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Monday, September 29, 2014

Folk of the Air

A common cabbage white butterfly sips nectar from the flowers of a mint plant. All photos @ 2014 S. Guldimann

Fly, white butterflies, out to sea,
Frail pale wings for the winds to try,
Small white wings that we scarce can see
Fly.

Here and there may a chance-caught eye
Note in a score of you twain or three
Brighter or darker of tinge or dye.

Some fly light as a laugh of glee,
Some fly soft as a low long sigh:
All to the haven where each would be
Fly. 
—Algernon Charles Swinburne, Envoi, 1883

Early autumn is the season of butterflies in Malibu, and this year, even with the devastating drought, Swinburne's frail pale wings are visible everywhere. While everyone is familiar with the orange and black splendor of the monarch and the great gold and black swallowtails, there are numerous smaller butterflies adrift in gardens and open space that are less well known, but no less remarkable than their larger, showier relations.

One of the first posts on the Malibu Post Blog was about monarchs, and I wrote a short piece about some of the more common local butterflies for the Malibu Surfside News in July of 2014, but there is a bewildering array of butterfly species in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains and the area may still be home to localized species that have never never been identified or even named. 

I'm still learning about the common "backyard" species. Most of us know them by sight, but it's nice to know the names of the neighbors. Here are a few species we see frequently in our garden here at the Post.

A Lorquin Admiral, Limenitis lorquini suns itself on a dead mugwort twig. This is a spectacular medium-sized butterfly with black and orange markings on its upper wings. However, this one refused to open its wings. Lorquin admiral caterpillars depend on willows and cottonwood trees for their host plants, but the adults are attracted to many types of flowers and are sometimes observed feeding on animal dung or even bird droppings. Butterflies need the sun to regulate their body temperature. They are most active on warm, sunny days. Late morning and early afternoon in Malibu, when the morning marine layer has burned off, is the best time to look for butterflies. 


Monarchs aren't the only butterflies attracted to milkweed. Here's a Fiery Skipper (in background), Hylephila phyleus, and a California Hairstreak, Satyrium californica, 
sharing a milkweed flower at the National Park Service's native plant garden at King Gillette Ranch. Both species are attracted to a wide variety of garden plants and wildflowers. However, the skipper's caterpillars feed on grass—including lawn grass, while hairstreak host plants include willow, oak and ceanothus. 


There was an abundance of painted lady butterflies in the Springs Fire recovery zone, taking advantage of the fire follower flowers after the brief winter rains this year. I think this is Vanessa cardui, the common painted lady found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. There is a much rarer West Coast lady, too, which has a different pattern of white on the upper wings. Painted lady caterpillars seem to prefer thistles, but will also feed on legumes like vetch and the popular garden flower cosmos. Adults seek nectar from a wide variety of plants.


This gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, is a bit battered but still able to forage for nectar. Many butterflies, including this species, seem to be attracted to lantana, a popular tropical member of the verbena family. The yellow-flowering variety seems to be especially desirable. While native plants are critical for caterpillars, many butterflies are attracted to non-native garden flowers as a source of nectar. The gulf fritillary is an example of a species that is not native to Southern California but has become common because its host plant, the passionflower, thrives in California gardens. Unlike some other non-native species, this one does not appear to pose a threat to native species because it doesn't compete with the locals for host plants.


This is the tiny marine blue, leptotes marina. Its wingspan is less than an inch across and its so light it is almost entirely at the mercy of the slightest breeze, but it's one of the most common butterflies in Malibu gardens and throughout western North America. The only blue on the side of the wing is in the eye marking, but the top view reveals a shimmer of iridescent ultramarine.


A marine blue shows reveals its blue coloring. The butterfly guides say that this species' native host plants are usually legumes, but this small butterfly is attracted to plumbago, or leadwort, a popular garden flower, for nectar and as a host plant for caterpillars. 

This small inconspicuous butterfly belongs to the skipper family, but it has two profoundly gloomy common names: the mournful duskywing and the funereal duskywing. Even its Latin name is dismal: Erynnis funeralis. There's the funeral again, together with Erynnis, presumably for the Erinyes, or Furies, the goddesses of vengeance in Greek Mythology. I have no idea why this unoffending butterfly was saddled with its name, except perhaps because its dark colors resemble mourning clothes. Its host plant is usually deerweed, and in our garden it is attracted to the flowers of the sages and mints.


