Parkland history

11,000 acres of Topanga State Park once part of Mexican land grant

Juan Bautista de Anza

California was claimed for Spain by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, but substantially ignored for two hundred years. Then in an effort to support its claims in the face of growing British, French and Russian colonization, Spain began to establish a system of Pueblos, Missions and Presidios in Nueva California. Santa Monica bay was visited in 1769 by Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra. Then in 1775 Juan Bautista de Anza left Mission San Gabriel and camped at the mouth of Malibu Creek with a group of settlers bound for San Francisco.  In 1781 a group of 44 settlers left Mission San Gabriel to found the Pueblo of Los Angeles. With all this effort, by the time Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821, Los Angeles only had a population of 650. Land was given to soldiers with just a few years service. In 1828 the Mexican Governor of Alta California granted Francisco Sepulveda provisional title to the more than 30,000 acres called Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica. The ranch included the eastern portion of the City of Santa Monica, Santa Monica Canyon and the mountains to the ridgeline on the west bank of Topanga Creek. Sepulveda used the flat portions for grazing crops, but the mountainous portions, which were unsuitable for sheep or cattle, were not used.

When California became part of the United States in 1848 it had a non-Indian population of 14,000, mostly in the north.  When settlers rushed into central California in 1849 and 1850 during the gold rush life in Los Angeles changed very little.  Eventually ownership of the Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica grant was confirmed by a US Land Claims Commission.

Trippet Ranch homesteaded

Property in Topanga Canyon along the creek and in the mountains to the west, which had been so undesirable as crop or range land that the Spanish and Mexican governments could not give it away, passed to the United State government and became available to homesteaders.  The Homestead Act allowed settlers, who occupied and improved government owned land, to get title to 160 acres after 5 years for a small fee.  A number of homestead claims were filed in the Santa Monica Mountains, including one by a beekeeper named McAtee, whose claim was on the western edge of Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica along what became Entrada Road.

By 1870 Los Angeles had grown to 5700 people, and its murders, lynchings, race riots and Vigilance Committees had earned it a bad reputation. The city hadn’t grown beyond its original 28 square-mile land grant and the flat area to the west was largely unoccupied rangeland. In 1872 the 60 squares-miles of the Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica grant were sold to Colonel Robert Baker for $54,000, and he and a partner began developing what became the city of Santa Monica. After the Central Pacific Railroad came in 1876, Los Angeles began a period of immense growth. With the discovery of oil, and construction of the harbor, Los Angeles Aqueduct, and Pacific Electric Railway came the enormous population growth that eventually made the mountainous area north of Santa Monica desirable.

By 1920, when Santa Monica had 15,000 people, Los Angeles, with its population of 577,000 was well on its way to today’s 498 square-miles (gained by annexing neighboring communities). This was the decade when Will Rogers bought his property on Sunset Boulevard and Alphonzo Bell began development of Bel-Air.

US Judge Oscar A. Trippet, Sr. acquired half of the McAtee homestead in 1917. During the 46 years the Trippets owned the property they lived in Los Angeles and use the old homestead only as a get-away. After Judge Trippet died in 1923 his wife Cora built a small stone house that was destroyed in 1938 in a 15,000 acre wildfire accidentally set by her superintendent. In 1940 Trippet’s son Oscar Trippet, Jr. (who later inherited the property) hired noted Los Angeles architect Sumner Spaulding to design the Monterey Revival style superintendant’s house, stables and skeet lodge. Spaulding is also known for the design of the Harold Lloyd Estate, Edwin Loeb Estate, buildings at Pomona College, and the Avalon Casino. Trippet Jr. gave the Topanga property the fanciful name Rancho Las Lomas Celestiales and used the lodge for weekends with family and friends, where they enjoyed outdoor barbeques and skeet. In 1956 Trippet built the stock pond now located at the northeast corner of the parking lot. Then, in 1963, the land was sold to a developer.

Topanga State Park purchased

The very next year (1964), voters approved a Park Bond which included money to acquire the 174 acres of Trippet Ranch and an adjoining parcel. Like the nearby Will Rogers estate (acquired in 1944), Trippet Ranch is unusual among gentlemen’s ranches in avoiding subdivision. In fact, the Trippet land had been sold to a developer and plans drawn for a community of 70,000 when State Parks acquired it. By the time Topanga State Park was opened to the public in 1974, it included 7500 acres from the old Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica Spanish land grant.

An additional 1500 acres was added when Palisades Highlands was developed.  Neighboring Santa Ynez Canyon was purchased by the City of Los Angeles in 1989 to use as a landfill, which fortunately has been prevented by the City’s inability to get a paved access road approved.  Most recently, in 2002 the 1600 acre Los Angeles Athletic Club property near the mouth of Topanga Creek was added to Topanga State Park.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) created

Topanga Canyon Docents - Santa Monica Mountains - Eagle RockIf completed, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area would have been the world’s largest urban national park extending 46 miles from the Hollywood Bowl to Point Mugu, separating West Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley.  Although Congress designated the National Recreation Area in 1978, it has never made a significant effort to acquire parkland, and today preservation is a cooperative effort between the National Park Service, California State Parks, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and dozens of county and city governmental agencies and non-profits.  California State Parks owns about 2/3 of the parkland acquired to date.  Although the SMMNRA covers more than 150,000 acres, the original plan was to protect only about 100,000 acres, leaving 50,000, including the City of Malibu, in private hands.  In SMMNRAs first 27 years, about 65,000 acres have been protected.

Topanga State Park is largest park in the SMMNRA and makes up 5% of the area of the City of Los Angeles.