April 28, 2017

2. Merrick Davidson, Founder

 

When we started the Topanga Messenger, long before it ever appeared, very few of my peers believed that we could actually start a newspaper with ad rates based on a one-dollar contribution for publication of a need, service, or personal ad.

That concept didn’t simply materialize out of thin air. It came from my experience as a high school teacher in Nepal. The town where I taught, Okahldunga, was a four-day walk south from the base camp at Mt. Everest. It was a wonderful Nepali community of about 5,000—Buddhist, Hindu, animists and probably some more fundamental religions. This town was the beginning of my awareness of what a small community could stand for and do.

After returning to the U.S., I worked in Exposition Park with a group called Tie Line that published a newsletter highlighting all the non-profit service organizations in Los Angeles County. We connected needs to resources and aimed to help all sorts of non-profit groups. This was a Buckminster Fuller concept, popular at the time. I did this while also fulfilling my Conscientious Objector status requirement to do a community service-oriented project.

After attending architecture school in 1971-1972, I came into the Canyon and met Mickey and Ann Nadel, who owned and lived in the Mermaid Tavern. I soon moved into the Canyon. That is when I had the idea of starting the Messenger and modeling it after my experience in Nepal and with the Tie Line newsletter.

It was Teddie, the proprietor of the dry cleaning business and “Teddie Speaking” answering service, who encouraged me. She remembered the last paper, the Topanga Lookout, and suggested in her hopefully wry way that I (we) go for it.

The crew of friends and talent was spectacular. The first time the group met at a garage on Bonnell Drive, everyone was positive and excited. We believed that our community could be self-directed even while being made up of disparate views, and that we could come together on various issues, needs and wants. We were ripe for a new direction to our sleepy town. Yes, we had the Woman’s Club, Historical Society, Topanga Association for a Scenic Community (TASC) and a Chamber of Commerce, but we did not have a forum for community issues, projects, rights of passage and emergency needs. I knew the paper could be that tool.

As I look back, the original group of nine folks worked in a non-hierarchical way, each as valuable and vital as the other, making our decisions by consensus—Connie, Flavia, Mary, Colin, Judee, Nico, Sid, Gyro (Jim Erickson), Alice Vickers and myself. We began the paper with a mini/max number of individuals, some doubling, OK, most doubling, on tasks. We felt the urgency to create and birth this community mouthpiece. The paper arose from the community as an expression of caring for its neighbors—human and animal—and the exquisite surroundings. The word, Topanga, is Gabrieleno for “the place where people meet.”

The Santa Monica Mountains News and Arts Publication, as the Messenger was known before it ever had a name of its own, was something to evoke the soul of the Canyon.

Ian Brodie, our publisher, came in at a time when the Messenger needed revitalization and monetary support. This was critically important for the continuation of the Messenger, and upgraded its ability to meet the demands of a growing newspaper and readership. We need to thank him also for the important role he played back then, even though some may not have agreed at the time. We also wish him well in gaining his strength after battling health complications. Ian, we take our hat off to you for your tenacity and your vision for the Messenger.

The Messenger at one point in its evolution editorialized the need for a more direct way to confront and resolve issues common to all, and the Town Council was born. From that point, things began to thrive to where, today, Topanga has become a model for community action and awareness county-wide and beyond, having spawned such paradigms of local citizen action as Arson Watch, Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP), Topanga Animal Rescue, and many others.

I don’t think it will stop there. Besides its own needs and quests, Topanga might take the direction to partner with other communities in the Santa Monica Mountains as it did with the formation of what has now become the county-wide Equine Response Team, and perhaps to lend a hand to communities that are either impoverished or just not as fortunate.

In all of this, the Messenger has facilitated, grown and matured with the Canyon and we, the originators, have become the elders! The paper has become a concerto of voices that reflect how people want to live, parent their children and derive joy from their sense of place.

I want to thank everyone who has been instrumental in keeping the paper functioning and vibrant for all these years. May there be another 30.

Merrick Davidson lives in West Hills, just down the hill from Topanga, with his wife, Jennifer, and their two boys, Joseph, 15, and Noah, 13. His eldest, Jessica, graduated with honors from the Marshall School of Business at USC. She is now manager and part owner of Bouboulina here in the Canyon. Merrick continues his cabinet and furniture contracting business as Custom Design Woodworking in Canoga Park. Committed to locally sustainable energy production, he is a biodiesel producer and user and maintains his connection to the Canyon through his wonderful friends, the Topanga Peace Alliance and the Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains.