This year, The Malibu Times is going to be 70 years old. In those 70 years, we’ve published roughly 3,500 issues and come storm, fire, flood or death, we’ve never missed an issue. The story of Malibu is the tale of a virtually unknown little beach town on the western outskirts of Los Angeles County becoming an international symbol of beaches, surfing, movie stars and affluence. There is nowhere in the world you can go — whether it be Paris, Bangkok or deep in the Amazon jungle — where if you say you’re from Malibu, people don’t smile and say, “Ah! Malibu.”
This year, we’re going to take you all on a 12-month tour through our Malibu history with a page at the end of each month compiled from the back issues of The Malibu Times, plus a little cheating from the internet and a few other sources. The history of Malibu is a combination of fire, flood, landslides, road closures, a few naughty bits, 70 years of political battles over development, change, building or not building, and a long procession of people — some rich, some not — who have made this very iconic community their home.
It begins with a personal story, when Reeves Templeman, a USC-trained journalist graduate, decided in 1946 to start a newspaper in Malibu, which just post World War II wasn’t much more than a few roadhouses, an occasional gas station, a retail store or two, and some movie stars who had discovered the isolation of the shore, along what is now the Malibu Colony, and built small beaches houses (very humble by today’s mega standards) on land the Adamson Company released for sale.
Reeves, like any good journalist, could spin a story, and he told me a few — some may even be true — that I’m going to repeat for you to give you a sense of life in early Malibu.
When Reeves first started the newspaper, there wasn’t much of an advertising base, so to make ends meet, he took a job at a gas station just outside of the Malibu Colony. Reeves was a guy originally from a small town in Colorado, and in 1946, Gary Cooper was one of the highest paid, best-known movie stars in the world. Cooper came from Helena, Montana, had worked in a gas station when he was a kid, and he and Reeves struck up a friendship.
They would sit around outside of the service station on what I visualize as a wood walkway and swap stories. Occasionally, when a car approached, Cooper would go inside while Reeves pumped gas. On this particular day, Reeves was under a car, fixing something and a car pulled up. Coop (as he apparently was called) said to Reeves, “Don’t worry, I’ll get it.” He pulled one of Reeves caps down over his head, covering part of his face, went out, and filled the car with gas, checked the oil and washed the windshield (which I know is hard to believe but it’s what they did in those days). Reeves said the people kind of looked at Cooper funny, laughed, shook their heads and probably thought, “Sure, Gary Cooper pumped our gas.” Little did they know …
Forty years later, Reeves and his then-wife Reta sold The Malibu Times to Karen and me. We became only the second owners in its 70 year history. Reeves, who was then in his 80s and had undergone heart surgery, knew that this time, he really had to sell, so we shook hands and made a deal. I was a drop-out, burned-out trial lawyer and Karen owned an advertising agency, and friends had told us that this time, they really knew they had to sell. Karen said, “Let’s buy it and if you don’t like it, we can sell it in a year.” Well, that was almost 29 years ago, and it has been a very interesting ride for both of us and the community of Malibu.
Here is one last little tale that Reeves told me, which may give a sense of the early real estate market in Malibu. Someone owned a piece of land on the ocean, which extended from where the Malibu Beach Inn is today to the Malibu Pier. He wanted $5,000 for it — $500 down and $500 per year for the next nine years, and Reeves had decided to buy it. Just before he was about to plunk down his $500, his brother-in-law from Grand Junction, Colorado came out to visit, looked at the property and said to Reeves, “Are you nuts? No one is ever going to drive out this far.” So Reeves let it go.