For nearly 4,000 years Malibu was inhabited by Chumash Indians. They named the stretch of beach at the mouth of Malibu Creek “Humaliwo” or “the surf sounds loudly.”
It was here in 1542 that Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo may have stopped to get fresh water on his journey north. Cabrillo saw a large Indian village at the foot of the canyon, where the Malibu city offices stand today. The Cabrillo expedition observed that the Chumash had bustling towns of considerable prosperity and sophistication. Stories of the Indians portray them as a handsome, intelligent and flourishing people.
While the Spanish mission period in the 1700’s marked the end of their civilization, the first legal claim to land in Malibu was made in 1802 by Spanish Settler Jose Bartoleme Tapia. Tapia, given grazing rights by the King of Spain, established a ranch and built a large adobe in Malibu Canyon. These property holdings became known as the “Rancho Topanga Malibu Simi Sequit.”
Passed down through family inheritance, the rancho was eventually sold by Henry Keller to Frederick Hastings Rindge in 1891 for the reputed figure of $300,000. As one of the last Spanish Land Grants to remain intact, it served as the ideal country home for the Rindge family. This cultured and wealthy New England family fiercely guarded their private domain.
In fact, Rhoda May Rindge, Frederick’s widow, spent her fortune in court costs to keep the Southern Pacific Railroad, the State and neighboring homesteaders from encroaching.
The stories of May and her cowhands, rifles at the ready, facing down the representatives of the County of Los Angeles, are part of Malibu’s folklore. After 17 years of litigation, the State of California was victorious and the Roosevelt Highway (now Pacific Coast Highway) was open for through traffic to the public between Santa Moncia and Oxnard in June 1929, ushering in a new era.
This final court battle forced May Rindge to begin leasing, then selling property north of the mouth of Malibu Creek. The first lots were offered for lease to movie celebrities along a strand of beach known as the Malibu Colony. Beautiful homes were built as lots were made available for sale in the 1930’s.
During that time, May’s daughter Rhoda Agatha, married Merritt Huntley Adamson. They built their summer home on Vaquero Hill by the sea and another home in Serra Retreat. In order to provide tiles for the two homes, May Rindge brought in the finest craftsmen and established the Malibu Tile Works.
The Adamson House, located in Malibu Lagoon State Park overlooks the Malibu Pier and Surfrider Beach. It is a true showplace of Malibu historical artifacts, featuring the collection of hand-made Mediterranean-style tiles used in their two Malibu homes as well as many buildings throughout Southern California.
In 1991 Malibu, long an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County, achieved cityhood in order to allow for exercise of local control. Prior to incorporation the local residents had fought proposed developments including a freeway, a nuclear power plant, and several sewerline plans. Actor Martin Sheen was named honorary mayor in 1989