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Castle Rock

A Kiss Goodbye to the Coast's Most Romantic Restaurant

April 08, 1998|SARIA KRAFT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sometimes it's not about food. Nearly 700 packed the Sand Castle in Paradise Cove on Friday for the long goodbye to a piece of Southland history, and no one expressed displeasure at the lack of party fare. Ending a quarter-century reign, the landmark served its last supper March 31.

The ladies wore lipstick, unusual for this mostly Malibu, mostly working-class crowd who writhed hip to hip on the dance floor--and everywhere else. "The Castle never rocked like it rocks tonight," said contractor Marty King, whose mother had been the restaurant's first hostess.

"I felt like a funeral director for the last year," said new hostess Claire Vopatek. "People don't know whom to express their feelings of dismay to, so I hear their memories.

"You can't imagine how many come from the Valley, from Simi, or from town who had their proms here or who became engaged here. All the graduation and anniversary parties. A few told me their loved ones' ashes were spread off the end of the pier because, 'It was Mom's or Dad's favorite restaurant.' "

In the last months, Vopatek performed farewell seatings for the Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson clans; for Dick Clark, Kelsey Grammer, Jaclyn Smith and Mikhail Gorbachev, although it's doubtful the former Soviet leader was aware of dining on "Beach Party's" sacred turf.

Owner Jimmy McDonald started his first Malibu restaurant, the Raft, in 1963, a year before Annette Funicello romped here in "Pajama Party." A decade later, McDonald opened the Castle as Redford and Streisand held hands in the sand for "The Way We Were." The Cove seemed to surpass even the Holiday House (now Geoffrey's) as the most romantic spot on the coast.

Hollywood's love affair with the location brought Redford a return to Paradise for "Indecent Proposal." Action crews claimed the site for "Apollo 13," "The Net," "Deep Rising" and "Lethal Weapon 4."

While nearly a score of small-screen customers filmed here, the restaurant's most enduring TV patron withstood more than his share of natural disasters. For 125 episodes in the '70s and six movies in the '90s, Jim Rockford's trailer snuggled alongside the Sand Castle, surviving storms, wildfires, mudslides and earthquakes.

Rockford would have liked the party. Around midnight, with the bar sold out, the demise of the deejay, and no fights to break up, he would have bid good night to the gals. To original manager Chris Wippert, in from Maui. To longtime managers Millie Bickford and Terri Stroh. To Bobbi Weiglein of Chico and Laurel Wilvert of Oxnard, who ran the snack bar from Memorial Day to Labor Day for the past decade.

After nodding to veteran barman John O'Connor, Jim would pass through those Sand Castle doors one last time. He'd gaze up at astounding stars in the sky, and feel the same salt air, and hear the owls at Paradise Cove, just as it was a quarter century ago.

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