It's been a bumper year for sulphur butterflies. They seem to be everywhere—a flash of gold darting around the garden or among the trees, almost too quick for the eye to follow. I think this is the cloudless sulphur, Phoebis sennae—there's another Greek god, this time Phoebus, the sun god, an aspect of Apollo. Adults are attracted to many garden flowers, including bougainvilla and hibiscus, but the caterpillars eat legumes, much to the sorrow of backyard vegetable gardeners who are often less than pleased to find fat green caterpillars in their pea plants.


Butterflies aren't the only folk of the air, early autumn is the season of dragonflies. There is a vast number of dragonfly species, and I'm not going to even hazard a guess what these are. Dragonflies lay their eggs in water and spend the first part of their lives as aquatic insects known as nymphs. They are sensitive to pollution and are an important indicator species for stream health. They should be impacted by the drought. However, these living jewels seem to be everywhere, which is interesting because there are very few crane flies or even mosquitos—insects with a similar aquatic life phase—in Malibu this year.

This is a damselfly, the dragonfly's smaller cousin, and one of the weirdest looking creatures in the garden. Like their larger relatives, damselflies are fierce hunters that prey on species humans view as pests, like gnats. Dragonflies and damselflies have amazing compound eyes with thousands of facets, enabling them to see in all directions at the same time. 


Here is the aptly named monarch. It's latin name also holds an echo of greek mythology, it's Danaus   plexippus, for Danae, the daughter of the King of Argos, who was seduced by Zeus in a shower of gold. This is probably the best loved and most instantly recognizable butterfly in North America. It's also teetering on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss and the agrochemical business. Malibuites who are interested in helping the local monarch population are encouraged to plant milkweed and nectar gardens. Information on how to plant a butterfly garden and local plant sources is available from the Malibu Monarch Project. 

There are many more species of butterfly our own backyards. They rejoice in common names like checkerspot and buckeye, wood nymph and metalmark, comma and dogface, orange-tip and cabbage white and the pantheon of ancient Greece and Rome lurk in their Latin names: satyrs and gorgons,  gods and queens and Furies.
 Butterflies are a crucial part of the local ecosystem where they serve as pollinators and as an important part of the food chain for wildlife. For humans, they are a living symbol of transformation. 
Suzanne Guldimann
29 September 2014


What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.

—Richard Bach

A checkered skipper, Pyrgus albescens, rests on a lobelia flower in the author's windowbox.



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wildlife X-ing


The flier says it all, but the public rally is just the beginning of the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing campaign. This project already has the support of the National Park Service, the National Wildlife Federation, a wide assortment of local politicians and Caltrans, the government agency with the authority to build the overpass, but the project also needs support from the public to make it a reality.


Malibu's Mountain lions and many other wildlife species are in trouble. National Park Service research increasing reveals how The 101 freeway has transformed the Santa Monica Mountains into an island, isolating animal populations and creating a genetic bottleneck that could eventually lead to extinction. 


Mountain lions are territorial and require a large range. Young cats, like this Malibu kitten, photographed by a National Park Service remote camera. need to establish their own territories when they disperse from their mother and siblings. The Malibu cougar population also desperately needs new genetic material to prevent health issues from inbreeding. Photo: National Park Service
For many years, conservationists have sought a wildlife underpass. That proposal has gained traction recently and a more ambitious and effective solution is now being developed, a wildlife overpass at Liberty Canyon that will enable many species of animal, including mountain lions, to safely cross the highway, increasing genetic diversity and allowing young animals to disperse into a range that extends all the way into the Los Padres National Forest. 

According to the experts, if this project is successful, it will offer a safe, vegetated crossing that can be used by all of  our surviving big animal species: mountain lions, bobcats, mule deer,  but also by smaller species: weasels, badgers, raccoons, gray foxes, lizards, snakes, even birds. 

A bobcat makes her nightly rounds on Point Dume.  This beautiful little wildcat doesn't get the press that its bigger cousin the mountain lion receives, but it is also at risk from inbreeding and lack of genetic diversity. This species is also a frequent victim of vehicle strikes on the freeway and along our canyon roads. Photo @ 2014 Suzanne Guldimann

Although high fliers can easily cross obstacles like freeways, ground species and low fliers like quail can't. And even though owls look large and sturdy they are lightweight and easily caught in the slipstream of passing cars. Wildlife experts say that an overpass could offer critical connectivity for these species, as well as the more high profile animals.  

