April 19, 2019

Formal Ceremony Opens Santa Monica Mountains Visitor Center


Formal Ceremony Opens Santa Monica Mountains Visitor Center

From left, former Congressman Anthony C. Beilenson with L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Rep. Howard Berman at the grand opening of the Visitor Center at King Gillette Ranch. Beilenson wrote the legislation to create the Santa Monica Moutains National Recreation Area in 1978 and Yaroslavsky and Berman have worked tirelessly to fund and acquire thousands of acres of new parkland.

It was a gorgeous morning with a hint of fog as an impressive group of elected officials gathered for the opening of the new visitor center at King Gillette Ranch on Saturday, June 9.

The Anthony C. Beilenson Interagency Visitor Center is named for the former congressman who authored legislation in 1978 to establish the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA).

Among the VIPs were Congressmen Brad Sherman and Howard Berman, State Senator Fran Pavley, Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley and Calabasas Mayor Mary Sue Maurer, all of whom joined with L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to proclaim the center open.

Free to the public, the center boasts interactive maps, educational displays for all ages and a wealth of information about the 153,000-acre national park that stretches from the Hollywood Bowl to Ventura County and a coastline that stretches from Santa Monica to Point Mugu.


Formal Ceremony Opens Santa Monica Mountains Visitor Center

A woman and her toddler explore the coyote tunnel at the grand opening of the Anthony C. Beilenson Interagency Visitor Center at King Gillette Ranch that will serve as the center for outdoor activities in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

At King Gillette, visitors can also learn about the history of the Talopop village at the western edge of the ranch and the Chumash tribes who once inhabited the local mountains and beaches.

“Our new visitor center is exactly where it should be," Beilenson said during his remarks to the crowd of about 500 guests and park supporters. “We always wanted the site because of its central location, near the 101 Freeway and the Pacific Coast Highway.”

Beilenson reveled in the fact that his 1978 federal legislation transformed the entire national park area and saved it from developers, thus preserving the mountains for generations to come.

“I took it on as my fight to preserve the land in the Santa Monica Mountains,” Beilenson said of the state and national parks for which he acquired more than 500 miles of trails and world-renowned beaches and secured more than $150 million for the land and water fund.

“We have 35 million visitors a year; no other megalopolis in the world has a national park on its doorstep.”

The National Park Service, California State Parks, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) will operate out of the facility.

After a protracted conservation effort lasting nearly 40 years, the four agencies were finally able to purchase the ranch from SOKA University in 2005 for $35 million.

Construction of the new visitor center was funded with $9.5 million from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, as well as in-kind contributions from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the MRCA.

“It is altogether fitting that the Visitor’s Center be named for Beilenson,” said Congressman Brad Sherman. “He preserved the mountains and the land for the people forever.”

Sherman said he would always make the mountains a number one priority in Congress, even though redistricting put the Santa Monica Mountains in Congressman Henry Waxman’s district.

Continuing the Beilenson legacy, Sherman helped secure federal funds for key parkland acquisitions, such as Zuma and Trancas Canyons, Malibu Creek and for completion of the 65-mile Backbone Trail.


Formal Ceremony Opens Santa Monica Mountains Visitor Center

Congressman Anthony C. Beilenson (center) with Rep. Brad Sherman, Rep. Howard Berman, Sen. Fran Pavley, L.A. County Sup. Zev Yaroslavsky and local officlals at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the grand opening of the Anthony C. Beilenson Interagency Visitor Center at King Gillette Ranch.

Designed by famed architect Wallace Neff, the former horse stables were built by the “Gillette Safety Razor” magnate King C. Gillette in 1928.

After the acquisition of the ranch by the state and national park service, the historic stables were fully transformed into a state-of-the-art building where people can learn about the mountains and plan hiking trips with the aid of impressive interactive maps and displays.

The renovated center is also green — it is the first “net zero” visitors center within the National Park Service (NPS) — because it produces all of its energy through a solar energy system.

Additionally, during the construction process, workers used the stable’s concrete floors in the parking lot; recycled glass and the original wooden ceilings were reused to create the large desk in the visitor center. All of the water is recycled and used for watering plants and in the restrooms.

As a result, the building has earned the coveted Platinum LEED certification, the highest standard for energy usage.


Formal Ceremony Opens Santa Monica Mountains Visitor Center

Charlie Cook, with, from left, Dennis Garcia and Ted Garcia, Hereditary Chief of the Southern Band of Chumash Indians, offered up a sacred Chumash prayer to officially open the Visitor Center.

Ted Garcia, hereditary Chief of the Southern Band of Chumash Indians and Charlie Cook opened the ceremony with a traditional Chumash prayer.

As a native Chumash, Cook said he works as a cultural resources monitor to preserve burial grounds, sacred artifacts and archeological relics on the ranch.

“You never know when you might find something,” Cook said.

After the interagency flag ceremony, Lorenza Fong, Acting Superintendent of the SMMNRA, started the program.

“Hey, Southern California, here is your gate to the largest urban national park right here in your backyard,” she said. “We should be proud of the monumental achievement bringing the past into the present; especially the leaders who envisioned the park and all the project leaders, staff, administration, interpretive staff and rangers who turned their vision into reality.”

Fong also acknowledged the considerable efforts of visionary environmental leaders such as Dave Brown and Margot Fuerer, for their “lifelong dedication to the park.”

Between speakers, Joe Edmiston, Executive Director, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, who himself has played a pivotal role in acquiring critical parcels of land from private owners and developers, acknowledged the presence of one of the most important people in the creation of the National Park and visitor center.

“Woody Smeck went to educate those in Washington, D.C. and came back with appropriations,” Edmiston said of Smeck, the former Superintendent of the SMMNRA, recently promoted to Deputy Superintendent of Yosemite National Park.

“In a world of no ‘earmarking’ they found something worth saving here; of course, we at the NPS are not allowed to do lobbying; instead, we ‘educate,’ and Woody is the best damn educator I’ve ever seen,” Edmiston laughed as Smeck looked typically humble.

In a show of support, members of the Calabasas City Council, Mayor Mary Sue Maurer, Lucy Martin, James Bozajian and David Shapiro, attended the ceremony.

“We could not be more thrilled with the Visitor Center in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains and right next to Calabasas,” said Maurer. “This is an example of good government and today we have what’s great about America — Federal, State and local agencies working with Supervisor Yaroslavsky who fought tirelessly to protect the mountains.”

Maurer also acknowledged State Sen. Fran Pavley, “who worked longer than anyone,” and Congressmen Howard Berman and Brad Sherman for their roles in obtaining vital federal funds.

Later, when he spoke, Supervisor Yaroslavsky acknowledged his County staff who helped put the project together, especially his deputy, Jenny Kruger.

Yaroslavsky also outlined the history and efforts to obtain the site as parkland, including the legal fight to buy it from SOKA University.

“This is one of the most beautiful sites in the Santa Monica Mountains and so accessible, so the right result occurred,” Yaroslavsky said. “But none of this would have been preserved with elected officials; it was a grass roots effort started in the 1960s by people who wanted to preserve these mountains one way or another.

“Howard Berman created the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Tony Beilenson, and I must say, before him, Marvin Braude.

“We have added 15,000 acres to the SMMNRA since I have been supervisor and we’re not done,” he added. “We want to acknowledge those who wrote letters, filed lawsuits, attended meetings. This is your victory, your park, your visitor center.”

Others in the lineup also spoke of the tremendous effort to obtain King Gillette ranch and the role it will play in the future of the park.

“This is the crown