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Animals Have a Mountaintop Sanctuary Above Malibu

October 15, 1992|MANLEY WITTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Their distinctive home stands alone on a mountain above Malibu, affording a magnificent view of the coastline, but it's their view of the world that sets Lewis and Barbara Marvin apart from the madding crowd below.

Lots of people build unusual homes. Many find ways to integrate their beliefs and their lifestyle. And goodness knows there are plenty of vegetarians in Southern California.

But nobody else does it the Marvin family's way.

"I'm peculiar," Lewis Marvin said with a chuckle, "and I've never hidden it."

The Marvins have created a sanctuary for animal life on a cliff high above Tuna Canyon, at the end of a two-mile dirt road.

Their refuge includes not just dogs and cats and rabbits, but also chickens, turkeys, pheasants, exotic deer and African pygmy goats. There used to be a llama and camel too.

Called "Moonfire" to represent the symbols of life and death, their preserve comprises symbolic tributes to protecting the sanctity of life--religious artifacts depicting love of animals and life itself, a defective bomb they call "the sister of the one dropped on Hiroshima," 18th-Century gates from an abbey in England, shrines and bells.

Not to mention an old school bus, geodesic dome and outdoor pavilion once visited by Charlie Manson and friends when no one was home.

Nonviolence and reverence for animal life are not fleeting fancies for Lewis Marvin. They have been the governing principles of his life for 41 of his 59 years. He was already an old hand at nonviolence, for example, when he attended the Woodstock festival in 1969 accompanied by a lamb and carrying a sign that read, "The killing of animals causes the killing of men."

The son of the late chairman of Sperry & Hutchinson Co. (of Green Stamps fame), Marvin was 18 when he came face to face with his life's mission. It was in the grimacing pain on the face of a monkey in South America, as she clutched her dying baby to her breast.

Marvin, out on a hunting expedition, had shot the baby.

"It was the most memorable experience in my life," he recalled during a recent stroll on his 60-acre estate. "The mother grabbed the baby and was pulling some leaves off the tree and pushing them in the wound. She was screaming and looking at me with the most horrible (expression)."

"I shot the mother, and she clung to her baby and they fell right in front of me. At that time I realized the power of this animal's love and that she loved her baby as much as my mother loved me," Marvin said. "I said, 'God, I will never take a life again.' "

Coupled with the readings of St. Teresa of Avila, who brought the Carmelite nuns reform movement to this country and whom he admires as a patron saint of animals, Marvin's experience with hunting formed the basis of the philosophy he has followed ever since: Love animals, don't eat them.

The Marvins and their three children--sons Lewis, 14, and Max, 6, and daughter Henze, 10--are strict vegetarians. They eat no products that come from animals--no eggs, honey or dairy products. They do not use leather. And they do not have to be prompted to discuss why animals should not be eaten.

"All children have a love affair with little animals," Lewis Marvin said. "They learn compassion from the mother." But when animals are slaughtered for food, he said, "the relationship of an animal to the child, which started in love, is severed. . . . From that comes hunting and the acceptance of killing."

Barbara Marvin, Lewis' wife of 15 years, added: "With our three children, we have made an attempt to maintain that initial love for teddy bears and pets and animals by not severing that relationship at the dinner table or with any kind of war toy or violent television. We attempt to promote this compassion of life because it's so important that some children have it."

Lewis Marvin continued: "By the time a child is 17, he has seen over 180,000 one-minute ads telling him to eat meat. We've created a system where the average child, by the time he is 11 years old, has seen 134,000 murders.

"If we stop killing animals, there would be less of a tendency to kill one another," he said. "There's a lack of compassion. It's chased away when (we) were little children."

The Marvin children, who venture off the mountaintop each weekday to attend small private schools in Malibu, seem comfortable with their parents' lifestyle choices. In many respects they lead normal lives: Henze collects dolls, and she and older brother Lewis roller skate. They help care for the animals and watch minimal television.

"You can always read a book," Henze added.

The mountaintop home has been another constant in the Marvin family's life. Still very much a work in progress, it was started by Marvin in 1957. He did most of the work at first; lately, he gets help from his older son.

It's an eclectic place, to say the least.

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