The original inhabitants of the Santa Monica Mountains were the indigenous Tongva Indians (after 1771 referred to by the Spanish missionaries as "Gabrieleño" because they were in the jurisdiction of Mission San Gabriel). The first Europeans to visit the area were members of the Portola expedition of 1769. The land expedition sought to follow the coastline north, but was stopped by the coastal mountain cliffs ("Malibu" is a Tongva place-name meaning "Where the Mountains Meet the Sea"). At some point up the coast, they turned around and went inland along the northern edge of current-day Westwood/Bel Air, finding an opening through Sepulveda Canyon (route chosen for the I-405 freeway in 1956) into what is now known as the San Fernando Valley.
Under Mexican rule, the land between Topanga Canyon (location of the former Camp Slauson) and present-day Santa Monica was in the Rancho Boca de Santa Monica. It was used
for grazing and firewood by the prominent Spanish Marquez, Reyes, and Sepúlveda families. During the latter 19th-century, Rustic Canyon was known as a camping and picnic area near the beach hotels and resorts of nearby Santa Monica.
Abbot Kinney, developer of Venice Beach, established a
6 acre, experimental forestry station as part of a 247 acre Rustic Canyon parcel purchased in 1887. One of his objectives was to test trees, primarily eucalyptus, as cash crops. Despite succeeding in growing the trees, it was clear they were not suitable for building lumber. Kinney sold or gifted the forestry station to the University of California in 1893. Notwithstanding a devastating fire in 1904 that burned the Forestry Station to the ground, many of the trees survived creating the plentiful eucalyptus groves in Rustic Canyon today. A plaque was dedicated on August 18, 1971, officially designating the eucalyptus groves as a California State Historical Landmark.
The current name of Rustic Canyon came into use around 1890. Prior to that time, the canyon was known as Canada de Casa Vieja, possibly referring to an adobe built by Ysidro Reyes or Francisco Marquez & wife Roque Valenzuela near the present-day intersection of Sunset and Chautauqua Boulevards.
An early, if not the first, non-native resident in Rustic Canyon was Sam Carson (1826-1902). Some reports say Carson moved into Rustic Canyon as early as 1875 while others put the date into the mid 1880's. He was characterized as a "well known and picturesque, old pioneer", who spun endless tall tales of his background and adventures including claiming to be the son of Western legend Kit Carson (a claim disputed by Kit Carson's friend and employer, General John C. Fremont). He further claimed to have shot Grizzly Bear in Rustic Canyon before they became extinct in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Carson squatted a small piece of land up in Rustic Canyon where he built a rag-tag shanty made of tin cans and sacks. Tourists were encouraged to "drive" up Rustic Canyon (presumably by horse and buggy) on a gravel road winding through heavy underbrush and majestic live oaks that led to "Castle Carson". Old Sam Carson, as he became known, died on December 2, 1902, a few days after being bitten by a spider. He was buried a week later next to the site of his shanty. It has been said, but never verified, that his body and that of his dog were subsequently moved and buried together in the Pascual Marquez Family Cemetery in Santa Monica Canyon.
A more traditional cottage was built by George W. & Katherine Edmunds in 1896, on land originally leased from Nevada Senator John P. Jones, co-founder of the City of Santa Monica. The parcel was located at the southern opening to Rustic Canyon in what would become Pacific Palisades thirty years later. George and Katherine's cottage was left to daughter Julia, becoming known simply as the Julia Edmunds Ranch.
A big part of the allure of Rustic Canyon in the late 1800's was its proximity and inaccessibility from Los Angeles. The Los Angeles & Independence Railroad created a line in 1875 allowing beach goers to make the 16.67 mile trip to Santa Monica for $1. The right-of-way for the original tracks has changed hands many times since then and most currently opened as the Los Angeles Metro Expo Light Rail Line in 2012. Once in Santa Monica, access into Rustic Canyon was by horse, buggy, bicycle and walking along small local dirt streets and trails.
Dirt roads that later became Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard, were started in 1895 & 1896. They allowed for alternate means of travel (including by automobile a few years later) between Los Angeles and Santa Monica, opening up the beauty of coastal beaches and mountains to thousands more Los Angeles residents. With the roads and trains came more development.
Uplifters Ranch & More Fires
In 1920, the Uplifters, an offshoot of the prominent Los Angeles Athletic Club, purchased 40 acres at the mouth of Rustic Canyon, (reportedly for $1,000 per acre) from Julia Edmund. Her original ranch home was expanded and remodeled by the Uplifters in 1921, ironically becoming their clubhouse for the all-male, invitation-only, social club. Uplifters continued buying land, building a pool, trap range, tennis courts, campfire and even dormitories. Many ranch and cabin style houses were built by members, on lots leased by the club, as second homes for weekend and annual retreats. All-male theatrical productions called "Low Jinx", were staged, much like those of the exclusive Bohemian Club and Grove on the Russian River north of San Francisco.
During Prohibition, Uplifters Ranch was known as a high-class drinking club, whose membership included prominent local politicians, industrialists, entrepreneurs, artists and Hollywood celebrities including Will Rogers, Walt Disney, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Busby Berkeley, Leo Carrillo, Harold Lloyd, Donald Douglas, Edgar Rice Burroughs; Hal Roach and Darryl F. Zanuck,. The relative isolation of the area provided an ideal retreat for the wealthy and powerful members of the club, who lived primarily in the upscale areas (of the time) near downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena and Beverly Hills, to indulge their appetites without undue notice or interference.
Fires in Rustic Canyon were a frequent occurrence (1904 & 1910) and two more separate fires threatened the Uplifters Ranch within a year of each other. The first, on December 15, 1921 burned 100 acres up in Rustic Canyon but caused no damage to the Ranch. The second, on December 27, 1922, burned down the newly remodeled Uplifters clubhouse along with a valuable John Bond Francisco painting valued at the time at $4,000. Arson was suspected but apparently never proved. The house was subsequently rebuilt and expanded at the direction of architect and club member William J. Dodd in 1923. It has been designated by the City of Los Angeles as Historical-Cultural Landmark No. 663.
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