A swift account of the history of Malibu, “a rugged ranch in the middle of nowhere” that became “a global symbol of fame and fortune.”
Reuters senior reporter Randall (Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, 2012) is interested in briskness and conciseness; this is no dense scholarly history. He begins with a quick overview of the entire text, then proceeds with the story of Frederick Rindge (1857-1905), an ambitious Harvard student who, throughout his life, had to battle the lingering effects of rheumatic fever but shared with Theodore Roosevelt the exercise ethos and love of the outdoors that enabled him to live much longer than he otherwise might have. Rindge, as Randall shows us, had a gift for seeing financial opportunities and seizing them—though it didn’t hurt that he began with an inheritance worth some $140 million in today’s currency. He met and very quickly married Rhoda May Knight (who always went by “May”), and off they went to Los Angeles, where he quickly became one of the major movers in that community’s transition to a megalopolis. He bought a huge ranch, once a major Spanish land grant, in the area now called Malibu (an abbreviation of the ranch’s original Spanish name), developed it, and strived mightily—as did his widow, for decades—to keep it both private and pristine. Obviously, they lost. They battled homesteaders, trespassers, and, eventually, the local and national governments, the final stroke being the construction of the Pacific Coast Highway. The Depression wiped out May’s fortune. The author communicates a keen sympathy for the Rindges, praising Frederick for his philanthropy back in his Massachusetts hometown and May for her virtual monomania about the property. As “progress” arrives in the area, the author wants us to feel sorrow for the folks with multiple mansions and vast fortunes.
An engaging story about wealth, entitlement, property rights, change, loss, and pain.