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Malibu Lands Latest Blow in Cabrillo Fight

October 11, 1987|KENNETH J. GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

Maybe the historians in Malibu and Ventura County should just flip a coin and get it over with.

Otherwise, it may be another 4 1/2 centuries until they can agree on the exact spot where some seafaring explorer jumped onto a beach in Southern California and claimed some of the world's best surfing spots and the rest of the territory for Spain.

As it stands now, the location of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's landing is still being disputed by researchers in both locales. But things grew a lot more serious this weekend, when Malibu historians were scheduled to dedicate a plaque claiming that the community of 19,000 is where Cabrillo planted his feet first.

It's a clear case of history repeating itself because Ventura County already has a plaque claiming it as the spot where Cabrillo's tootsies touched down.

"Ventura has a plaque so it's time Malibu had a plaque," said Ronald Rindge, who has spent 13 years trying to solve the mystery and end the dispute. "We're just putting ourselves on the record. The only thing we're sure of is that he couldn't have been in both places at once."

It's an unofficial record and will remain so until Rindge, an Agoura accountant whose research is responsible for the historical quibbling, can persuade the State Historical Resources Commission that Malibu Lagoon was the site of the "town of Indians close to the sea" that Cabrillo described visiting on Oct. 10, 1542. Saturday, 445 years after Cabrillo landed somewhere along the coast, Rindge and other members of the Malibu Lagoon Museum were scheduled to declare Juan Cabrillo Day and memorialize him in bronze.

Rindge's historical research has impressed some scholars, but his contention has not won universal acceptance. The state historical commission rejected his request for landmark status for the Malibu site in May, saying the evidence he presented was not conclusive.

Ventura historians were even less impressed and more than a little miffed that he sought historical acceptance at all. For if Rindge is right, then it means the history of Ventura County will have to be rewritten.

"We've been claiming it for years," said Alberta Word, librarian for the Ventura County Historical Museum in Ventura. "In fact, all the history of Ventura County begins with Cabrillo's landing. For what it's worth though, I guess anybody who wants to can go ahead and dedicate a plaque."

Rindge's research, however, prompted historians to the north to renew efforts to prove that Cabrillo did in fact land on Ventura County shores. One Ventura businessman used his sailing experience to claim that the fall winds would have pushed Cabrillo to Point Mugu, and historians on the Ventura County Cultural Heritage Board hope to renew interest in a search for Cabrillo's original logs.

Extensive Research

"The only way to resolve this is to find the original logs," Rindge said. "But they haven't surfaced for 445 years and it's not very likely that they will anytime soon."

Rindge's search for the truth began when he was asked to prepare a history of the lagoon for the Malibu Historical Society in 1974. The youngest grandson of Frederick and May Rindge, the owners of the rancho that once covered nearly all of Malibu, he haunted libraries, consulted experts and uncovered a series a conflicting historical findings, including whether Cabrillo was Spanish or Portuguese.

He even went so far as charting out the details of Cabrillo's daily progress, noting the miles of his journey and showing that a summary of the explorer's log indicates that Cabrillo would have had to travel much farther than he apparently recorded to have reached Ventura or Point Mugu.

But his extensive digging only added to the speculation instead of ending it, and Rindge acknowledges that no one may ever know. Still, it's no reason to stop an anniversary party and gives local historians a chance to dedicate yet another beloved plaque.

"A lot of the dispute is a matter of local pride," Rindge said.

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