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Arts and Entertainment

The Tropical Terrace: Malibu's Haunted House

Photo by David Lockeretz of Nobody Hikes in L.A.
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By David Lockeretz of Nobody Hikes in L.A. / Special to LAist

The story has a familiar ring to it. A young man from humble Midwestern beginnings moves west, seeking the fame and fortune that those before him have found in California. He starts a grocery store, builds a successful chain, and after selling it, plans his retirement. He commissions the design and construction of an elaborate ranch house deep in a secluded canyon of the Santa Monica Mountains. The house, dubbed the Tropical Terrace, becomes an architectural landmark, noted for the striking way in which it integrates itself into the landscape.

But there's a dark side to the California dream. The stories of the people who come from nothing and make it here are legendary, but the culture of temptation and excess has brought down even the most untouchable of the giants. And some people who avoid sin and vice find themselves victim to another force: Mother Nature. While all of Southern California experiences earthquakes, the coastal town of Malibu, with its infamous mudslides and wildfires, in particular often suffers nature's wrath.

It was the latter that did in the Tropical Terrace, described by the late hiking guru Jerry Schad as a "temporary paradise, defenseless against fire and flood." Since the mansion burned in 1982, its ruins have stood eerily in Solstice Canyon. In 1988, the family deeded the land to the National Park Service, and it is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the L.A. area. There are several possible routes. The easiest is a simple hike of just over a mile each way, up the pleasant canyon floor. During the summer, the shade in Solstice Canyon makes this a nice way to beat the heat and get out into nature.

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Hikers who want more of a challenge can climb up the TRW Trail, named for the futuristic buildings above the canyon. The glass and metal structures have often been referred to as the "Darth Vader" houses — although they actually predate the "Star Wars" franchise. TheTRW Trail leads to the Rising Sun trail, which treats hikers to a great aerial view of Solstice Canyon and of the ocean. The unique geology of Solstice Canyon is on display here as well.

Anyone who really wants to burn a few calories can try the Sostomo Trail, just south of the Tropical Terrace ruins. It branches off from the main Solstice Canyon trail and climbs nearly one thousand feet to the Deer Valley Loop. Here, hikers are rewarded for their efforts with panoramic ocean views.

While some might find the ruins of the Tropical Terrace to be a little creepy, Solstice Canyon is just what the doctor ordered for those who need peace and quiet and for those who want to get out into nature but might not know where to start. To be sure, the Tropical Terrace can be seen as a haunting reminder of the dark side of California's excessive lifestyle, but the enjoyment it's given the countless hikers who've visited the site proves that its demise wasn't in vain.

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