The mid-60’s… It was a time when Americans were still trying to reconcile the assassination of JFK. His replacement, LBJ, marched us straight into a place called Viet Nam. The war had gathered enough steam to instill fear in every young man’s mind. Most of us had never heard of Viet Nam before and all of a sudden we were going to be called upon to possibly give our lives because of it. Our options were go to college, or go to ‘Nam. It put a lot of weird thoughts in our minds and our answer was to do a lot of crazy things…
We lived about two miles from the beaches of Redondo, Hermosa, Manhattan, and Torrance, about fifteen miles south of L.A. It was an idyllic place at this time. I had recently obtained my driver’s license and my parents helped me purchase a used car—a Chevy El Camino—to drive to school. I hung around a group of guys who were sports minded, believed that “1984” might come true (in 1984!), and were shy about approaching women. We fell in love with “Lara” (actress Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago). We would perform antics like “Chinese Fire Drills” where, with crazed expressions, we’d jump out of the car at a red light and then cram back into Bob’s two-door sedan before the green light.
We’d have races up Palos Verdes, each car departing in different directions, leaving proof at the gate of the Point Vicente Lighthouse and returning to the starting point. On the weekends we would drive ten miles to Gardena to buy groceries at a Chinese market that never checked I.D.’s (for alcohol purchases). Yeah, you probably think we were a sorry lot, but I guess one would have to live through those times to understand us.
The four of us met in the same English class (for would be writers). It was a very popular class because you could cop an easy grade, it was fun, and the teacher, Miss Clark, was out of this world beautiful. The copper haired Miss Clark had assigned group projects to write articles on unusual people and topics. Our group’s topic: Frank Vanderlip. was the founder of Palos Verdes, the hillside community above our school. The Vanderlip family owned half of Palos Verdes, made up of ritzy estates, and, we would discover, a colorful and unusual history.
Ron, Bob, Scott, and myself, divided up the project. Scott and I visited the Palos Verdes library that had loads of information on the Vanderlips. Ron worked up an outline and Bob reserved our school library study room (a.k.a. “The Cone of Silence”) for an hour daily so we could work on our project and scream our frustrations without the librarian Agnes shushing us.
A Crazy Idea Garners Immediate Support
Ron, like a wily Irish leprechaun, liked to stir up trouble within our group. Pandemonium was his delight. He came up with the idea. We all gave the hair-brained idea a thumbs-up without thought. I think privately we had been searching for that omen that would signify our rite of passage (well, there were girls, but none of us even had a girlfriend at the time). I saw the challenge as akin to the Indian braves who alone killed their first buffalo consecrated with the ripping out the animal’s heart to show to the chief—well, sort of. We surely didn’t consider any risks involved in our upcoming venture.
Scott and I researched the Frank Vanderlip family I printed out a map of the location of their estate, along with some photos. We met later in the school library’s “Cone of Silence” and discussed the plan: Friday night we would descend on the Vanderlip estate. I had marked our drive route with a yellow magic marker on the map. Ron tabled the idea to chronicle our experience for our class report to Miss Clark. We laughed it off.
Palos Verdes Peninsula included the entire area atop the promontory above L.A. and Torrance, where I lived. The Vanderlip family had resided up on the hill since the 1930’s. It was unfair to call Palos Verdes a hill. That was like calling Malibu a beach or Disneyland a park. The southern end of Palos Verdes, the part that Frank Vanderlip fell in love with, and where he built his estate was an area called Portuguese Bend.
Portuguese Bend had been slowly eroding, causing properties to plunge into the Pacific Ocean. That and the local lighthouse ghosts added to its mystery. We would learn that the Vanderlip family had their own ghosts to add to Portuguese Bend’s lore.
When we learned that the Kennedy’s (as in JFK and RFK) had ties to the Vanderlip family it sealed our conviction. Now more than ever we were obligated to put our stamp, our manhood, on the Vanderlip estate. Ron had suggested that we all urinate on the property, similar to how dogs staked their territory, so at least the peacocks would know of our visit.
The gray-eyed PV librarian had told Scott about a legend that a pale woman dressed in gray with jet black eyes has been known to shriek at people as she roamed the Vanderlip property at night. Back at the “cone of silence” the kids in the library gave us strange looks when Scott performed his impression of the ghost to the rest of us. It may be sound proof, but the cone didn’t block our images.
Tomorrow was Friday, our date with destiny at the Vanderlip estate. We screamed with delight, but no one heard us…
(To be continued)