News

The Moskowitz Migration: Saying Goodbye after 26 Years

By Dan Mazur

One day in 1976, Stewart Moskowitz stepped on a newspaper.

He and Lilia, married for a year, were living in Venice and looking for a bigger place. Stewart was walking his dog on the beach when he noticed a copy of The Daily Breeze underfoot. He looked down and saw an ad for a house in Topanga Canyon. "It had a goat barn for a studio," he remembers, "and that was it."

VOL.26 NO. 9
May 2 - 15, 2002
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By July of that year, Stewart and Lilia were Topangans, tenants of a well-known Canyon eccentric, "Ida the Cat Lady," at the end of Winfield Road, off Robinson Road.

At first, they missed the beach. "For the first year, every day I went back to the beach to walk my dog," says Stewart. "After a year, I never looked back."

At the end of May, Stewart and Lilia --along with Tia, Myla, Sachi and Louie, the four young Moskowitzes who've come along since--will be leaving the Canyon for a new home in Garberville, in southern Humboldt County. After 26 years in Topanga, they have plenty to look back on.

Stewart, whose world-famous art has enlivened the walls of Canyon homes and businesses--as well as the coffers of many a benefit auction--is a familiar figure in his paint-spattered overalls. Lilia, less extroverted than her husband, has been a major force in many community efforts, from the battle to keep Summit Valley undeveloped, to the creation of the silent auction and the garden at Topanga Elementary School.

Crime Report
The figures for serious cromes in the Topanga area are listed below for the month of March 2002.

Homicide 0
Rape 
Robbery   
  Armed 0
  Strong-Arm   0
Assault   0
Burglary  
   Residential  
   Business 1
   Garage/Out-Building   0
   Vehicle (locked)   0
Theft  
  Grand ($400+) 0
   Petty    1
   Vehicle (unlocked)   0
Grand Theft Vehicle   0
Arson 0
Domestic Violence  
   Felony     0
   Misdemeanor    0

 

 NOTEWORTHY INCIDENTS

A burglary occurred at a business on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The suspect entered the location and cashed a check that was previously reported stolen. The suspect was identified and the investigation is continuing.



© 2002 Phoenix Rising Inc. Not for reproduction without permission.

CHP Report for March

The California Highway Patrol reported 11 total collisions resulting in a total of seven injuries on Topanga Canyon Boulevard for the month of March. Four of the accidents were between Pacific Coast Highway and the 2-mile marker. Seven were between the marker and Mulholland Drive, according to Officer Ray Abramian. He said there were no collision reports on other Topanga streets.

They prepare for their imminent departure with mixed emotions, embarking on a new chapter of their own lives, but reflecting on their many friends and experiences here in Topanga, and the changes they have seen in two and half decades.

PHOTO BY KATIE DALSEMER

The Moskowitz family: Lilia and Stewart, Tia and Myla, Sachi and Louie, and dog Holly.

Stewart and Lilia had both knocked around some before they met in Venice, 27 years ago. Born in Brooklyn, Stewart's family moved to Los Angeles when he was three years old. He had bounced from L.A. to New York and back, in and out of various art schools, working at minimum wage jobs, and was just embarking on his career as a painter when he met Lilia. She was staying with her father in Venice, after having lived in a series of communes in Northern California. She and Stewart met at the home of a mutual friend, artist Michael Bedard, who later moved to Topanga.

They had both grown up in artistic households. Stewart's father was a house painter and artist. "He painted, sculpted and carved--that's how I grew up," says Stewart. "His art was all over the house, paintings of animals--serious, not cartoony."

Stewart's studio now displays a beautiful wood carving by his father of the pyramid of penguins from Stewart's "The Corporation."

Lilia's father is Michael Frimkess, a well-known ceramicist whose work, which combines pop art with traditional ceramic forms, is in museums and collections around the world.

Lilia was working as a gardener for her Venice neighbors, having developed a love for gardening as a child. "I grew up in the country, that was how we lived," she says. "At the communes, the focus was always the veggie garden--growing vegetables and eating the vegetables that we grew."

"She used to bring in more money in a weekend gardening than I made all month as a painter," Stewart remembers.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Stewart had definite ideas about Topanga.

"We were Hollywood people," he says. "Hollywood was cool. People thought San Francisco was where it was at, but Hollywood was cool. We referred to Topanga Canyon as 'pseudo-country clique-ish.' They had an attitude, it was a certain counter-culture lifestyle. It was definitely different."

Preconceived stereotypes notwithstanding, Stewart and Lilia both quickly took to the Canyon.

"I liked the hills. The mountains protect you from the city vibe," says Stewart. "I was totally in love with this place. I didn't have to leave so I never did."

Stewart's father came out to see their place, took a look at the dirt road leading to the house, and warned them that they'd be stuck in mud when it rained. It was mid-summer, and the road was packed solid, so Stewart and Lilia didn't give the warnings much credence.

"That July it rained for three straight days," Stewart recalls, "Éand it never does that in July. The road turned to mud and my car was stuck for two weeks."

For their first seven years in Topanga, they weren't particularly involved in the community. "We didn't connect, really," says Lilia. "We didn't want to."

That all changed dramatically when the kids began to arrive. In 1984, Tia Lu was born, followed by Myla Mae in 1986. Sachi Beth was the next to appear, in 1989, and in 1994 came Louie Satchmo.

"Louie was a Topanga baby," Lilia tells. "He was born at home. That was the best birth."

"With each kid we had a baby group, and the baby groups morphed into preschool, then Topanga Elementary, and it just became a fabric after a while." All four of the Moskowitz kids were in Mrs. Matsuyama's kindergarten class at Topanga Elementary.

"There was no context, until we had kids," Stewart says. "Now I should have one of those plastic waving hands on my dashboard, because everyone I see I know."

As parents, Lilia and Stewart found themselves drawn into the life of the community in a big way.

Lilia was president of the elementary school booster club for three years running.

"She put the Silent Auction on the map," says Stewart.

Along with fellow parent, Trisha Billes, Lilia initiated the event, which was first held on a few tables in the upper yard. She knew she could do better, though.

"We'd never been to a silent auction," she says, "so we went around to all the private schools to check out their auctions and see how it worked." The next year's auction was a lavish event at the Community House, with a "Renaissance theme." Stewart designed reproductions of Renaissance paintings to decorate the Community House for the event.

Besides donating original paintings to numerous fundraisers, Stewart has designed t-shirts and sets for the school plays--including this year's "Return of the Yellow Submarine,"--posters for Topanga days, and even the Topanga access stickers for our cars.

"I like that Stewart's stamp is on every Topanga car," says Lilia. "That makes me very happy when I drive around the Canyon."

Gardening has remained a passion for Lilia. About six years ago, she started a gardening group, jokingly known as the Topanga Fanatical Botanical Society--a group of women who get together every month. "We just have fun, and talk about specific topics--or not--and drink white wine and eat this incredible food everyone brings." Together with the group members, she wrote a gardening column for the Messenger called "How Does Your Garden Grow?"

She was instrumental in creating the elementary school's garden, and has been one of the few parents to keep it maintained over the years.

Among the most treasured of their Topanga memories is the triumphal resolution of the Montevideo/Canyon Oaks fight, after literally years of Topangans going downtown to various hearings to protest the proposed development of Summit Valley.

"That moment when we were told that there was something happeningÉ" Lilia recalls, "They didn't say what was going on--that we'd won--but it was tangible. All the people who'd been coming for years and years were there, and then it was announced and it was so exhilarating, that moment. A week or two later, we had a party at Tom and Jeanne Mitchell's, and a bunch of us got together for a picture on the deck--and there were two rainbows there, behind us. You can see them in the picture."

"That was a real community event, when we were fighting for something like thatÉ It's allowed Topanga to keep the character it has," says Lilia. "If it had been developed, it'd be over."

How does she describe her feelings about Topanga, after all these years?

"I keep thinking about women," Lilia says. "There are a lot of really strong, amazing women in Topanga. Maybe there are everywhere, but here it seems like women working together kind of hold it all up, all the good stuff that goes on." She mentions Nancy Maples, whose daughter had cancer, and who was a guide and mentor to Lilia when she "went to war with the LAUSD" to get help for her own daughter's learning disabilities. "She held my hand through the whole process," Lilia says. "I asked her 'How can I pay you back?' and Nancy said, 'You do it for someone else.'"

