State Parks struggles to maintain Adamson House


From a distance, the Adamson House is gorgeously defined by its Spanish Colonial-style architecture, hand-painted tiling, high-arching windows and walkways, and outdoor frescoes.

But behind its guard gates off of Pacific Coast Highway near the Malibu Lagoon, this staple of Malibu history is slowly being worn down by the Pacific Ocean’s saltwater breeze.

Hayden Sohm, president of the Adamson House Foundation Board of Directors, says at least $4 million is needed to stop the state-owned historical site from long-term deterioration.

Rusting light fixtures dot the outside grounds, eroding wooden and steel panels bear the marks of time, one-of-a-kind curtains fray at the home’s windows, terra cotta bricks and fixtures are worn down, and a nagging leak is tarnishing hand-painted decor throughout the home, which is designated as a National Historic Site.

“This type of wear-and-tear used to be fairly minor 10 years ago,” Sohm said. “But it only gets worse once it starts and we don’t do anything to stop it.”

While $4 million is needed to put a stop to the long-term deterioration on the brick and mortar aspects, routine maintenance is another story. The Adamson House has not employed a curator for five years, an absence officials cite as a severe deterrent to the site’s preservation and index of inventory.

“A curator should be here to oversee the entire property. It’s a full-time job just trying to keep the collection intact,” said Lynette Brody, the Malibu sector superintendent for California State Parks. Brody hopes to have the position filled within the next few months.

Angeles District Supt. Craig Sap confirmed that the curator job is at the top of the district’s list to fill, but State Parks executives in Sacramento still need to approve funding for the position.

Nestled between the Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach, the Adamson House has been a coastal staple of Malibu since 1930. Rhoda Rindge Adamson, daughter of the Malibu pioneering Rindge family, and her husband Merritt Huntley Adamson built the residence on their 17,000-acre landhold, which included 20 miles of coastline. The state acquired the 10-room, twostory home in 1968, along with a collection of custom furniture, decor and artwork commissioned by the Adamson family. The house plays host to many private events, including weddings.

Brody said that while she has applied for funding on several maintenance and assessment projects for the site, none have won approval by the higher-ups in Sacramento. As State Parks works to improve a reputation sullied by a financial scandal in 2012 over a hidden $54 million surplus, coupled with stringent budget cuts from Gov. Jerry Brown, getting funding for this type of deferred maintenance is difficult.

“We’re almost an afterthought,” Sohm said.

Aside from the brick and mortar of the structure, the northern coastal portion of Adamson site has been eroding for several years, according to State Parks senior ecologist Suzanne Goode. The problem became serious enough for State Parks to OK a $70,000 study to help pinpoint the cause of the erosion and provide ideas on how to deal with the problem, Goode said.

“When the [Malibu] Lagoon is starting to close off, the opening migrates to the east toward the Adamson House,” Goode said. “In the last few years it may be following a long-term pattern, which is why we want to get this study done.”

Some critics have speculated that State Parks’ recent project to restore the Malibu Lagoon has exacerbated the erosion, although Goode denies the project has had a negative effect.

The Adamson House Foundation Board of Directors, leaders of a nonprofit formed in the 1980s to provide support for the site, are eager to find a way to help improve conditions, but Sohm said there’s only so much control the board has as a private entity.

The Foundation has accumulated approximately $600,000 in reserves over 30 years and often chooses to fund small projects around the house, like restoring a rusted bell or wooden beam.

“But what we have is certainly not going to solve the problem,” Sohm said.

There are talks of hosting mixers and fundraisers, and even asking donors to sponsor restorations of specific items throughout the home. If no action is taken in the next few years, though, Sohm fears worsening conditions.

“There will be a tipping point,” Sohm said. “There’s going to be a day where there’s a catastrophic failure, and we’re going to have to close it … When places like these start to worsen, people say, ‘Wasn’t it a shame that we let that happen?’ But we don’t want people to say that about the Adamson House.”