Conservationists see the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing as a major first step, a philosophical bridge as well as a physical one, that has the potential to inspire a network of overpasses and underpasses throughout the greater Los Angeles area, reconnecting the remaining islands of open space with the mountains that ring the LA basin.


There are 22 underpasses and two vegetated wildlife freeway overpasses in the Canadian Rockies. This overpass is near Banff and is routinely used by deer, elk, wolves, grizzly  bears, moose, and many other species. It's not a perfect solution, but it has been proven to help reduce the number of road kills and substantially improve wildlife connectivity.

This isn't a new idea. Wildlife overpasses and underpasses have been successfully used in other parts of the world for decades. Europe has pioneered the concept. There are badger crossings in the Netherlands,  and deer and mountain goat passes throughout the Swiss and French alps. The concept has spread. There are now elephant underpasses in Africa, camel crossings in the Middle East and plenty of US wildlife crossing projects for everything from desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert to Salamanders in New England. There is substantial scientific evidence that crossings are effective, and there's no reason they can't work here equally well.

Like the proposed Rim of the Valley National Recreation Area and the restoration of the LA River, this is ambitious vision, and one that may not be accomplished in our lifetimes, but this first step, the Liberty Canyon project, is in reach. We can do this if we all work together.


Many European countries have used wildlife overpasses and ecoducts for decades There is substantial—and encouraging—data on their effectiveness. France built the first in the 1950s.  Here's a photo of a vegetated overpass in Switzerland that I borrowed from this Federal Highway Administration report. Blow is a Dutch culvert, modified to accommodate badgers and other wildlife, from the same report.



I wrote an extensive article for the Malibu Surfside News on the overpass project, which will be online at http://www.malibusurfsidenews later this week, and I will be covering the rally on Friday for the paper. I hope to see some of you there. In a time when so much news is bad news it's nice to know good things can happen, too. 

More information of the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing is available at http://www.savelacougars.org

Suzanne Guldimann
16 September 2014




Sunday, September 14, 2014

Out to Lunch



A 1984 shot of Alice's Restaurant with the Malibu Inn in the background, taken by photojournalist Dean Musgrove for the Los Angeles Examiner. The image is part of the Los Angles Public Library's digital archive.


You can get anything that you want
At Alice's restaurant
You can get anything that you want
At Alice's restaurant.
Walk right in, it's around the back
'Bout a half a mile from the railroad track.
You can get anything that you want
At Alice's restaurant.
You can eat anything that you want
At Alice's restaurant
I said, you can eat anything that you want
At Alice's restaurant.
—Arlo Guthrie

I found a cache of forgotten matchbooks and other Malibu ephemera the other day. It inspired a piece on old Malibu restaurants—including the local temple of tacky Tiki, the Tonga Lei—that I wrote for a recent issue of the Malibu Surfside News. The article is online here, but there is much more to explore.

So here is a sort of Twilight Zone version of the Zagat Guide, a backwards glance at some of Malibu's culinary history.

Oddly enough, the Alice's Restaurant on the Malibu Pier, named for the Arlo Guthrie song, really was near the railroad tracks. Long after the grandly named and extremely short lived Malibu, Hueneme and Port Los Angeles Railroad vanished off the map, the train shed across the street from the pier lived on as a series of shops, including Malibu's first bookstore and an early Malibu health food store called the Rainbow Grocery.

Alice's opened in 1972, during the height of the hippy era. The easy-going, eclectic restaurant replaced the more formal Malibu Beach Sports Club Restaurant, and endured for nearly 25 years.


Alice's in 1980.

An Alice's matchbook, from the wonderful Eric Weinberg Collection at Pepperdine University's Digital Archive.


Brunch anyone? This menu is from around 1985. Good luck finding hollandaise sauce on a menu in Malibu in 2014. Today it's all kale salads and quinoa.
The space occupied by Alice's was reportedly originally constructed to house the Coast Guard. According to a State Parks' brochure on the Malibu Pier's history:

"During World War II, the end of the pier served as a U.S. Coast Guard daylight lookout station until an intense storm in the winter of 1943-1944. The end of the pier, including the bait and tackle shop, was destroyed and had to be rebuilt. The remains of the pier were sold to William Huber's Malibu Pier Company for $50,000 with the proviso that he would construct a building for the Coast Guard to re-occupy. After the end of the war, Huber expanded the pier and built the familiar twin buildings at the end for a bait and tackle shop plus a restaurant...The building near the land end of the pier (intended for the Coast Guard) became the Malibu Sports Club Restaurant in 1966 [sic]."

