June Visit of Navy Ship Brings Back Memories of Military's Place in Malibu Area's History
• Activities Form a Chapter of Forgotten Beach Lore That Spans WW II and the Paranoia of the Cold War
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The USS John Paul Jones, an Arleigh Burke-class AEGIS guided missile destroyer, spent the weekend in Malibu. Its crew had the opportunity to spend shore leave on Malibu's peaceful, if foggy, beaches. For old-time Malibu residents, and those with a fondness for history, the destroyer was a reminder of Malibu's wartime history.
In May of 1942, just months into World War II, Malibu's first newspaper was launched. The Malibu Bugle was created to spread the news to the Civil Defense volunteers in the Malibu Sector, which comprised 300 square miles, from Calabasas to the beach.
Many volunteers were put to work on October 22, 1942, battling not enemy invaders but a 25,000-acre fire that swept over Saddle Peak and into Malibu, destroying 18 homes, and causing numerous injuries.
According to longtime Malibu resident Dorothy Stotsenberg, in her book "My Fifty Years in Malibu," there were five mounted patrols in Malibu during the war. The Army established beach patrols throughout Malibu immediately after Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
The U.S. Coast Guard Beach Patrol established eight stations in Malibu during the war. The Adamson House property was commandeered for use as Coast Guard HQ. According to Malibu historian Ronald Rindge, in "World War II Homeland Defense: U.S. Coast Guard Beach Patrol in Malibu, 1942-44," the Adamson pool house served as living quarters for the two officers in command. The enlisted men lived in "hutlets" on the beach. The Malibu Pier, destroyed by a storm in 1942, was rebuilt in 1944 and used as a Coast Guard lookout point.
According to Stotsenberg, the old Malibu Courthouse was the site of the "Malibu Casualty Station," where diligent volunteers wound bandages and knitted watch caps.
Some intrepid Malibu residents built bomb shelters and prepared for the worst. Visitors to the ruins of the Roberts' Ranch in Solstice Canyon can take a peak into one surviving shelter. But with tires and gasoline rationed, strict nightly blackout rules that prohibited the use of headlights, streetlights or visible houselights; and the continual fear that Japanese forces could invade the coast at any time, many war-era Malibu residents reportedly sold at a loss and left.
The government took possession of Point Dume during the war. The Army and the Coast Guard used the windy, treeless promontory as a lookout. They also installed anti-aircraft guns there.
The military built barracks on Wildlife Road and leveled several acres of land for a motor pool.
The Point was used as a target and artillery range. Malibu historian Judge John Merrick, who was stationed in Malibu during the war, frequently recounted how targets, mounted on rail cars would travel by gravity down what is now Cliffside Drive. A pulley system was used to return the targets to the cliff top.
Malibu children in the '60s and '70s liked to collect a different sort of shell from Point Dume's beaches. Shell casings still occasionally turn up in gardens or on the beach.
Military convoys were a frequent sight in Malibu during the war. Surfers were not, as young men enlisted and were shipped out.
"When the United States declared war in December 1941 it broke the back of California surfers' lifestyle," wrote Gary Lynch on the website www.legendarysurfers.com.
"Almost every able-bodied man enlisted in the armed services...many would never be seen again.
"The war took some of the best men surfing had to offer, leaving a trail of waste and broken dreams," Lynch wrote.
Many Malibu beaches were off-limits due to military activity. Those who did have the opportunity to surf included military personnel, who recounted having the surfbreaks to themselves.
After the war, technology developed for the warplane industry would revolutionize surfing, when shapers began to experiment with lightweight fiberglass and resin, in place of wood.
The threat of prospective Japanese invasion ended in 1944. However, Point Dume had a close call during the Cold War—it was one of several local sites under consideration for a missile base. A Nike missile silo was constructed at the top of Las Flores Canyon in 1954. During the height of the Cold War, the underground bunker reportedly housed 18 27-foot tall Nike-Hercules Missiles, equipped with nuclear warheads.
Today, the site is home to Los Angeles County Fire Suppression Camp 8. Fire crews continue to use the Army barracks and mess hall, but the missile silo houses only ghosts. The troops stationed there learn to fight fire, not foes.
A second site, located off Mandeville Canyon, above Los Angeles, is now part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Instead of a high security military installation, it's a popular picnic area and hiking destination and offers what is described by many as "the best view in the Santa Monica Mountains," as well as a reminder that sometimes peace does get a chance.
Malibu's Hughes Research Laboratories, or HRL, a designated Physics Historic Site, also has an important place in military history. The first working laser was demonstrated there in 1950.
The think tank continues to develop innovations in propulsion, robotics, semiconductors, integrated circuits and other 21st century wizardry that enables the military to build and operate high tech ships like the John Paul Jones.
Japanese forces didn't invade California, no Cold War-era warheads were ever fired and the JPJ's visit was purely ceremonial.
Dignitaries from Malibu and several surrounding cities welcomed the JPJ's crew and officers at the Malibu Pier on Friday, and celebrated afterward with an exclusive, lantern-light reception aboard the ship.
Sailors came ashore on leave to visit family members who traveled up from the ship's home port in San Diego.
Volunteers arranged for some service men and women to spend time with adopted Malibu families or to enjoy a host of special opportunities and discounts provided by local businesses.
The public was not able to tour the ship due to security issues, but they had a chance to see it at anchor in the bay, where it dominated the horizon.