Other names that come up include community mainstays like Marlena Franz, Becca Barkin and Cathy Young (Goldman), a landscape designer who encouraged Lilia to go to Pierce College and take horticulture classes. Also, Mike Kelly, former secretary at Topanga Elementary. "She knew every kid, every family," Lilia says of Mike. "Regardless of what principal was there, she was running the place. She was a huge part of the school."

To Stewart, the changes in Topanga over the last 26 years are not really unexpected.

"It's very typical of a place like Topanga," says Stewart. "The counter-culture discovers it, and then it gets usurped by people with money.

"Before that happened," he says, "I always felt like Topanga was magically transported from another place, hundreds or thousands of years ago, and we all landed here intact, as kindred spirits. It's unique. And because we're kindred spirits it makes this community special. When you go outside, you're with your people--what could be a better feeling?"

Lilia compares the energy Topangans put into the Montevideo/Canyon Oaks fight to the relative apathy she sees now.

"People don't seem to be energized to fight the development of Ahmanson Ranch. It's going to effect Topanga, and I don't see that same energy. I guess it doesn't seem local enough."

She also feels a drop in the sense of community and neighborliness among Topangans.

"The same kind of energy that people used to have to fight for oak trees and the land, now they put all that energy into their property lines," she says.

"There's a new Topanga," she laments, "and the new Topanga comes in and puts up a gate. The new Topanga haggles about a driveway that's been shared for years without any conflict."

But she does see some of the old spirit persisting. "There are new people who come in--like Karen Quartz--who are just right there--intelligent and willing to contribute. They have that sense of the continuum of Topanga, that old energy."

But, says Stewart, changes in Topanga aren't the reason for the Moskowitz's move north. Financial pressures--resulting mainly from changes in the poster business and the collapse of the Japanese economy, where Stewart's work is very popular--are the cause. "I painted myself into a corner," Stewart explains. His options were to either find a smaller place in Topanga, move to Woodland Hills--"and I couldn't do that," he says--or look elsewhere.

The decision wasn't easy or quick. "You start to rationalize," says Stewart. "I feel like the Jews in Germany, the ones who didn't leave. 'The traffic's bad, the neighborhood's changing, but we have all these friends, we're comfortable.' Then once you realize you have to leave, the rationalizations become 'I hate this traffic, there are too many yuppies in Topanga!'

"Believe me, I don't want to go," he says, "but I believe you always create your own experience, so I take responsibility for this change occurring. But it's really sad, 'cause every day when I go out I run into five or six people who tell me not to leave. It's been really hard."

But the house and property in Humboldt are fabulous, says Stewart, and there seems to be a lot to look forward to as well as looking back. Garberville, they say, has a familiar, comfortable feel.

"It feels very much like Topanga did when we first moved here," says Lilia, "with down-and-out characters everywhere, like Cannery Row.

"We're part of the Topanga migration," she says. "It starts in Venice, then you move to Topanga, where you stay a couple of decades, more or less, then you move north. Or east if you're more difficult."

As for the Moskowitz kids, Tia is starting college in the fall, perhaps at Penn State. Myla and Sachi are happy about the move, their parents say. Sachi will be switching from Parkman Middle School to the much smaller Humboldt County schools, and Myla will be getting her own cabin on the new property to live in.

Stewart says he feels worst for Louie, who's very happy in Marty Langham's first grade, and will be the only one of the four children who won't get to go through the fifth grade at Topanga Elementary.

Leaving Topanga, is definitely a bittersweet transition for Stewart and Lilia, saying goodbye to countless friends, as well as to other aspects of life in the Canyon into which they've poured so much love and energy over the last two-and-a-half decades.

"I'm worried about the signs on the boulevard [at the entrance to School Road]," Lilia says. "They were Myla's fifth grade class gift. I'm worried that no one will take care of them. They need to be re-sealed every year, and all the staples need to be taken out. Barbara Metzenbaum and I usually do that. It takes about three hours to take the staples out. You stand there, on the boulevard, and wave to everyone passing by. That's why it takes so long."

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Being Stewart Moskowitz

By Dan Mazur

When Stewart Moskowitz was three years old he decided he wanted to be an artist--a commercial artist. "That was the big thing back then," he says. "It had an appeal. It was important."

He remembers the aesthetic impact of the movies he saw as a child as well.

"Seeing a full-color Walt Disney movie in a theatre--now that's f***ing art," he says "Not the movement, not the movie part, just the art."

As it turned out, Moskowitz never actually worked in the commercial art field, but his work as a painter reflects those early influences--bright, whimsical, "kid-friendly" pictures, full of visual puns and warm humor. Like the work of the early Disney or Warner Brothers animation artists, they combine an anarchic, child-like sense of fun with a grown-up wit and technical polish.

These qualities have led to the enormous success of many of his paintings in the form of posters. Doing work with popular appeal is important to Moskowitz. "I love the mass market, I live for that," he says. "I'll spend months on a painting and it's going to end up in one guy's house and that's it? Forget it!"

Moskowitz grew up in Los Angeles, but left home as a teenager and headed for New York City. He lived at the Chelsea Hotel while he was in high school, studied commercial art at the Pratt Institute, then got a job in the mailroom at advertising agency McCann-Erikson, waiting for a promotion to the art department. The promotion came, but Moskowitz took it as his cue to quit.

"After six months of seeing those poor artists getting beat over the head by the executives, I said, 'That's not for me.'"

After that he tried the Art Students League, but found that venerable institution--where such greats as Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock and Louise Nevelson had studied--a shadow of its former self. Uninspired, Moskowitz headed back for the West Coast.

In L.A., he went to the Art Center but that proved equally disillusioning. "That was the end of commercial art for me," says Moskowitz. "Everyone there was a jock--clean cut, well-dressed--and they could draw the pants off me! I'm sitting there with these guys with no souls, but they could draw. So I quit art, took a job at Aaron Brothers, and went to school for a year for history.

"The thing that bothered me most was, when people asked me what do I want to do, I couldn't say anymore, 'I want to be a commercial artist!' I just couldn't say it, and that hurt."

Moskowitz's ambitions got back on track one night at a gas station in El Segundo. Having just bought a $50 car, he was heading out to Las Vegas to visit his mother. "This young guy was pumping gas, and we started talking about art--he went to Otis. We went in the back and he showed me his pictures. Man, it was pivotal. If your life ever changed on a dime, that was it."

Moskowitz enrolled at the Otis Art Institute, working night jobs--in a donut shop, and as a dispatcher for the Auto Club, among others--while earning his master's degree in art.

"I sold enough pictures at the Otis student art show to finance a trip to Spain. I got a dealer, and sent pictures back to the U.S. and sold them. They were abstract, Miro-like pictures."

After a year in Spain, Moskowitz returned to the U.S., and had a major case of culture shock. While he'd been gone, the '60s had happened.

"My passport photo--I looked like Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. I came back and all my friends had motorcycles and long hair. I'd been living in a small village in Spain. I didn't know what a hippie was. I was at a party and someone said, 'There were 50,000 hippies at this festival,' and I said, '50,000 whats?'"

"And the music--when I came back, in one day I heard for the first time, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Phil Ochs. In one day!"

Moskowitz tried acid and found he couldn't paint anymore. "It just didn't make sense. I figured, 'Why bother, nature as it is doesn't need any help from me.'"

For a year, he worked as an art handler, crating and shipping works of art for a living until he got fired for smoking pot on the job. "That was the last job I had--34 years ago."

After that, Moskowitz began painting again. He noticed an outdoor art sale on La Cienega, and took his stuff there.

"They said it wouldn't sell, but they gave me a space at the back. The first week I didn't sell anything. Then the second week I sold twice as much as my take-home pay as an art handler. I was on my way. I never looked back."

Moskowitz had also found the beginnings of the subject matter and style that he would develop over the coming decades.

"I was doing nothing but cows: cows in the wind, cows on the side of a hill, psychedelic cows, Jewish cows, you name it. Cows."

