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JOHN BOGERT: A sepia-toned look at a special place by the ocean
By John Bogert   - 11/14/2009

The Daily Breeze

More Info on This Book: Rancho Palos Verdes

I wasn't going to write another word about yet another Arcadia Publishing book of local history.

By local I mean local cut into razor-thin slices. Hyper-local like "Famous Ivy Patches of Torrance," local until the very meaning of local disappears beneath the ever-decreasing subject matter until I'm half waiting for somebody to come in with a "South Bay Kitchen Sinks, 1949 to 1951."

Then Ginger Clark showed up with her pictorial history book "Rancho Palos Verdes" with me still swearing I wasn't going to write a word about it.

Then I start looking at the pictures in its 127 pages, at photos of the Palos Verdes Peninsula the way it was when the Tongva lived here, the way it was when Jotham Bixby's cattle grazed its dry, undulating folds, the way it looked when Frank Vanderlip bought the place sight unseen, the way it looked when he finally saw it and acted like a man thunderstruck and, well, here I am writing.

Worse, I'm wishing the same thing that I always wish when one of these always-sepia-toned (www.arcadiapublishing.com) books comes my way. I wish that I could live in those places. Specifically, in every portion of the South Bay as it was before we loved it into small lots and crowded it silly.

But let's not dwell there. Actually, we can't dwell there, starting with the picture on the book's cover, the vanished Palos Verdes College as it looked in 1947 on ground above Portuguese Bend.

It no longer exists. Or no longer exists in exactly that way, with cool people in riding outfits and white rail fences and open space as far as the camera lens can see.
Then there's Clark's enthusiasm. Born and raised in Redondo Beach and widowed in 1993 when her husband died racing a vintage Lotus, she has been a writer most of her life.

And most of that life, 66 years of it, has been spent - except for a season of soybean growing in Washington state after her husband's passing - in the city she writes about in the book.

Arcadia guy and former Breeze reporter Jerry Roberts found Clark while casting about for someone to do a book on a city with a street (Palos Verdes Drive South) that has been moving six to eight feet a year since the Portuguese Bend slide began in 1956.

"After he went through all the good people he found me," jokes Clark, who started out to write a single story about this horseshoe-shaped city only to find something quite different. "It turned out to be a set of stories that turned into a tale of people shaped by the land."

And I should mention that while I was being all "Oh, no!" about another history book, I learned that Portuguese Bend is named for the Portuguese-run shore whaling camp that operated during the yearly gray whale migrations from 1864 to 1884.

Naturally, you know that Abalone Cove was a Tongva midden, or dump. I didn't know that either. Nor did I know that Capt. George Vancouver named Point Vincente after a friar at Mission Buenaventura, a name that was inexplicably changed in 1933 to Point Vicente by the Pacific Geographical Society.

Oh, and the entire P.V. Peninsula used to be an island.

OK, so I didn't know an awful lot about the land Frank Vanderlip bought in 1913 from the Bixby family with an eye toward turning it into 100-acre estates with an adjacent hillside artisans village, a yacht club and all the other grand, robber-baron amenities that would have kept acreage absolutely unlike it is.

In the case of RPV, "the fourth city" that didn't become a city until 1973, we have a great number of people who came looking for a place away from a great number of people.

That seems to be the case from the Bixby brothers, through all the early years when - and the photos are quite wonderful - horse-drawn threshers worked land that farmer Yukio Motoike called "the most beautiful place on Earth."

And it was (and is still) beautiful, even in black and white, even as the pictured clothing goes from the top hat and minks of the Vanderlips to the cloth caps of farmers and the timeless, ever-present smiles of children gathered at Malaga Cove School and Abalone Cove.

"I could see why Frank Vanderlip fell in love with this place," said the blue-eyed ham radio enthusiast and mother to two stepchildren.

And it was Frank Vanderlip, followed by son Kelvin (husband to the recently passed-on Elin Vanderlip), who fostered a certain quality of life that was ultimately saved by the anti-development forces of the 1960s. This largely on 8,500 acres of undeveloped land owned for a time in the mid-1950s by the parents of Ethel Skakel, later Ethel (Mrs. Robert) Kennedy.

Rough people, working people, famous people, artistic people (actor Charles Laughton lived in RPV) and aerospace people crowd the narrative. With the later group arriving in the 1960s looking for good schools and a fantastic place in the sun for under $60,000.

And it's so odd to see pictured their new dream houses scraped into raw land along with the coming and going of Marineland, a move that was never forgiven by longtime city residents who saw the giant aquarium's sea mammals as extended family.

So it's fitting, I think, that the writer of such a well-presented saga should be so excited by it.

"It's a special place, special for its proximity to the ocean and special for the people it drew," said Clark, who will be signing books at Williams' Book Store in San Pedro on the evening of Dec. 3. "It's the place where I plan to spend the rest of my life."

Buy It Now: Rancho Palos Verdes $21.99




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