‘The Million-Dollar Highway’

The newly constructed Kanan Road overpass crosses the 101 Freeway in 1964. The history of the road, and how it came to reach Malibu, is chronicled in the latest “Images of America” book. Photo courtesy of Harry Medved

Kanan-Dume Road shares its roots with the creation of the Valley community of Oak Park, as chronicled in Arcadia Publishing’s latest “Images of America” book.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

Next week, there will be a lot of commotion on Kanan-Dume Road. And, for once, it has nothing to do with traffic.

A new book on the Oak Park community illuminates some fascinating history—most of it mundane, some of it bizarre—about the local thruway connecting Oak Park with Malibu, which ends at a “T” at Pacific Coast Highway, and where such businesses as Malibu Gym, Pinnacle clothing and Sage Room restaurant converge. The authors will appear together to promote their book, “Malibu & Kanan-Dume Road in the Movies,” at Diesel, A Bookstore this Tuesday evening from 7 to 8:45 p.m.

“Go West, young man!,” a directive often attributed to New York Times editor Horace Greeley, might as well describe the manifest destiny of Kanan Road, which was built out to PCH. About halfway through its 15-mile run, where it is bifurcated by Mulholland Highway near Rocky Oaks Park, the connector morphs into Kanan-Dume Road on the Malibu side.

Longtime Oak Park resident Harvey Kern co-authored the book with fellow Oak Park pioneer David E. Ross, his brother Derek Ross and Harry Medved. Kern is a living witness to the evolution of Oak Park, where he lived from 1968-2009 and raised his family.

The original Kanan Road was named after the Waring family, which settled Agoura in the 1860s and provided land for the road. The land surrounding what would become Kanan Road was agricultural, and restaurateur Art Whizin developed the area in the 1950s and 1960s.

The story of the current road begins with brothers Lou and Mark Boyar. The Boyars were veteran developers of the kind of manufactured communities that sprung up after World War II. They masterminded what remains the largest city in the world ever created by a single developer when they purchased 3,375 acres of bean farmland south of downtown Los Angeles to create the City of Lakewood. By 1950 there were 17,500 homes there.

Following the success of Lakewood, the brothers founded the Metropolitan Development Corporation. As land in Los Angeles became more scarce, they concentrated their efforts on developments in the San Fernando Valley such as Valley Park, Valley Park Highlands and the Fallbrook Square Shopping Center. The Boyars developed Kanan Road in 1964 as a pathway from the Santa Monica Mountains, cross ing Highway 101 two miles north of the freeway into a slow-starting development of model homes called Oak Park in southeastern Ventura County, bordered on the west by Thousand Oaks and to the south by Agoura Hills and Westlake Village.

When a 1970 brush fire left the 2,600-acre McGee ranch just north of Agoura in embers, the Boyars pounced on the deal and expanded the new community.

Kanan-Dume Road was completed in 1974, but not before rumblings in the U.S. Congress. In the early 1960s, Art Whizin and other Agoura locals pushed for a Valley-to-the-Sea highway from the Ventura Freeway for faster access to the beaches and to ease expected freeway congestion, but were rebuffed. In 1973, Congressman Barry Goldwater, Jr. said that a master plan for the Santa Monica Mountains was needed desperately, as he feared the completion of Kanan-Dume Road would be “the single biggest boon to indiscriminate use of the mountains for years” and that it would “open up mass areas for development.” He and others pushed for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which prevented the extensive development he feared.

Much of Kern’s new book discusses the intersection of the road with the film industry.

Movies shot on the famed Malibu-Valley thruway include the 1978 “Heaven Can Wait” remake, the 1998 armageddon-by-comet epic “Deep Impact” (in a scene where Elijah Wood bids his parents farewell at the Ark Cave), the opening credits sequence of “Poltergeist” (depicting an encroaching suburbia) and the horror-fantasy “Phantasm,” which features the corner of Kanan and Agoura Roads. June 24’s program will feature a montage of movies shot in Oak Park, including scenes from “Of Mice and Men,” “Little Big Man,” “Back to the Future III,” “Faster, Pussycat! Kill, Kill!,” “Role Models” and “Just Go With It.”

Kern calls writing “Oak Park” “a labor of love” with proceeds from book sales supporting local charities.

“Malibu & Kanan-Dume Road in the Movies” will take place at Diesel, 23410 Civic Center Way, Ste. A-3, on Tues., July 26 from 7-8:45 p.m. For information, call 310.456.9961.

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