"People would say to me, 'Do you do any frogs?' I'd say, 'Sure, come back next week,' and I'd have some frogs."

It was after Moskowitz moved to Topanga that his work began to hit it big, as posters. The first hit was "American Rabbit" in the late '70s--a roller-skating, stars-and-stripes bunny. This was followed by a string of successes that included "The Corporation," "The White Brothers," "Chocolate Mousse," "Save the Whales," "Patchwork Cow," "United Stars of America," and "Chicken Soup."

Moskowitz's work has been especially popular in Japan--where, on its own, it has fulfilled its maker's early commercial art aspirations.

"Every major company in Japan has used one of my characters as their logo--Fuji, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, AT&T Japan. I created the logo for one of the longest running TV shows in Japan. It's been very serendipitous. A lot of the time it's been paintings I've done as paintings, and they see characters in the paintings. They'll look at these cockatoos and say 'This would make a great logo.'"

Currently, Moskowitz is working on a children's book entitled "Vincent Van Goat." It tells the story of a brilliant artist goat who's tormented by the constant appearance of other hungry goats in his paintings--which are strongly reminiscent of the work of a certain well-known Dutch artist.

Moskowitz's recent paintings, while retaining his trademark animal imagery and visual puns like "Poodles with Noodles," and "Fish and Ships" are moving away from the "cartoony" look to a more realistically rendered style.

"Just now, at 60 years old, I'm shaking the cartoon image," he says. "It's like leaving behind a beloved toy, but it took me a long way."

Howell Green Gallery at Pine Tree Circle is having a show of Moskowitz's preliminary painted studies for larger pieces. The liveliness of his brush work complement the humor and spirit of his pictures. His posters and prints can also be seen--and purchased--at his online gallery at www.smoskowitz.com.

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Center Site Sought for Dayworkers

PHOTO BY TONY MORRIS

Edwin Lemus, left, with Joe Gerson, one of the owners of Topanga Center and Francesca Forese, who met to discuss options for creating a dayworker hiring site.

By Tony Morris

The influx of dayworkers to the center of Topanga provides the community with a ready source of labor, but the way the hiring process works raises several local concerns. Traffic often becomes congested as drivers stop to bargain with workers along Topanga Canyon Boulevard at the entrance to Topanga Center and the Post Office. In addition, there is concern about possible sanitation impacts on Topanga Creek because of inadequate toilet facilities.

In order to address these issues, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's senior field deputy, Susan Nissman, organized a meeting and site visit at Topanga Center on April 11. Representatives from community organizations, law enforcement and other county agencies and Topanga Center owner Joe Gerson met to discuss the current situation.

In 1990, a group known as PATCH for "People Assisting Topanga Canyon With Helping Hands" was organized to provide volunteer services for the dayworkers as well as homeless people in the Canyon. PATCH's goals included the establishment of a hiring site, meals for the homeless, public sanitation facilities, English classes and community outreach.

Organized by Michele Johnson, Flavia Potenza, Susan Nissman and Tauni Brustin, PATCH operated a job hiring trailer, donated by Steve Carlson, on land which later became Pine Tree Circle. There, dayworkers had access to job information, translators and food. When construction work started at Pine Tree Circle, PATCH volunteers had to search for another site to continue their operation. An alternative site was not available and PATCH's operations were suspended.

"A vast majority of business owners wanted to see a hiring site but we could not find a piece of land," said Johnson. PATCH organizers had discussions with the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, but the agency, which has its headquarters behind Pine Tree Circle, was unable to provide space.

"Now we need the complete backing of the community and the county in a way that was lacking in the past," said Johnson. "It has to be a partnership."

Following the April 11 meeting, Gerson said he is supportive of efforts to improve the conditions of the day laborers. He said the problem at the Center stems from a mix of "creekers," people hanging out, and day laborers.

"They have to have consideration for others,"said Gerson of the day laborers. "It's a two-way street."

Gerson said drivers entering the Center to pick up laborers often cause traffic congestion. He said he is open to discussing the idea of creating a job-hiring trailer "as long as it is managed and controlled with a schedule for operation."

Edwin Lemus, a longtime Topanga resident and activist, has been providing dayworkers with an offering of home-cooked food every Thursday afternoon for the past three years at the rear of the Topanga Creek Market. Lemus, a native of Guatemala, provides advice at that time.

"I understand the needs of the dayworkers," said Lemus. "A new covenant--a new relationship--needs to be established between the day laborers and the Topanga Center."

Center owner Gerson said he would offer a site for a hiring office at the rear of the Topanga Creek Market, where drivers would not block traffic at the entrances to the Center while negotiating with dayworkers

"What Edwin is doing to inform and educate the day workers is legitimate as it relates to the Topanga community," said Gerson.

Inadequate toilet facilities are suspected of contributing to pollution of Topanga Creek.

Lemus said he sees the problem as "both environmental and anthropological."

Susan Nissman observed water quality testing by the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee identified the area behind the Center as among several "hot spots" indicating impaired water quality and requiring attention.

With only one portable toilet available, the creek is being used by necessity. Currently the Topanga Canyon Town Council pays for monthly service of the portable toilet.

The experience of the Malibu Community Labor Exchange indicates that a well-organized and adequately funded hiring center can be successful.

According to the exchange's director, Mona Loo, the Malibu organization has been offering its job services for almost nine years. With a paid site manager, the exchange serves an average of 75 dayworkers each day and is open from 6:30 a.m to 1 p.m. six days a week. Dayworkers are asked to provide a photo identification which is kept on file.

Loo said that funds for the exchange's $70,000 operating budget come from a Community Development Block Grant from Los Angeles County, the city of Malibu, foundation grants and an annual mail-in fundraiser. Included among the facilities are three portable toilets, an office trailer and outdoor tables. Because the operation is on county land the operation must maintain $1 million in liability insurance.

Another meeting is scheduled in first week of June to continue discussions on improvements to Topanga's dayworker hiring arrangements.

For information or questions concerning PATCH, call Tauni Brustin at (310) 455-2894.

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Little Feat Duo to Play Benefit for Emiliano

By Susan Chasen

Celebrate Mother's Day supporting another Topanga Canyon mother who is in a battle for her son's life.

The Theatricum Botanicum has donated the theater, and Little Feat's acoustic duo Fred Tackett and Paul Barrère with special guest Inara George of Merrick are performing May 12 to benefit five-year-old Emiliano Rocco Zapata, who is currently undergoing radiation therapy for a brain tumor that could not be completely removed by surgery.

The gardens will open early, at 12 noon, for picnicking. Rocco's will be selling food at the Theatricum with proceeds going to benefit Emiliano's recovery fund. The show starts at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children ages 6 to 13 and children five and under are free. Tickets can be purchased from the Theatricum box office at (310) 455-3723, at Rocco's and Abuelitas.

"It will be a real family atmosphere," said Kristina Rocco Levy, Emiliano's aunt who is helping to organize the event.

Earlier the same day, Abuelitas is also donating 10 percent of its Mother's Day breakfast and brunch proceeds to support the recovery fund.

Eva Rocco, Emiliano's mother and the daughter of Marlene and Frank Rocco of Rocco's in the Canyon, is very thankful for the love and support she has received from the community as well as financial contributions, according to her sister Kristina.

Emiliano has been operated on twice to remove a form of cancer called an anaplastic astrocytoma from his brain.

After surgery in October, Emiliano appeared to be doing well, supported by alternative therapies. In January, the cancer appeared to be retreating. But six weeks later, in March, the cancer had grown from the size of a lima bean to a tennis ball. He was operated on, on March 14, but part of the cancer reached the midline of the brain and could not be removed, said Kristina. He spent three weeks in the hospital, including 12 days in the intensive care unit at UCLA Medical Center.

According to Kristina, the doctors are very confident that the radiation will work.

"Their language is very positive," said Kristina. "They say, 'We are going to put him into remission.'"

Emiliano is now undergoing six weeks of daily radiation therapy begun on April 24.

Medical bills are mounting, even with insurance paying 80 percent. Each operation cost approximately $300,000, said Kristina, not including hospital stay costs and now the radiation therapy.

