The Adamson House-a time capsule of early Malibu

A tiled fountain in the yard of the Adamson House where surfers can be seen catching waves in the background.

The state recently completed its purchase of the original contents of the Adamson House to keep the historic site intact.

By Vicki Godal/Special to The Malibu Times

Five years ago, the California State Parks Department began a campaign to acquire the contents of Malibu’s Adamson House on Pacific Coast Highway. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places and a designated California Landmark, the Adamson House was already owned by the state of California, but the furnishings and artifacts within the house were privately held. Friday night’s celebration heralded the acquisition of the house’s furnishings and artifacts by a partnership between State Parks and the Malibu Lagoon State Beach Park Interpretive Association.

Speaker Sandy Mitchell of the Malibu Lagoon Museum Association’s Restoration Committee described the acquisition as a gift to Malibu. “By keeping everything intact, we now have a beautiful time capsule which demonstrates the lives and times of a family significant in the history of Malibu,” she said.

This acquisition ensures that the contents of the Adamson House will remain intact in their original location as a historic site.

However, the path to acquisition was not smooth sailing. Though the property was bought by the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1968, the house was slated to be demolished to make room for a parking lot for Surfrider Beach. The Malibu Historical Society, through Judge John Merrick and Ronald Rindge, fought for 14 years to keep the property from being destroyed. Through their efforts, the Adamson House and its original 13 acres were placed on the National Register of Historic Places and became home to the Malibu Lagoon Museum.

In order to acquire the Adamson House contents, several groups and individuals made major donations and grants; the turning point, however, came when the Adamson sisters, Rhoda May Adamson Dallas and Sylvia Adamson Neville, donated their personal portions of the Adamson House collection. The two sisters grew up in the Adamson House and were in attendance at Friday night’s event, signing tile pieces duplicating specific tile works in the house.

The Adamson House occupies one of the most beautiful beach locations in Southern California with stellar views of Malibu Lagoon, Malibu Beach and the Malibu Pier. Surrounded by intricate botanical gardens and landscaping interspersed with flagstone pathways, tile fountains and adjoined by a pool house, the grounds are worth the trip alone, as the constant botanical tours show. However, the interior is what truly makes the Adamson House unique. It was designed by architect Stiles O. Clements in 1929 for Rhoda Rindge Adamson and her husband Merritt Huntley Adamson, the daughter and son-in-law of the last owners of the Malibu Spanish Land Grant, Frederick and May Knight Rindge.

Characteristic of the early Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, the Adamson House is a physical tribute to the spirit of the individuals who founded Malibu. The hallmark of the house is the still exquisitely vivid ceramic tiling produced by the Malibu Potteries between 1926 and 1932. Utilizing the unique red and buff burning clays that exist in Malibu, brilliantly colored tile fills the house from the floors to the ceilings and walls. Tile is even used to embellish tabletops and fireplaces. The main hallway is carpeted with tile Persian rugs complete with tile fringe. Vibrantly colored turquoise tiles set against orange and black tile in a wealth of patterns fill the kitchen. The dining room floor is solid color tiles surrounded by an intricate border and a colorful tiled ceiling. In the master bathroom, a border of white tiles sets off a ceiling covered in Moorish patterned tiles. In a whimsical show of Moorish myth, the thresholds of most rooms in the house are tiled in broken pieces to ward off evil spirits. Other architectural notables include hand-carved teak doors, filigreed ironwork, lead-framed bottle-glass windows, rugs woven on the island of Majorca, calfskin chairs and an 18th century Persian prayer rug prominently displayed in the loggia (hallway). Two historic exterior murals have been restored; they show the early Chumash settlers in the Malibu Lagoon and the Spaniard discoverer Balboa setting foot on the California coast.

The Malibu Lagoon Museum with California State Parks maintain the house. Museum member volunteers give informative tours expanding on the Adamson House architecturally, and historically, describing the family’s struggles with California in the form of the Roosevelt Highway, now Pacific Coast Highway, and the railroad as well as their massive contributions to Malibu. Thanks to the tenacity of a few, the Adamson House is now secure in its status as a historical treasure of Malibu.

Located at 23200 Pacific Coast Highway between the Malibu Pier and Cross Creek, the Adamson House and Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with guided tours. The grounds are open from sunrise to sunset. The location is also available for events and weddings.

More information can be obtained by calling 310.456.8432 or by logging onto