The date for the restaurant must be a typo. The Malibu Beach Sports Club opened in 1956 and lasted until 1969. There is lots of material from the 1950s about the restaurant, including a puff piece in the Los Angeles Examiner in June of 1958.  The photographer's notes read:

"Photo assignment for Friday June 13 at 1:30 p.m. Take photos at Malibu Beach Sports Club, 23000 West Pacific Coast Highway (entrance Malibu Pier), Globe 62423. Henry H. Guttman, owner. Picture will be of food (hatch) and 4 or 5 wives of local Malibu Lions Club, who hold their regular meetings at Sports Club and who plan large Fourth of July party there. The usual food and people and stuff, and would like Mr. Guttman in picture."


Globe 62423 is the phone number. No area codes in those days. In fact, many Malibu residents were still on party lines—shared lines—until the late 1960s.


Before it was Alice's, the restaurant on the pier was the Malibu Beach Sports Club. Here's Chef Manuel Morales serving something straight from James Lileks' Gallery of Regrettable Food.  It looks like a desert island of meat rising out of a sea of windswept mashed potatoes. The image is from the Los Angeles Examiner Negatives Collection at USC and is dated 1958.



The chef prods a monstrous lobster in another photo from the Los Angeles Examiner Collection. He appears apprehensive. The ladies, however, demurely clad in pearls and gloves, have complete confidence in his ability to subdue the massive arthropods and serve them up with lemon and frilly toothpicks on the waiting plate. Let's take a closer look at the seafood platter:

The "usual food," eh? I think the chef must have pulled out all the stops for this PR piece. That, or the "4 or 5 wives of local Malibu Lions Club" are far hungrier than they look...


This must be "Henry H. Guttman, owner," from the photographer's notes quoted above, with the elegantly attired Malibu Lions Club wives.

After being shuttered for years, the Alice's space opened briefly as the Beachcomber and is now back in business again in a new incarnation as the Malibu Pier Restaurant. 


There was another restaurant on the pier during the same era as the Sports Club, the "Top o' the Sea," which opened at the end of the pier in 1950. This matchbook is also from the Eric Weinberg Collection at Pepperdine University's Digital Archive.

The Top o' the Sea opened in one of the twin turrets at the end of Malibu Pier in 1950, making it one of the earliest restaurants in town, but the record holders for the two oldest eateries in Malibu go to the Malibu Inn Cafe and the Las Flores Inn.


This is an ad for the Malibu Inn from the 1969 Malibu phone directory. The ad offers no explanation for the cartoon chicken on a pogo stick. Robert Ray White began working at the inn in the late 1930s. Real estate entrepreneur Art Jones, who built the inn in the 1920s, eventually sold it to White. The original building was demolished in 1951, but White relocated to the inn's current location, opposite the Malibu Pier, and the White family continued to own and operate the inn until the 1970s, when it became the Crazy Horse Saloon, an almost legendary watering hole and rock and roll club owned briefly by singer-songwriter Neil Young. It's changed hands so many times since the Crazy Horse days that it's hard to keep track. Currently, it's the new home of Casa Escobar, which was located next to the Malibu movie theater for years, before a devastating fire, followed by formidable rent increases.
The original Malibu Inn was demolished in 1951, after Pacific Coast Highway was rerouted inland, away from what is now Malibu Road. This photo is c. 1935. You can just make out the name Art Jones under the sign advertising real estate. Jones built the inn and sold groceries, dry goods and patent medicines, in addition to establishing the restaurant.

The Malibu Inn has moved, changed hands often, and spent years in limbo between owners, but it has held onto its name since the 1920s. When it first opened in the Malibu Colony, it served as restaurant, pharmacy and general store.

The Las Flores Inn, built in 1914, also served as a general store in addition to being a restaurant. While neither the name nor the original structure survive, there's always been a restaurant on the site. Today its Duke's, from 1944 until 1984 it was the Sea Lion.

After a brief interlude when it was owned by the Hungry Tiger chain in the late 1980s and was called "Charley Brown's Steakhouse," the Sea Lion turned Hawaiian and became Duke's Malibu Restaurant in 1996. Beneath the Hawaiian trappings, it still retains much of its mid-century modern ambiance, but without the acres of linoleum and the sticky green naugahyde banquettes I remember vividly from my childhood. Of course they have the ubiquitous kale salad, but at least it has a tropical twist: "Kale, butter lettuce, grapefruit, avocado, candied macadamia nuts, ginger vinaigrette, $9."




