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February 15, 2021

Photo Essay: The Plowed Ruins of a Private Malibu Enclave at Nicholas Canyon Beach

We were in search of some architectural treasures in Malibu—and my friend had read that the best way to get to them would be from Nicholas Canyon Beach. 
    
We both shrugged, neither one of us familiar with the county-run beach—or the other treasures we were about to find. 


We parked at and walked down Nicholas Canyon Beach Access Road, which actually turned out to be the long way, compared to parking in the main lot. 

 
But if we hadn't gone the wrong way, we would've missed those first signs that something else had been there once—starting with some stairs to nowhere. 


And then something I thought looked like a toppled chimney. 


"This is something," I said. "This used to be something." And I was right. 


The county beach consists of 23 acres of formerly private beachfront property once owned by Hollywood elites like Vincent Price (who spent summers in his beach house with his children, Barrett and Victoria) and Margot Kidder (who'd reportedly sunbathe topless at her infamous party house, which Steven Spielberg would frequent). 


The homeowners were allegedly "obstructing" beach access, so the land was repossessed and Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors purchased it for $3 million in 1975—the county's first beach acquisition in 30 years. The county matched funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant, which was the largest federal conservation program grant at the time. 

 
A total of 49 homes were demolished...


...and you can tell. 

 
They kind of did a sloppy job. 
        

Nearly every trace of the Chumash villages have been erased from Nicholas Canyon Beach—but not even the flooding, mudslides, and landslides of the El NiƱo winter of 1997·98 or the scorching flames of the 2018 Woolsey Fire could obliterate what the bulldozers left behind. 

 
The whole idea was to return this beach to nature—but the current beach parking lot, on a bluff 50 feet above the beach access road, almost became an RV park in the late 1980s. 

 
Fortunately, the Malibu Township Council blocked the proposal—and now the beach serves as a destination for kitesurfers and surfers, who refer to it as "Point Zero" or "The Zeroes."

 
They say it's one of the last beaches in LA County where you can find the "perfect point break"—or rocky point where the waves break. 

 
Funny enough, Nicholas Canyons Beach is just one beach down from where the original Point Break was filmed—Leo Carrillo State Beach, to the north.

 
To the south is El Sol County Beach, which was acquired under an Order of Condemnation in 1976. 

 
Also south from the Nicholas Canyon Beach parking lot, there are actually some properties still on the bluffs above, including the Cypress Sea Cove wedding venue.


It's hard to know whether any of the other staircases lead anywhere—or nowhere, like the one that led us to the first batch of ruins on our beach hike.


Down on the beach, there's the Harry Gesner-designed Sandcastle (where he also lives) and Wave House—which was what had brought us to Nicholas Canyon. 


By the time we reached the Gesner houses, traces of the ruins seemed to dry up—so we turned back. 


Fortunately, there's so much more about the beach that I found fascinating...

 
...not the least of which were the mussels. 

 
The beach is at the mouth of San Nicholas Canyon Creek—and we saw trickles of natural water coming down the bluffs in certain spots. 

 
The sandy beach itself serves as hauling grounds for sea lions—and just offshore, the waters are full of kelp beds and submerged treasures for scuba divers. 


To see more of Nicholas Canyon Beach, watch the video below. 

 
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