From October to March, Kristina said Emiliano was doing great. The family had a wonderful trip to Big Bear over Thanksgiving. And on April 14, he was out of the hospital to celebrate his fifth birthday at Legoland with the whole family.

In addition to the May 12 concert, Kristina said donation cans will be placed in several locations in the community, including Rocco's, Abuelitas, Topanga Home Grown, hella bella and Mimosa CafŽ.

She also wants to thank Patricia Tackett, Elizabeth George and Theatricum business manager Jennifer Beale for their help in organizing the benefit.

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Topanga Historical Society Focuses on Chroniclers of Canyon Life

Messenger founders Mary Colvig, business manager and the continuity for 25 years covering the Canyon; Merrick Davidson, whose inspiration gave the Messenger its start; and Flavia Potenza, the Messenger's first editor and the only original staff member with journalism experience.

By Susan Chasen

The Topanga Historical Society's April 17 presentation on the surprising successes and excesses of the newspapers serving the Canyon since 1942 could only be described as a remarkable evening, if we at the Messenger--the longest running paper of them all--do say so ourselves.

It was the second of the Historical Society's quarterly potluck dinner programs this year with about 50 people attending.

Historical Society archivist Ami Kirby recounted the history of the Topanga Journal and the Topanga Lookout which published weekly editions, beginning in 1942 and 1964 respectively, even overlapping for a short time as the Lookout covered the colorful decline of the Journal.

The Journal was founded by Hugh Harlan during World War II and emphasized news of the war effort in its coverage, said Kirby. The Journal changed hands in 1954 and again in 1960 when Charles Hinman, an attorney and wealthy real estate developer, took over. Eventually, under Hinman, the paper degenerated into disorganized ramblings over legal troubles arising from his divorce, some of which were apparently written from a jail cell. He ended up being convicted of soliciting a hit man to kill his ex-wife's lawyer. The paper was sold in the mid-'60s and lasted a few more years as an advertisement sheet, according to Kirby.

The demise of Hinman and the Journal was a favorite topic, said Kirby, of its successor, the Topanga Lookout, published by two sisters, Jan and Shirley Jordan. The Lookout, however, ran for only two years, ending in 1966. It provided news of the Canyon as well as a mouthpiece for its politically conservative publishers.

Kirby, who is a retired librarian, showed samples of the old papers, including a bound set of the Journal she was fortunate to intercept from the Santa Monica Public Library when they were going to be thrown out.

Ten years later, wood-craftsman Merrick Davidson appeared on the scene to start what would endure to become a 25-year Topanga institution, and one that at this point commands a certain reach of its own into local history.

Davidson was the second featured guest at the Historical Society dinner. He spoke about his original inspiration for a Topanga newspaper and how it got off the ground on a meager collection of dollar donations totaling $33.

Eventually, after a community naming contest, the "Topanga paper" shed the risk of being nicknamed the "TP" and became the venerable Messenger.

Davidson told of his mission to create opportunities for craftspeople like himself to connect with other people and services right here in the canyon, when before, there was no way to know who was here.

Mary Colvig, who, among countless other roles, has been the Messenger's business manager from the start, and Flavia Potenza, the Messenger's first editor and a great writer, came next to tell of the early days. They credited Davidson's extraordinary ability to pull people together and get them to do things with the initial success of the paper when there was barely a typewriter for the paper to call its own.

According to Colvig, the paper probably would not have survived if Ian Brodie, a British journalist who called Topanga home, hadn't come to the rescue with an investment and experienced advice, and become the paper's publisher.

Potenza recalled, when it was time for her to move on, how the decision was made to make Colin Penno editor. Penno had shown up at the start with the now famous line: "Here's your photographer." But Potenza said she knew, even though he admittedly couldn't even type, was the man for the job.

He went on to make the paper into a living record of this community and an expression, as he put it years ago, of his "love affair with Topanga Canyon."

In his 20 years as editor, Penno's coverage of the 16-year battle to save Summit Valley from a succession of increasingly devastating development proposals may well have changed the course of history in the Canyon.

Since Penno moved to Portland in 1997, several editors have stepped in to keep the Messenger going and to help it grow and change to fit the changing needs of the community.

