John Williamson, founder of Sandstone nudist and sex retreat was 80

Sandstone Retreat was a clothing-optional refuge in Topanga Canyon that began in the late 1960s and survived efforts by the county to shut it down. John Williamson opened the retreat with his wife, Barbara, after being inspired by Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" to quit his aerospace job at Lockheed. Sandstone, located at 21400 Saddle Peak Road, became known for the nudity and open sex out in the chaparral, for the visits by Hollywood celebrities, and for the battles with the authorities to stay open. Gay Talese spent time there and wrote about Sandstone in his 1981 book, "Thy Neighbor's Wife." Sandstone is not to be confused with Elysium Fields, another former nudist retreat in Topanga that was started by Ed Lange.

From the Associated Press obit on Williamson:

They were a young newlywed couple in 1968 when they bought a cluster of rundown buildings on 15 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean and turned it into the Sandstone Foundation For Community Systems Research.

It offered seminars on human bonding, relationships and sexuality, but its Sandstone Retreat, where as many as 500 people would gather on weekends to frolic in the nude, swap spouses and engage in group sex, quickly made its existence in the bohemian canyon notorious.

"We actually had open sexuality and nudity, but it was optional. Everything was optional," Barbara Williamson told The Associated Press on Thursday. "We provided a wonderful, wonderful environment in a natural setting, and that natural setting just sort of gave people permission."

As the retreat's frontman, Williamson became known as the "messiah of sex" — a title his wife said he always carried proudly.

The couple, together 47 years, exchanged partners themselves and it never put a strain on their relationship, said Williamson, who is writing a memoir of those years. They believed that monogamy wasn't fulfilling people's sexual needs and, as a result, was preventing them from living life to its fullest.

Many celebrities were said to have paid quiet visits to Sandstone over the years, and Williamson joked Thursday that she likely "saw more naked Hollywood stars than any other woman."

Williamson died of cancer March 24 at a hospital in Reno, Nev., his wife said. They had lived on a Northern Nevada ranch for the past 18 years, taking in abandoned lions, tigers, cougars and other big cats, says AP.

Photo: Sandstone Foundation website

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