Here's what's left of Malibu Lumber, the last remaining vestige of Malibu's blue collar past. I said this to one of the workmen as I shot the photo and he snorted at the thought. Malibu, working class? That's a laugh.
But before there were houses here, before there was even a road, long before this little jewel of a spot morphed into its present incarnation as Beverly Hills by the Sea, it was a ranch. (Well, before that, for many centuries, it was a collection of Chumash villages, but anyone who has studied the Mission Period in California history knows how that turned out.)
It took a few decades but the state wrested the Malibu rancho away from May Knight Rindge, derogatorily named "The Queen of the Malibu" by the Santa Monica papers. But she really was a leader, in every good and decent and forward-thinking sense of the term. She fought to keep the Southern Pacific Railroad off her land - outsmarted Collis Huntington himself - and that's why, in all the southern California coast, only this little stretch is free of trains. She fought to keep Pacific Coast Highway off her narrow swathe of land and famously lost that battle. But because she fought, and fought for so long she spent the family fortune, she slowed the tide of development and Malibu stayed rural.
It's only because May lost the fight that any of us get to live here. And as it has since that first Model T lumbered onto the Roosevelt Highway, it's changing. Acreage keeps getting subdivided and those subdivisions get split into ever-smaller plots topped by gigantic, ridiculous houses. A recent buying spree of commercial property by billionaires and mega-corporations has booted out many of our remaining mom'n'pop businesses. And there goes Malibu Lumber, making way for more boutiques, because lord knows we've a shortage of two hundred dollar t-shirts in this town.
People who have lived here far longer than I remember even more about how things used to be, smaller and quieter and not quite so glam. I love to listen to their stories, about how someone grew tomatoes and flowers in what is now the Civic Center, how Sam Peckinpah used to get likkered up and shoot holes in the back wall of his singlewide trailer, or how someone's mother rode her horse to town to get groceries.
I've got to stop now because this is really just the bones of an essay that's been kicking around my head for a while. A lot of it came from my work as a (now lapsed) docent at the Adamson House on the beach here in Malibu, where I recited the rancho's past. Now, across the street from one of Malibu's first beach houses, (which, btw, the state tried to tear down and turn into a parking lot) I watch bulldozers dismantle Malibu Lumber, and listen to contractors say really, it's all for the best.