This is a Sea Lion ad from the 1969 Malibu phone directory. The sea really was right outside the window. During stormy weather or Southern Hemisphere swell waves would break on the windows, and occasionally broke the windows. Chris Polis bought the Las Flores Inn in 1944, and built the "world's longest glassed-in dining room," which is still there as part of Duke's Malibu Restaurant. The sea lions were long gone when I was a child, but many oldtimers remember buying anchovies at the restaurant to feed Josephine—the original sea lion—and her successors in the big tank in the parking lot.


The Las Flores Inn in the golden age of automobile day tripping, probably around 1930. The "live sea food from ocean to plate" sounds like you'd better eat it fast, before it crawls away. I wrote more about the site in an earlier post, which you can read here.

While Duke's added a Hawaiian theme to the mid-century modern Sea Lion building, and the short-lived Beachcomber Restaurant on the Malibu Pier at the old Alice's site featured a Tiki-themed bar, nothing could equal the spectacular Tiki decor of the Tonga-Lei, which would have given Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room a run for its money—Disneyland had animatronic parrots, but the Tonga Lei had a permanent thunderstorm in the background, and an authentic, hand-carved Tiki god in the parking lot.

Tonga Lei opened in 1961 on the site of the Drift Inn, a small motel with a seafood restaurant and jazz bar. Owner Dan Vaughn reportedly bought the place for $20,000. Malibu residents Marty and Vicki Cooper, together with business partners Skip and Lee Miser,  bought the establishment from Vaughn in 1977

In a letter to the editor of the Malibu Surfside News in response to my August 18 article on the restaurant, Marty Cooper wrote:


In 1977 my wife and I, along with partners Skip and Lee Miser, purchased the Tonga Lei from Dan and Janice Vaughn. At that time the property consisted of the torch and tiki-themed restaurant to the west and six ramshackle (I am being kind here) second story motel rooms with a rowdy (again I am being polite) bar on the ground floor to the east.
After a major cleanup and some remodeling, we added another six beachfront motel rooms and a gift shop where the old bar used to be. We then leased the restaurant to Don the Beachcomber, which was a very successful operation until 1987 when we demolished the entire property, which, by that time, was standing only by Heavenly dispensation.
We opened Malibu Beach Inn, “a small hotel on the beach” on July 14, 1989 and became instant hoteliers which lasted until 2005 when we sold the inn to its current owner.




Here's a 1969 ad for the Tonga Lei and its sister restaurant, Ted's Rancho, which burned down in the 1970s and was never rebuilt. Both restaurants were owned by Dan Vaughn and his partner, Ted Wynkoop. The site of the Tonga Lei was originally the Drift Inn, a seafood restaurant and jazz club. The Tiki god in the ad presided over the parking lot for years.


This 1960s "grog list" for the Tonga Lei is what inspired my article for the Malibu Surfside News. It's the same artwork that appears in the 1969 ad, but in color this time. The complete menu is available at the Critiki website. I was fascinated by the building as a child. The exterior really did have bamboo, thatch and tiki torches. It's amazing it never caught fire. I remember going to the restaurant a few times with my parents. I remember it was dark inside, and crowded with bamboo, carved tiki heads and glass fishing floats. Each booth had a thatched roof and the wallpaper was made of Asian newspaper pages. The menu was basic American-style Chinese. It was the decor, not the food, that made a lasting impression. And it remains the most memorable of Malibu's lost landmarks for that reason.


Here's the inside of the Tonga Lei's drinks menu, complete with volcano bowls, plastic skulls, pineapples and little paper umbrella. The Polynesian-style Tonga Lei was torn down to make way for the three-story Malibu Beach Inn. There's the ubiquitous kale salad on the Malibu Beach Inn's menu—"Kale Caesar Salad: locally grown kale, shaved parmesan, caesar dressing, parmesan cracker, anchovies, $14," but you won't find anything that's served in a lava bowl or even a coconut shell. Alas, sic transit gloria mundi.


Here's a matchbook from the Don the Beachcomber era. The restaurant retained much of its Tiki splendor to the bitter end. I hope some of it went to good homes instead of to the landfill. I have no doubt it would be appallingly bad karma to bulldoze vintage hand-carved tiki gods.

