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Rustic Canyon--a Picturesque Stroll Amid Homes of the Artsy

November 21, 1987|ROBERT JOHN PIERSON

In Rustic Canyon, a tree-filled arroyo near Will Rogers State Beach, autumn and early winter can be enjoyed in all their Southern California character.

Deciduous trees stand in sharp contrast to brilliantly hued flowers that bloom throughout the Southland.

Since the 1820s, the secluded canyon has hosted grazing sheep, campers, saloons, bohemian retreats, and idiosyncratic houses. It has attracted writers, artists, actors and even a distinguished group of refugees from Nazi Germany, including Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht.

Other renowned residents have included writer Christopher Isherwood, photographer Edward Weston, fashion photographers Peter Stackpool and Herbert Matter, sculptors Holger and Helen Jackson and Merrill Gage, and architects Thornton Abell and Charles Eames.

The canyon has long been a place of creativity and social tolerance. In his book "A Single Man," Isherwood describes this community's character:

"More probably the name was chosen for its picturesqueness by the pioneer escapists from dingy downtown Los Angeles and stuffy-snobbish Pasadena who came here in the early twenties. . . . Their utopian dream was of a sub-tropical English village with Montmartre manners: a Good Little Place where you could paint a bit, write a bit, and drink lots. . . . They were tacky and cheerful and defiantly bohemian, tirelessly inquisitive about each other's doings, and boundlessly tolerant."

A Haven for Artists

The area, with thick foliage and countrified homes, continues to be a haven for artists, writers and other creative folk.

Today, one can take a self-guided walk along its narrow lanes, down hidden stair paths in the leafy shadows of ancient sycamores, oaks and alders.

Allow three hours for this stroll.

To reach Rustic Canyon, take I-10 (the Santa Monica Freeway) west; exit west on 4th Street. Follow 4th Street about 15 blocks to Adelaide Drive and park nearby. Because the three-mile walk includes several steep stairways in the hilly terrain, wear comfortable shoes. You may want to begin early in the morning, stopping for breakfast on the way.

Begin the walk at the stair path that leads from Adelaide Drive at 4th Street into Santa Monica Canyon.

Walk down the stair path, cross Ocean Avenue, and turn left onto Entrada Drive. Immediately you are surrounded by towering trees, including dappled eucalyptuses, twisting sycamores and prickly palms.

Walk to 278 Entrada Drive, a pink post-modern residence with angular walls and lush landscaping. Walk up the pedestrian path to the left of the house, shaded by avocado trees, banana plants and orange pittosporum, which leads to a nearly hidden stairway.

At the top of the path, turn right and walk along Mabery Road. A diverse collection of residences line this quiet lane, including the Sten-Frenke House at 126 Mabery Road, a classic rendition of Streamline Moderne architecture designed by Richard Neutra in 1934.

Panoramic Views

Turn right on Ocean Way, first noting its panoramic views of Santa Monica Bay and Will Rogers State Beach below.

The Bradbury House, designed by local architect John Byers in 1922, stands at 102 Ocean Way, epitomizing the Spanish Colonial Revival style with its whitewashed abode walls, decorative wrought-iron balconies and gate, red-tiled roof, and blue-tiled entrance.

A French Norman manor stands across the street at 105 Ocean Way, while a classic chalet-style Craftsman cottage peers down from 150 Ocean Way.

At Entrada Drive, turn left. A hodgepodge of bikini shops, bars, services and cafes appears in the commercial district as you walk toward Pacific Coast Highway.

Marix, a Tex-Mex restaurant housed in a Japanese-style structure, attracts a trendy Westside crowd, and Patrick's Roadhouse, a local landmark cafe, can provide breakfast or lunch along the way.

Turn right on Pacific Coast Highway, and walk past the French restaurant, Les Anges, and turn right on West Channel Road. At 112 stands a landmark bar, the SS Friendship; the salvaged bow of a ship, storm-wrecked in 1938, anchors the bar to the sidewalk.

Continue walking up West Channel Road to Channel Lane and cross West Channel Road to East Rustic Road, walking into Rustic Canyon.

The log-faced cabin on the corner of East Rustic Road and the ancient sycamores ahead remind you of a mountain village. For centuries these gnarled trees have shaded the canyon floor. Local Indians considered these trees as the abode of sacred spirits.

When the area was subdivided in 1913, the developers carefully built the roads and houses around the sycamores, preserving their charm for the neighborhood.

Walk up East Rustic Road, enjoying the diverse trees and gardens. Along the way you'll pass a delightfully restored Craftsman cottage at 454 and a lush garden of ferns surrounding a coast redwood tree at 532.

East Rustic Road ends at a rough timbered bridge spanning Rustic Creek. From this location, observe the century-old eucalyptus trees that tower above the babbling brook.

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