January 23, 2020

Historical Society Presents “Topanga Resorts,” Journey Back to the Early 1900s


The Topanga Historical Society will present “Topanga’s Resorts,” a journey back to the early 1900s when Topanga had several rustic resorts. The program, a slide show of 50 photographs, will be presented by Allie Acker and Ami Kirby at the Community House on Wednesday, July 16 at 8 p.m. A 7 p.m. potluck precedes the program.

The photographs that come from Acker’s historic postcard collection and from the Society’s photo archive give a nostalgic look at the time when Topanga was a vacation destination. In the early 1900s people made the perilous trip from the coast over the rough Canyon road in horse-drawn carriages. Later, when the road was improved, people arrived in private automobiles or in large touring cars that picked them up in Santa Monica.


Historical Society Presents “Topanga Resorts,” Journey Back to the Early 1900s

Topanga Mineral Springs, originally named Horshoe Bend Inn, was located on the plot of land near the big curve at Santa Maria Road. In the 1960s and ‘70s the site was home to Topanga’s famous rock and roll club, The Corral.

The earliest resort, McAllister’s Tavern, was operated by Stella McAllister, a splendid cook with an independent, commanding personality who insisted that her guests help with kitchen chores. Those who didn’t were told not to return, or more emphatically, to leave at once. Mrs. Mac ran her popular resort from about 1908 until the mid 1920s.

Other resorts had a shorter run. Topanga Tavern and Camp Topanga were built in 1909 in Old Canyon just south of the Narrows and offered dining and dancing at the tavern and sleeping accommodations at the camp. It was a popular spot but closed in 1914 after heavy rains severely damaged the tavern and swept away all the cabins. Moel-Y-Gan Mineral Springs, located in Old Canyon, also had an early closing when George Prikett, who had leased the property and operated the stage that brought in customers, eloped with one of his passengers.

Later resorts of the 1920s were Horseshoe Bend Inn, renamed Topanga Mineral Springs. It was located on a plot of land near the big curve near Santa Maria Road which in the 1960s and ‘70s was the site of Topanga’s famous rock and roll club, The Corral. Another 1920s resort was Mohn Springs, located on Topanga Boulevard and Entrado Drive.

Historical Society Presents “Topanga Resorts,” Journey Back to the Early 1900s

Camp Elkhorn, a resort in lower Topanga and one of the earliest resorts in the Canyon, managed to rebuild after several floods but finally closed down after the massive 1938 flood.

Kneen’s Kamp, built by Thomas W. (Bill) Kneen in 1916, was a successful resort with a long history. Located on Topanga Canyon Boulevard near Robinson Road, the camp operated until the mid- 1920s. An experienced stonemason, Kneen (pronounced “Neen”) constructed the main house and several cabins whose stone foundations can still be seen. The spacious house was razed after it was badly damaged in the 1994 earthquake and sold. It was rebuilt to resemble the original by Jake Stehlin. Thomas W. Kneen’s granddaughter Lynn Dickhoff gave the Topanga Historical Society many family photographs that will be featured in the program.

Many longtime Topanga residents remember the picturesque Outside Inn structure, located on Topanga Canyon Boulevard between Highvale and Robinson Road. Operated by Jimmy Hansen in the 1920s as a store and restaurant, it had several wood and canvas cabins placed on the hillside. The restaurant operated until 1966 and was torn down a few years later.

Another well remembered and beloved resort, Camp Wildwood, located by the Fernwood Market, was operated for many years by Julia and Oka Stewart who were active community members and astute business people. They bought the property in 1946, and built a large swimming pool in 1953. They operated the resort until the mid-80s. In the early years they dammed Topanga Creek to make Lake Wildwood which they stocked with live trout. They also rented out cabins which are still rented out by the property’s present owner.

Historical Society Presents “Topanga Resorts,” Journey Back to the Early 1900s

Coopers Camp in Topanga Lagoon operated in the 1920s and offered tent accomodations to resort goers.

Two resorts in lower Topanga were Camp Elkhorn located on Topanga Boulevard on the flat before the grade, and Cooper’s Camp in Topanga Lagoon. Camp Elkhorn, one of the earliest resorts, managed to rebuild after several floods severely damaged it, but finally closed down after the massive 1938 flood. Cooper’s Camp offered tent accommodations and operated in the 1920s.

The second edition of The Topanga Story, edited by Michele Johnson and currently in production, will feature most of the program’s photographs. Those from Allie Acker’s postcard collection will be new to the second edition.

Everyone is invited to the program. Those attending the 7 p.m. potluck dinner should bring food to share—main dishes, side dishes, salads, or desserts—and their own plate, cup and silverware. Coffee and tea (probably cold!) will be provided. For more information, call (310) 455-1969.