Michele Johnson, who was editor from 1998 to 2001, spoke about her priorities as editor and some of her proudest moments. She recalled discovering the power even a small paper can have when it came to an issue like new tactics law enforcement was considering for discouraging dayworkers from coming to the Canyon for work and contractors and others from hiring them. When it was suggested that these plans were too draconian, after a Messenger article, Johnson said, the plans were dropped.

She also recalled with fondness, interviewing Richard Boeken, a Viewridge resident who won an unprecedented award in his lawsuit against Philip Morris tobacco company shortly before his death from cancer in January.

Finally, I concluded the program with a slide show covering 25 years of springtime in Topanga as reflected on the pages of the Messenger. I also made a pitch for volunteers in the Canyon who would like to help index 25 years of local history filling more than 630 issues of the Messenger. In all, there are probably 20,000 stories of news, arts, life and death, and everything in between--great material for the kind of research that can instantly add depth to our sense of this place called Topanga.

To explore the pages of the old Messengers, the Topanga Journal or the Lookout, the Historical Society office and archives library in Pine Tree Circle, 120 South Topanga Canyon Boulevard, is open on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. or by special appointment. For more information call (310) 455-1969.

Anyone interested in joining a Messenger indexing project, call (310) 455-1303.

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Bridge Contemplated for Trail Crossing

By Susan Chasen

The idea of a bridge across Topanga Canyon Boulevard near Greenleaf Canyon Road is being explored to provide an important linkage in the 67-mile Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail where it crosses through Topanga.

The bridge, along with proposed rumble strips to slow traffic for a safer crossing point on Old Topanga Canyon Road, were discussed at a meeting of community and trail advocates with agency representatives and deputies of State Senator Sheila Kuehl and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky on April 2 in the Resource Conservation District trailer.

The first order of business for the bridge proposal, which is still at a very preliminary stage, was "business" so to speak. A horse "poop" committee was set up to document how frequently horses are likely to poop while crossing the bridge, using a bridge in Malibu Creek State Park for comparison. Equestrian members of the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council which is spearheading the Backbone Trail crossings cause say horses normally wait until they are on solid ground. But discussion among agency representatives suggested that some kind of drainage and septic system may be required to handle any effluent on the bridge.

"You've made an interesting mountain out of this molehill," joked trail-builder Ron Webster. "You've made a mountain of s*** out of this molehill."

But to the suggestion that minimal Backbone Trail hiking through Topanga may not warrant building the bridge, Webster said the bridge itself is likely to become an attraction.

"That is the tendency of bridges. It's a feature point on a trail," said Webster. "Aesthetics are real important."

Some suggested the bridge could also unite the community, currently divided by traffic on Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

The bridge will have to be 17 feet above the road, at least 10-feet wide and approximately 140-feet long according to a combination of Caltrans and State Parks specifications.

The problem, according to Frank Padilla, Jr., with State Parks maintenance division, is that beyond a certain length, the bridge will have to be concrete which is uglier than steel would be.

Roger Pugliese, chair of the Topanga Association for a Scenic Community, is concerned about the aesthetics of the bridge, particularly if it has to be oversized to meet state design requirements. Examples of attractive bridge railing designs in Ventura and Ojai were proposed as possible models, so pictures are being sought.

Other complicating factors include whether footings will be permitted in a riparian zone.

The trail crosses the boulevard at Dead Horse Trail, continues on behind Topanga Elementary School and then crosses Old Topanga Canyon Road.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's deputy Susan Nissman said that the county cannot put a crosswalk at the Old Topanga crossing because there isn't enough sight distance.

Public Works traffic engineer Bassam Albeitawi offered the county's alternative for Old Canyon which is to put in two sets of rumble strips in each lane approaching the existing roadway bridge which is about a half-mile from the intersection with Topanga.

Crossing under the bridge is not acceptable. Trails may run across a creek, but not within a creek.

Albeitawi cautioned that the proposed measures are not a 100-percent solution. There is still only a 165-foot sight distance in the southbound lane. The required stopping sight distance for current average speeds is 300 feet. Albeitawi found that 85 percent of drivers on Old Canyon were traveling at 38 m.p.h.

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