Located in the Santa Monica Mountains
minutes from Los Angeles a canyon was cut by what is now called
Topanga Creek. The mountain range is still
active, landslides over the centuries have created the topography
of the land in this canyon. Most of the
rocks in the Topanga region are sedimentary rocks from the time the
area was covered by a prehistoric ocean that
covered the area. It is recorded that some of the surface rock
in the area are 150 million years old with the
Santa Monica slates, metamorphic rocks formed as deep sea
muds on some ancient sea. Much of the more
eruptive formations of these mountains were formed
about 5 million years ago.
The people native to the area left many artifacts.
They are said to speak Shoshonean languages. When the
Spanish arrived in the Canyon they gave these
people the name "Gabrielino." The Indians left no written
language so much has been derived from writings
of the Spanish and study of their camp grounds and other
artifacts dating back thousands of years.
It is said that the Chumash lived in Topanga Canyon in aboriginal
times. Some of the village sites have been
dated as far back as 8,000 years. There are some great rock
paintings that are believed to mark the winter
solstice. At sunrise on the first day of winter, a triangular
beam of light passes through a notch in the rocky
overhang and falls on the concentric circles at the left
of the panel. Some say that the Chumash
shamans monitored the movements of the sun and its effects
on the seasons and these paintings reflect these
beliefs. Chumash festivals were said to have taken
place around the time of the winter solstice.
In 1862 with the signing of the Homestead Bill
by Abraham Lincoln, more people began to move to Santa
Monica and in 1885 the first ranch was homestead
in Topanga Canyon. At the turn of the century people
from Los Angeles would come in the canyon on
hunting trips. There are some stories written about the
parties at the Cheney's Ranch, where hundreds
of people would come and sing, dance and cook deer.
Some first came up in the canyon to cut down
the oak trees for wood. In the early 1900's more settlers
began to move up into the mountains. Some
built small resorts for people to come and camp, take scenic
auto trips and get out of the city.
Developments continued to build on the ruins of
the people native to the canyon and cover up burial
grounds and villages with businesses and homes.
Water was plentiful and camp grounds and swimming
holes were developed. Because of the protection
of the canyon and the food and water, it became a
much better place for the early Native American
tribes to live rather than the open mountains in Malibu.
Artists began to move into the canyon,
and early music events were happening at the school and at the
various camps. In the book THE TOPANGA
STORY they tell that in the late forties and early fifties,
folk singers began to converge on the canyon
along with the Jazz musicians that had moved out a few
years before. Bob DeWitt was one of these.
The one and only Woody Guthrie moved into Topanga
Canyon. Woody wrote "This Land Is Your
Land" and many other great songs. He is known as the
"Father of Folk Music." He bought a 9-acre
piece of land and with the help of Will Geer and friends
built what Woody called "Pretty Polly canyon."
Will Geer had a shack at his place where Woody
would stay. Will, who was having great
success with his part on the "Waltons" moved into the canyon
and started what they called "the Shakespeare
Garden" that later became THEATRICUM BOTAN-
ICUM (the Theater of Plants). Pete Seeger,
Arlo Guthrie, Burl Ives, Odetta, Ramblin' Jack Elliot
and many others played and contributed to the
start of the Topanga Theatre.
In 1961, the canyon had its first "Topanga Banjo
and Fiddle Contest." The first time there were 26
five-string banjo pickers, five fiddlers, four
judges and 500 fans came to Ian Thiermann's place
known as "Friendly Acres."
Some folk music was going on at the Moonfire Inn.
Eric Darling of the Lamp Lighters, Frank
Hamilton and Bob Baxter, musicians also lived
and played in the canyon, though she did not live in the
canyon, Joni Mitchell became known as "lady of
With all this talent and more, before long there
were many music events taking place in the canyon.
In the 50's there was the "Canyon Capers," and
in 1965, the "The Topanga Festival of Olden
Musicke," was organized. There are stories
about Sunday evening concerts at the Mermaid Tavern,
and many barn dances and house parties by the
early ranchers that lived in the canyon go many
years back and continue to this day where you
can go over to Woody Hastings or many other folks
who live in the canyon and hear some fine pickin'
going on around the fire place.
fate of our youth
Just over those mountains is
The city of Los Angeles
Jackie Kane walks down the Canyon
There are many stories about the members of Canned
Heat bringing their music and energy to the
canyon and played at the Old Corral. Neil
Young bought a house in the Canyon, Dean Stockwell
lived near by. Bernie Leadon of the Eagles
lived in the Canyon and John Densmore, drummer for
the Doors and Mick Fleetwood bought houses.
Spanky Macfarlane and Lowell George of Little
Feat moved in the canyon, and Ritchie Hayward,
founding member of Little Feat, still lives there and
plays in the Canyon with his No Name Band when
not on tour with Little Feat. Pee Wee Crayton
and Big Joe Turner brought blues to the canyon.
The great band Spirit, had band members Mark
Andes, Jay Ferguson and John Locke moved into
the canyon and brought that bands sound to the
hills. Spanky and Our Gang were a big part
of the musical history of the canyon with Spanky
McFarlane living in the canyon, not to mention
many gigs and practices of the Eagles.
Jim Morrison bought a house for his wife to live
while pregnant to have and live with their son, Cliff
Morrison. Cliff told me he was two
years old when his famous rock icon father died. While living
in the canyon a guy named Vince Furnier became
Alice Cooper. On Steven Stills ranch in the
canyon the likes of Eric Clapton, Jim Messina
to Neil Young and more names that you can shake a
stick out were there making music. From
the picture on the Topanga horse trial on the Byrds'
Notorious Byrd Brothers album cover and much
more Byrd, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young music
was made and born in this famous hold out known
as Topanga Canyon.
The honky tonk that gave a venue and helped in
the rise of the music from the canyon was called
Topanga Corral and was located on Horseshoe Bend
at 2034 Topanga Canyon Blvd., and became
a "happening" place in the mid-sixties.
Ral Curran bought the site of the Old Corral after it burned
and names like the Eagles, the Flying Burrito
Brothers, John Lee Hooker, Joni Mitchelle, Neil Young,
Taj Mahal and many others played there through
the seventies, there are pictures of George
Harrison and the Rolling Stones hanging out at
the Corral, then the Corral burned again in 1988, and
it was the end of the road house history in the
Canyon. 1982 The Topanga Symphony Orchestra
Songwrtiers love to hide in the canyon away from
the city. Other musicians listed in The Topanga
Story, from the Topanga Historical Society
are, Mickey Miller, Rich Dehr, Flautist Gretel Shanley,
R. Marshall Moss, world acclaimed concert violinist,
Donald Andrus, Georgia Kelly, Steve Ferguson,
Bobo, and others from the more classical music
scene. Great children entertainer Peter Alsop still
lives in the canyon, as does long time canyon
producer Jacalyn Kane. Living in the canyon, Jacalyn
also operated her team that produced the very
huge and successful WHOLE
from her home and office on a mountain in the
canyon. For some years she produced the annual
Topanga Days Country Fair, and has many other
productions under her belt.