles and the street it resides on, Harvard, was named by Rindge in honor of his alma mater. In the years since the area has had its share of ups and downs and many of the historic structures have long been replaced by the 10 freeway. Luckily, the Rindge Mansion still stands as a fully restored private residence.

After visiting the mansion I decided it was time to pay tribute to one of the most important people in Los Angeles history and visited the family plot at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery.

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One of the oldest continuously running cemeteries in Los Angeles it houses many of the significant builders of the city including the Rindge family whose plot is marked by above monument. Built well after Frederick Rindge passed away it’s the only true tribute to this great man. Ever humble he refused any sort of tribute during his lifetime and all of his contributions were dedicated to others. Doheny has his beach, Mullholand his drive and Huntington his library but Rindge has nothing and therefore has been mostly forgotten. The only remnant is this monument and the humble grave that lies before it.

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The King and Queen of Malibu transported me to an era I only wish I had experienced. It’s a fascinating glimpse into LA’s past and a wonderful tribute to one of its most important figures, Frederick Rindge. I’m so glad it gave me another pieces to the puzzle that is Los Angeles.

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