Let’s hope it’s not too late to save Malibu’s Adamson House—the coastal gem near the Malibu Pier that’s not only a designated California Historical Landmark, but also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The beachfront house, which sits on six acres of century-old landscaping and is now owned by the state, is unfortunately falling victim to erosion action that’s pulling soil away from the front lawn of the property. Almost exactly two years ago, the ongoing erosion caused the loss of several 100-year-old trees, an outdoor shower and some beach stairs. Now, erosion also threatens the Surfrider Beach wall separating the beach from the parking lot and highway.
John Mazza, a member of the Malibu Adamson House Foundation, informed city council last week the foundation had raised $80,000 for California State Parks to do a hydrological study of the Adamson House area to determine the best course of action to fix the problem.
Mazza also wanted to remind city council that they authorized fixing the lagoon in the past, but hadn’t put any money in the budget for it.
He said in a phone interview that state parks was not able to come up with the money for the hydrological study, which was why the foundation stepped in.
“The hydrological study will determine what the water is doing and why the property is collapsing. It’s science, and then based on that, we do the engineering [to fix the problem],” Mazza continued. “It’s critical—if the lawn goes, the wedding business is gone and [it’s a big moneymaker]—the state charges $7,000 per wedding.”
Jerry West, acting district superintendent for California State Parks, told The Malibu Times that the service contract was currently under review at headquarters in Sacramento, and that it might be “several months” before it is awarded to a specialized consultant. The eventual recommendation would provide them with “direction and insight on a soft engineering approach to provide greater protection of the grounds from high flowing waters, and to slow or prevent erosion of the banks.
“We’ll need to consider the dynamics of the ever-changing tidal influences and sea level rise,” West continued. “Our primary concern isn’t the loss of weddings, it’s the possible loss of a significant cultural and historical resource, and our mission is to protect it.”
At the time the first collapses occurred two years ago, county workers dropped boulders at the lagoon’s sea wall in an emergency effort to save the shoreline.
But that was just the latest action in an ongoing battle over who or what was to blame for the erosion problem. Many surfers blame it on the controversial reconfiguration of Malibu Lagoon completed by the state back in 2013, saying it caused the flow of tidewater and Malibu Creek to go closer to the Adamson House, thus endangering it.
Speaking to The Malibu Times in 2018, former State Parks Angeles District Superintendent Craig Sap blamed it on sea level rise and global warming, maintaining that the erosion problem was happening before the latest Malibu Lagoon reconfiguration and that “coastal retreat” was happening all up and down Malibu’s coast.
Jules Hershfeld, president of the Malibu Adamson House Foundation, noted in a 2019 interview that when the house was built, the beach extended 100 yards farther out than where it is now. He blamed the erosion on the Rindge Dam farther upstream, which he said retains all of the silt and sand that used to wash down and replenish the shoreline—a complaint that was reflected in a study released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year.
Besides the erosion problem, the Adamson House itself still has a great deal of deferred maintenance remaining—nearly $3 million worth as of 18 months ago. Mazza said the foundation funded half the money needed to rebuild the lath house—$200,000. The foundation also contributed $250,000 to fix a roof leak and $180,000 toward problems with a window and fireplace in the living room. The state is funding a rebuild of the old gatehouse, which will house a park ranger. But those are just some of what needs to be done.
With COVID-19 restrictions winding down, the Adamson House bookstore, gift shop and museum have now reopened. Mazza said the foundation is hopeful that house tours will resume after June 15.
The house, designed by well-known architect Stiles Clements, was constructed from 1929-30 for the Adamsons. It’s been called the “Taj Mahal of Tile” due to the extensive use of decorative ceramic tiles created by Malibu Potteries. The two-story, 10-room home on six acres is an outstanding example of modified Mediterranean Revival architecture.