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De Butts Isn't Us, Residents Say

People who live on the terrace in Malibu petition the city for a new name. Mayor says the appellation honors a well-known local family.

October 13, 2006|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

Tired of jokes both silly and salacious, residents of tony De Butts Terrace in Malibu are campaigning to change the street's name to something they consider more Malibu-esque: Paradise View Way.

The effort has caused a flurry of conversations about Malibu's history.

"It's an embarrassing name," said Allison Thomsen, one of 16 or so property owners on the street, which sits atop a ridge near Escondido Canyon with views of ocean, mountains and waterfalls.

One resident hasn't told his preschool-age son the name of the street for fear the boy would be ridiculed by other kids. Others have promised to plant a tree and mount a plaque to honor the street's namesakes, if only the City Council will approve the name change.

Among those resisting the switch is Malibu Mayor Ken Kearsley, who says the street name honors a colorful mid-20th century Malibu family who deserve to be recognized. "We can't forget our past, we really can't," Kearsley said.

At a meeting this week, the five-person City Council was divided, with two members favoring the change, two opposing and one proposing a somewhat awkward alternative that would include the first name of the deButts matriarch: Marianne Paradise View Way.

Complicating -- or perhaps simplifying -- matters is the fact that De Butts Terrace is not even marked with a street sign.

Kearsley holds the deButts family, who grew their own food and survived without plumbing or natural gas, in high esteem. He taught their eccentric daughter, Forrest deButts, in 1962, his first year as a teacher at Santa Monica High School.

At the time, she was writing a column for the Malibu Times called Squeaky Mesa, named for Squeaky, the family's pet donkey. After she married and moved to Alaska, her mother, Marianne, continued the tradition. Marianne deButts, in fact, delivered her column to the newspaper one day in December 1987, went home and died.

Aside from the columns, little recorded history remains of the deButts family. As residents tell it, Marianne and Edward Delaplane deButts migrated west after World War II from Delaplane, Va.

Lois deButts of Pacific Palisades -- whose late husband, Henry, was Edward's nephew -- said the deButts name is well-known on the East Coast, where one relative was a top executive at AT&T before its breakup.

Kearsley, who visited the deButtses at Forrest's invitation, said their rustic house had electricity but no running water or gas. The family fetched water from a well and used wood to heat the house and cook.

As Kearsley sat in the house, Squeaky, the donkey, wandered in and licked his hand. Then the family goat walked in. "She wants to be milked," Forrest told Kearsley before leading him outside for a quick lesson in goat-milking. Given the herd, it was no surprise that Marianne deButts launched a 4-H club that attracted a large contingent of children.

According to Kearsley, Edward deButts once portrayed a Civil War-era colonel as a movie extra and became known as "the colonel." The family named the street where they lived De Butts Terrace; earlier maps had labeled it the Overview. They also called another road below them Delaplane.

On Thursday, residents and council members were sorting out what might happen next. Some said they expected the council to approve the change to Paradise View Way at its Oct. 23 meeting, now that the homeowners group has agreed to create a monument to honor the deButts family's contributions. Thomsen, however, said she plans to propose the Overview as a historical alternative. Kearsley plans to hold out for something a bit more evocative.

"Squeaky Mesa," he said, "would be a good name."

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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