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Malibu History

Malibu has forever been the land of the privileged. The original settlers, the Chumash Indians—who coined Malibu, Humaliwo, meaning “where the surf sounds loudly”—were reportedly “well formed.” Historians claim the Chumash women were good looking, and the men, usually naked. (Some things never change.) Yet after thousands of years of piling their red-planked canoes with local swordfish, abalone, clams and steatite for making bowls and decorative carvings, these pretty native people were wiped out by the Spanish mission. In 1802, the King of Spain granted explorer Jose Bartoleme Tapia permission to build a private ranch in Malibu Canyon, which over the years was passed down to family members before being sold for $300,000 in 1891 to Frederick Hastings Rindge. Frederick’s widow, May, would go down in history for spending her fortune trying to prevent the Pacific Coast Highway from being built and attempting to keep the riffraff from encroaching on her Malibu. She lost, of course, and the riffraff—ahem, movie stars and millionaires like Barbara Stanwyck and Clara Bow—began building Malibu’s first beachfront vacation homes in the 1930s. History would repeat itself some 70 years later, when media heavyweight David Geffen initiated lengthy and expensive litigation to block public access to the beach adjacent to his home. Geffen finally dropped his lawsuit in 2005, unlocked the white wooden gate separating us from him, and reimbursed the state $300,000 in fees—the same amount Rindge once paid for the entire stretch of sea and sand.