In an odd way, Nobu is Tonga Lei's real successor. Although the elegant, expensive Japanese-themed venue bears little resemblance to the over the top Polynesian kitsch of the old Tonga-Lei, there's the same element of  hyperreality used to set an exotic stage set on which patrons play out their personal dramas against a backdrop of the Pacific.

There have been plenty of memorable Malibu restaurants. Some of them have remarkable staying power: 

After more than 30 years, Godmother is still owned and operated by the indomitable Dolores Walsh; Jim Musante, son of the original John of John's Garden retired in 2012, but the restaurant was smoothly transferred to his longtime employee Boyen Kinov. Tony's Taverna has outlasted all of the earlier restaurants and almost all of the other local businesses on that side of the Malibu Country Mart and become a Malibu institution. So has Tra di Noi, on the other side of the center. Geoffrey's has now outlived the famous Holiday House that it replaced in the 1980s and it's hard to imagine driving up PCH without passing the seemingly eternally popular Malibu Seafood and Neptune's Net.

But ultimately, restaurants are more ephemeral as the matchboxes and menus that remain as their fossil record.


It says Beverly Hills, but it's really from Jean Leon's Malibu restaurant, which was the last word in sophistication in the 1980s and is almost completely forgotten today. La Scala was the first restaurant on the site of what is now Tra di Noi. It was followed, for about three seconds in 1994, by a Spanish restaurant named Moncho Neira,and then by Tra di Noi, which has had impressive staying power. Here's a menu cover from La Scala's heyday:

The Malibu restaurant is long gone, but the Beverly Hills location on Canon Drive is still owned by the family and is celebrating its 50th anniversary. 




The Ranch at Solstice Canyon Restaurant just opened at the site of Beau Rivage last month.  And yes, they have a kale salad (enough with the kale, already!). For several years while my parents had their shop in Malibu, my family used to have Christmas Eve dinner at Beau Rivage. My older brothers would come help on that last frantic day of last minute holiday sales and dinner at the dignified and somewhat hokey Old World restaurant was a welcome respite. Before restauranteurs Daniel and Lucia LaForge built the fanciful quasi-Mediterranean building, the Coral Beach Cantina occupied the site. Before that there was an old fashioned 1950s-style diner. And centuries before that there was an extensive Chumash village on the site. No restaurants, but plenty of good seafood, judging from excavation reports on the site.


The thing I remember best about Carlos and Pepe's is the time a waitress dropped an entire tray of ice-cold margaritas on my mother. A sort of early form of the ice-bucket challenge. This popular Mexican restaurant featured a pun-laden menu and a cheerful, beachside atmosphere. The Mexican decor contrasting oddly with the fake New England lighthouse folly on the roof, a legacy from the building's Nantucket Light era.  In the 1950s it was the Malibu Rendezvous, a French restaurant. After Carlos and Pepe closed, the Windsail opened, but it didn't last long. After standing empty for years, the site, now owned by Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, is now home to Nobu—too expensive for most of us, but possibly the only restaurant in Malibu that doesn't feature a kale salad. However, Ellison's other overpriced restaurant, Nikita,  which shares the parking lot with Nobu and once was home to the Pierview Restaurant, features (drumroll, please) a kale Caesar salad, with "curly kale and baby kale."


When the Whale Watch Restaurant was built on Westward Beach Road, the California Coastal Commission conditioned the project to require an actual whale watching platform to be built on the bluff above the restaurant. The restaurant is long gone—It's the Sunset Restaurant now, and surprise, they serve a "baby kale Caesar salad, with croutons
, shaved red onion, grana padano, bacon crumble, hard boiled egg, Caesar dressing, $11—but the lookout, accessed by a steep and rickety stairs is still there, and still open to the public, although there isn't a sign any more. Its a more lasting legacy than most restaurants leave behind when they fold.


This 1980s postcard shows the Whale Watch Restaurant and the newly built stairs to the actual whale watch that was a condition of the building permit.

Restaurants come and go in Malibu and everywhere, but because we celebrate so many of our milestones and special days at them they have a special nostalgia for us. They remind us of lost loved ones, and revive old joys. Perhaps that's why we feel their loss so keenly and why we look back on them, through the rose-colored lens of memory, with so much affection.

Kale salad, anyone?

Suzanne Guldimann
14 September 2014




The empty and abandoned Nantucket Light building, faux lighthouse and all, in 1980, awaiting its next incarnation.