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Malibu's first newspaper provides glimpse into 1940s life
In May of 1942, Malibu resident Charles Lapworth published the first edition of the Malibu Bugle, the community’s first newspaper. The paper was created to spread news to the Civil Defense volunteers in the Malibu Sector, which comprised 300 square miles, including Calabasas, Topanga and Malibu.
A copy of the second issue is held by the Los Angeles County Library at Agoura Hills. It’s a photocopy of a photocopy and it appears to be the only surviving issue of this short-lived publication, but it provides a tantalizing glimpse at life in Malibu during WWII.
The military moved into Malibu following Pearl Harbor. Pacific Coast Highway — Roosevelt Highway in those days — was used primarily for military convoys. Gasoline and tire rationing made travel for civilians difficult and nightly blackouts forced residents to be home by sunset. Many people who bought beach property at La Costa and the Malibu Colony during the first Malibu building boom in the 1920s reportedly sold at fire-sale prices, fearing an imminent Japanese invasion that never came.
It’s common knowledge that the isolated and largely unpopulated Malibu coast was patrolled by the U.S. Coast Guard during the war — there were eight Coast Guard stations and the headquarters were located at the Adamson House; there are eyewitness accounts of Point Dume being used for weapons practice by the United States Army. There was also an Army Air Force Signal Unit at the Point, and the windswept, treeless, uninhabited peninsula was also reportedly the site of an early warning radar base, but the surviving issue of the Malibu Bugle reveals a more extensive military presence throughout the community.
One article details a farewell gala for soldiers quartered by “Mrs. Altomari and Mrs. Lola Adams Gentry, fondly known to every man in uniform as ‘Aunt Lola,’” at the “Ramirez Canyon Outpost.” There’s also an account of weapons practice off shore at what is now the Malibu Colony and Surfrider Beach.
“The good ship Prentice did her patriotic bit,” the paper recounts. “For weeks she lay just off Malibu Beach, her active sailing days ended, and took everything the flying circuses of P-38’s could pour into her.”
According to the article, residents were concerned that the derelict ship, purchased by the government expressly for weapons practice, was going to damage beachfront houses when it broke loose from its moorings. Residents were “sizzling the wires” calling on the army and the coast guard when it appeared the ship “would pile up against the beach homes,” but the Prentice “emerged from the fog like a ghost ship … and laid herself with an audible sigh full-length on upon the rocks.”
Instead of fighting human invaders, most of the Malibu military personnel and many civil defense volunteers would find themselves fighting the forces of nature, coping with a drought-driven wildfire season that included a 25,000-acre wildfire in October 1942. The “ever-present threat of fire through sabotage” was one of the major concerns discussed throughout the four-page paper.
An ad for the Malibu Inn Cafe, “Art Jones, Prop.,” catered to needs of service personnel, with “Restaurant and Cocktail Bar Open all night,” and “Complete stock of fine liquors, tobaccos, drug sundries, candies, magazines, cameras and films, toilet articles.” While the Las Flores Inn boasted “We specialize in sea food, a la cart. We serve the finest liquors, wines and cordials.”
At the Malibu Beauty Salon at Las Flores Canyon customers were promised “reasonable prices,” and “soft water,” and Farley’s Super Service at La Costa advertised “If you want your car to serve you for the duration let us serve your car regularly.”
Apparently, not everyone was concerned about war security: “Two cars driven without lights, about a quarter of a mile west of Malibu junction came together in a head-on collision, seriously damaging both cars,” an item entitled “Blackout Bump” states. “Each driver was given a citation for Driving Through a Blackout, and fined $25.”
Despite the focus on the war effort, the paper also chronicles ordinary, everyday events. A foal, named “Topanga” was born at Frank Lloyd’s ranch, one announcement states. A section entitled Stop Press states: President Jo Swerling of the Malibu Homeowners Association announces at a meeting of Directors that the Fourth of July, besides celebrating an event which the United States quite belligerently still attaches some importance, be set aside as Malibu Beach Day. All residents are to be invited to Mr. Fred Beetson’s barbeque grounds for a feast.”
The Bugle also provided the first news that the “unfinished but imposing castle of Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit” had been purchased for use as a monastery by the Franciscan Order. The Serra Retreat is still there, having weathered fire and flood and even war.
There is almost nothing left from Malibu’s WWII era. Many of the military records were destroyed immediately after the war, others were archived while still classified and are buried in government repositories, but this ephemeral four-page newspaper offers a window on a vanished world.