David K. Randall is a senior reporter at Reuters and has previously written for the New York Times, the Associated Press and New York magazine, among others. His first book, “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep,” was a New York Times best seller, called one of Amazon’s best books of the month, and was included in Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program.
His second book, “The King and Queen of Malibu: the True Story of the Battle for Paradise,” was published by W.W. Norton on March 2, 2016. In a story that Publisher’s Weekly calls “fascinating … well-written and thoroughly researched” and the New York Times said was a “tart, snappy history,” the book introduces readers to Frederick and May Rindge, a couple whose early lives could not have been more different and yet filled in what the other was missing. The Rindges came to own all of Malibu when it was little more than an out of the way ranch, and, over the next thirty years, battled homesteaders, the federal government, and fractures within their own family in order to keep it as their own private paradise. The fight would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a landmark eminent domain decision that continues to influence the public’s right to access beautiful places.
For Malibu and Dreamland press inquires, please contact Elizabeth Riley, senior director of publicity at W.W. Norton: eriley AT wwnorton DOT com.
For all other inquiries, please email davidkrandallwrites AT gmail DOT com.
After a week on the road, I just want to take a page out of Lola’s book:
Lola is eight weeks old and in training to be the store dog at Copperfield’s Books in Healdsburg, a small town in the middle of wine country about an hour and a half drive north of San Francisco. I spoke at the store last night, largely because of the area’s connection to the Rindges and, by extension, Malibu.
Frederick, a man who could never fully outrun the illnesses that plagued him since infancy, was the most prominent member of a faith-based medical cult based on a sprawling ranch in Cloverdale, now about a twenty minute drive north of Healdsburg. The leader of the cult was a woman known as Madam Preston, who claimed that she could cure any disease with a painful medieval form of treatment called blister therapy (she followed this up with a combination of feel-good medicines like marijuana and opium.) Preston introduced Frederick to her niece, May, essentially playing matchmaker between two people so different from each other that they seemed molded from different clays.
In appreciation for the treatment he received, Frederick built a sanctuary on the grounds. Its two-story bell tower looked like it was dropped straight out of New England. On the walls, Frederick penned inscriptions extolling the ways that Preston’s teachings would lead to eternal life.
After Madam Preston’s death, her ranch was left largely untouched. I spoke with a man last night who is working on a documentary about her. He told me he was up at the site of the ranch that same day, where several buildings from her time remain standing. In the middle of them all stands the sanctuary, where its bell still rings every hour.
When you read every surviving word written by your main characters, it’s easy to get a sense that you know them pretty well, even if it’s a relationship that exists only in your head. It’s striking, then, to continue to meet people who are their actual relations.
I spoke at Books Inc in Alameda, a funky island in the San Francisco Bay. They made a groovy poster for my book talk:
After the talk, Frederick and May Rindge’s great-great granddaughter came up and introduced herself. She told me that she wrote her college dissertation on her family’s story. Much of the literal writing part of her project took place on the Malibu beaches, surrounded by people who were only there because of her family’s fall.
Researching a non-fiction book about a story that’s not very well known sometimes feels like walking around with magnets, hoping to find something that sticks. Of course it’s only after the book is published that something new turns up.
Tonight I spoke at Warwick’s in La Jolla, a beautiful store in a beautiful place. In the audience was a woman in her 90s who remembers seeing May Rindge as a child. May at the time – somewhere between 1927 and 1932 – was in her late sixties. The woman tonight described her as standing at the entrance to Malibu with a rifle in her hands, making sure that no one stepped off of PCH and onto her property. Her hair was unkept and she was wearing old gray clothes with a wild look in her eye – the exact sort of person that becomes burned in the memory of a child (“I can still close my eyes and see her like it was yesterday” is how she described it to me.) The woman said that her father was a part of the team that Rindge used to sell bonds to fund her long legal fight, and that her view of Rindge armed and ready to defend her land was the first and last time she had ever laid eyes on her.
