Ghost club haunts favorite Malibu hangout

Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles held its monthly meeting at Duke’s Barefoot Bar on Saturday.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

Like clockwork on a broken grandfather’s clock that strikes 13, GHOULA (a.k.a. Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles), holds its “Spirit with Spirits” meeting on the 13th of each month at a supposedly haunted location. When Nov. 13 rolled around, 20 members–identified by GHOULA buttons–convened at the Barefoot Bar at Duke’s restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway.

“It is the furthest west we’ve gone, but we try to go to all four corners in the city,” GHOULA co-founder Richard Carradine said. “Previously, the farthest we’ve been west is Patrick’s Roadhouse [in Sept. 2009].”

Despite the club’s moniker, there is little ghost-hunting per se (although hardcore members show up with K2 meters or iPhones set on ghost-hunting applications). Carradine viewed the ghost lore as a backdoor excuse to visit interesting places.

“It’s an indirect celebration of the city,” Carradine said. “We do get history buffs, architecture buffs.”

Carradine and GHOULA co-founder Lisa Strouss inaugurated the free “Spirit with Spirits” gatherings on June 13, 2008, at one of L.A.’s most famous haunted landmarks, the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Only six people showed up. At GHOULA’s 2nd annual meeting this year at the kitschy AztSome meetings have been buec Hotel in Monrovia, more than 100 people came. (“Spirits” averages about 40 attendees monthly.) A few weeks ago, L.A. Weekly singled out GHOULA in their “Best of” issue under the facetious category “Best Host to Toast a Ghost.”

At the Aztec, one member was spooked after feeling vibrations on a bathroom doorknob. At Patrick’s, as one member’s K2 meter went wild, Strouss’ car died while she was exiting the parking lot.

Some meetings have been busts … literally. A burst water pipe shut down Hollywood Boulevard the night GHOULA hit Musso & Frank’s, so they improvised a retreat to Mel’s Diner at the supposedly haunted Max Factor Building. At Korea town’s H.M.S. Bounty restaurant, a night watchman called the cops on the club. “He didn’t like us loitering in front of the building,” Carradine said.

The hype for this month’s meeting was appropriately macabre. A post on GHOULA’s Web site declared: “The stretch of coastal land in between Topanga Canyon and Malibu Canyon was once dotted with Native American villages and burial grounds. Local legend claims that these communities died out when the ‘Indian’ women [killed] their babies [to spare them from becoming] enslaved by the early Spanish settlers … Their blood may have stained this otherwise beautiful area of our county forever. As if cursed, this section of the Pacific Coast Highway has seen more than its share of floods, fires, landslides and fatal car accidents.”

At the Barefoot Bar, Carradine took members through Duke’s history, from the opening of Las Flores Inn in 1915 through its evolution, along with the accumulated ghost stories, into Duke’s.

Legend has it that Chris “The Captain” Polos bought Las Flores Inn in 1944, turned it into Duke’s pre-cursor The Sea Lion, and worked at the restaurant daily until he died at age 99 in 1986. Two years before his death, Polos sold the restaurant, but continued managing the establishment. Supposedly, the workaholic Captain still fusses over the bar in spirit.

Staff members have seen the apparition of a woman strolling the walkway, parallel to the restaurant’s 300-foot ocean-view window, and haunting the ladies room. One bartender told Carradine that on one night, after the restaurant was closed, he stuck his head into the ladies restroom before locking up and “invisible hands” pushed him back out the door.

Carradine plans to take the Eastside-inclined GHOULA west more often.

“Historically, the Westside was wilder,” he said, “with unincorporated allowed gambling, booze and little pockets of brothels (supposedly a brothel existed at the site of the apartments next to Duke’s).”

For whatever reason, the gaggle of first-timers who showed up at Duke’s came from the Eastside: downtown Los Angeles, the San Bernardino foothills, even Palmdale. Eastsider Demi Contreras and friend Melissa Kellogg were first-time members. The ghost lore was more appealing to Contreras than the drinking.

“I could do that at home,” she joked.

In the two years since GHOULA began haunting Los Angeles, supernatural events have sprung up everywhere.

“When we started this, we were the only game in town,” Carradine said. “People are starting to see that if you give a ghost tour, people will come.

“There have always been groups of paranormal investigators, but I think our group has provided a way for their groups to get to know each other,” Carradine said. “I don’t look at it as copycats. If others do it, it’s good for us. The more, the better.”

Regular attendee Patrice Conlin returned this month with Pacific Palisades resident and GHOULA virgin Gloria Nakamura.

Conlin enjoys the social aspect more than the lore: “That’s just a little added thing.”

“The history thing is easy,” Nakamura countered, smiling. “I would like to see a ghost!”

More information on GHOULA events can be found online at

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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