Nudists out in the cold


Declining membership and financial hardships close down nudist resort in unincorporated Malibu.

By Laura Tate/Editor

Once again, nudists who have frolicked in the canyons of Topanga for more than 30 years, and then in the mountains of Malibu for less than a year, are out of a sanctuary to practice their belief that playing sports, exercising, dancing, and practically just about any other activity are better naked than clothed.

The nudist, or naturist, resort Elysium Institute is closing.

A statement on Elysium’s Web site by Elizabeth Meltzer, a board member who with her husband Sanford purchased the land and home at the organization’s most recent location, said: “Due to financial impact of September 11 and declining Elysium member numbers, my husband and I are unable to continue paying for the Malibu property and its many overhead expenses. We must put the property up for sale.”

The Meltzers purchased a home and land on Mulholland Highway near Decker and Encinal canyons early last year after Elysium members were informed the Topanga location was being sold.

Started by the late Ed Lange in the early ’60s, Elysium has put up several battles to operate in Topanga. Shortly after the resort opened, sheriff’s deputies raided the property arresting dozens for indecent exposure. The battle lasted 25 years and finally, in 1993, Lange was able to legally keep his utopia open for nudists, provided the resort adhered to stipulations of a conditional-use permit. Lange, who was a photographer for the magazines Life, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, also published several magazines and photography books including, “Family Naturism in America” and “Fun in the Sun: Nudist and Naturist Living.” Ironically, not only did the Topanga Chamber of Commerce finally accept the institute as a member, but Lange was also voted as the Chamber’s Citizen of the Year in 1995. He died the same year.

The ax fell when his daughters, Dana and Lisa Lange, decided to sell the property last year. Elysium members scrambled to come up with the $1.5 million the Langes were asking, but came up short by $400,000.

That’s when the Meltzers stepped in.

However, the rescue did not last long. In a recent letter to Elysium members, Meltzer explained that a major blow was that banks were unwilling to refinance the property after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Unfortunately, for all of us, ‘money talks’ and Elysium doesn’t have any,” said Meltzer in her letter.

Meltzer said that a dozen or so members might continue Elysium as an AANR (American Association for Nude Recreation) non-landed travel club.

Another factor in the resort’s decline was that planning and site improvements were not completed in order to get permits to “officially reopen Elysium.”

Membership rates were not too out-of-the-sphere at $350 per year for individual memberships with a daily $12 gate fee added. Couples and families could join for $450 plus the gate fee, and students and seniors got a bargain at $250 per year.

Despite the low rates, membership declined from a high of 1,500 at Topanga to around 600 when the resort opened in Malibu, said Noel Pugh, a member of Elysium since 1982. Pugh came to the resort after meeting someone who lived there. Pugh, a cartoonist and a masseur, drew cartoons and caricatures for The Malibu Times in the mid-’80s.

“I was greeted with such warmth and companionship, my life became instantly entwined with that of Elysium, and I soon moved in,” said Pugh. He became the in-house masseur for the resort.

Pugh believes the distance of the new location plus the fact that it isn’t as “idyllic” as the Topanga location led to the decrease in membership.

“Topanga was particularly bucolic and green,” he said.

Pugh said he has long since analyzed why some people feel more comfortable “throwing their clothes off” than others.

“At one point I thought it might have to do with religious or puritanical [reasons],” he said. “But people here come from diverse types of backgrounds,” from conservative to liberal.

Pugh decided it “must be a naturist gene” that allows some to feel more comfortable nude.

He did admit that Elysium had its share of people who used the environment for their sexual benefit. He paralleled that with religious organizations–people who claim to be religious and attend church in order to meet women or men. However, he said it’s much easier to make direct connections when there’s nudity involved.

Lange’s idea of his camp, which made it different than others, was that members were not required to be nude and physical contact was allowed. However, sex was not allowed, as Lange wanted it to be a family resort.

“Even though nudity was the norm here, it wasn’t necessary,” said Pugh. “As we talk, I have shoes, socks, slacks on, [because I want to.]”

Pugh is one of two senior residents who must find a new place to live. He said he has his name on several affordable housing lists, but is looking for some place local.

“I felt I fit in,” said Pugh of Elysium. “I felt it was my home. Now, I may have to go back to being a regular … whatever.”

Already, the Web site for Elysium has been limited to Meltzer’s statement, links to other naturist sites, e-mail and the Journal of Senses Magazine, which is published by the Elysium Institute.

Gone are the calendars of events, photographs and announcements of parties.