It’s amazing how history is living on in the most unlikely places. Sometimes you have to give a talk at a bookstore in La Jolla to find it.
Today, I spoke at the Point Dume Club, which is perched on top of the bluff where the last scene of the original Planet of the Apes was filmed. Dume is pronounced “doom,” making it probably the prettiest place with the scariest name.
Not much doom here:
I spoke to a crowd made up mostly of Rindge and Adamson family members, as well as docents of the Adamson House in Malibu. The Adamson House is mostly known as a wedding venue these days. Originally, it was the home of Frederick and May Rindge’s daughter, Rhoda, who married Smoke Adamson at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California (my hometown.) The State of California once tried to demolish it and build a parking lot in its place in the 1960s. The fight to save the home was one of the first victories for preservationists in Malibu in the post-Rindge era. The state also once tried to build a double decker freeway and a nuclear power plant on the Malibu coast but failed, thankfully.
As part of the tour of what’s left of the Rindge legacy in Southern California, we made the trek out to the Mission Inn. Rhoda and Smoke Adamson were married in this chapel on the grounds of the hotel:
The Mission Inn is probably the best example of the urge in the early 20th century to romanticize the region’s Spanish and Mexican past, even if the exact history never lived up to the folklore (there was no mission in Riverside, for one thing.) The hotel now takes up an entire city block, and has hosted presidents from Taft to Reagan.
My favorite artifact: apparently the hotel once took it upon itself to make an exceptionally large chair to accommodate President Taft, who himself was an exceptionally large man. Offended rather than pleased at the gesture, he refused to sit in it. The chair is now in the hotel lobby, where everyone loves to get a picture of themselves sitting in what looks like the throne of a wide giant.
Writing a book about the history of Malibu means that you have to travel to Malibu often (a hard assignment if there ever was one.) Today, I spoke about the book at Pepperdine University, the campus of which is on land donated by the descendants of Frederick and May Rindge.
I spoke in a room in the library that’s known as the Surfboard Room and houses a collection of historic surfboards. It was super Californian in the best sense of the word.
The view from the room that I had to compete with:
The talk brought out many Malibu locals, as well as several members of the Rindge and Adamson families, who graciously opened up their private archives to me while knowing that they would have no editorial say over the final book. Modern Bite, a local bakery, also had cookies on hand decorated in the style of Malibu Tiles.
As well as the book cover:
As I left the campus at sunset, I was struck once again by how this paradise all rests on the rise and fall of Frederick and May Rindge. She was willing to sacrifice everything – her wealth, her social standing, her relationship with her eldest son – all to preserve a place that reminded her of her late husband and of a time in her life when everything was new and possible. Her name is largely forgotten now, even as her legacy lives on.
One of the thrills of going on a book tour is giving talks at some of the sites that played a big part in the story. Yesterday, I spoke at the former Rindge mansion in West Adams. When it was built, the home was one of the largest in LA, and the center of a neighborhood that was essentially Beverly Hills before Beverly Hills.
Frederick Rindge’s funeral services were held at the home, an event that gathered all of the city’s elite in one place. The more than twenty businesses he founded or served on the board of closed that day in honor of his passing, a decision that nearly ground the city’s economy to a halt.
A deeply religious man, Frederick leaned heavily on proverbs and uplifting phrases, and had them inscribed throughout the home.
One of my favorite: He Aims Too Low Who Aims Below The Sky.
Above the largest mantle in the main foyer, he penned the inscription: California Shall Be Ours As Long As The Stars Remain.
By the time of May Rindge’s death, West Adams had fallen from its perch. The construction of the 10 Freeway in the early 1950s decimated the neighborhood. When the current owner of the house bought it in the early 1980s, it had been adandoned for five years. He has spent the last thirty years restoring it to as close to its original state as possible, so much so that walking into the home today feels like walking back into 1902.