Posts Tagged With: clothing optional

Going back to Paradise, Elysium Fields: Topanga’s Clothing-Optional Club

 

Elysium today 2017

Gate to Elysium Fields site, 2017

“Five dollars please young man,” requested the mustachioed thirty-something man wearing only flip-flops and beads.  I handed over the money and proceeded to the men’s changing room.   Slowly I undressed for this first time in public nudity, anticipation rising I joined the crowd in the park-like grounds.  Even though it was 1971, still a bold act for a 21-year-old kid from the suburban conformity of the San Fernando Valley.  Just ten miles from my childhood home, I had landed at Los Angeles’ haven of the liberated human body and mind.

Given the zeitgeist of these times of building twenty-foot border walls, ethnic registries, and 24-hour surveillance, I wondered ‘could that memory have been real?’  Not just the practice, but the ideals. Audaciously the founder, a journalist and father-figure of American nudism, Ed Lange called his human potential naturist (or nude) club—Elysium Fields referencing the classic Greek mythology of the after-life playground.  In the Sixties such idealistic names were the norm.

I learned about Elysium in a purloined copy of Playboy magazine, but it took several months for me to find out its exact location.  Being young and fairly inexperienced, I was curious and excited about the expanding sexual/ social revolution and Elysium sounded like a perfect place to join it.  Being a hippie radical, I regularly visited the Free Press Bookstore (ground zero for the counter-culture in LA) on Fairfax Ave, and one day someone slipped me the directions to Topanga Canyon’s clothing-optional club.   The two canyons that mattered in Los Angeles back in the Sixties and early Seventies were Laurel and Topanga.  Over-looking Hollywood, the former was the vortex of the burgeoning hippie rock scene of LA, whereas the hard-core back to the land hippies landed in Topanga.  LA’s closest alternative to San Francisco’s Marin, Topanga hosted love-ins, festivals, and other hippie events back then (and still does to this day).  With lots of open space, it epitomized local favorite, Canned Heat’s hit song, ‘Goin’ Up the Country.’

 

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Classic 70s look of Elysium Fields, Topanga

 

In those revolutionary times, a few experimental communities, each with its own flavor, emerged in Topanga,.  The most notorious, Sandstone required a special invitation due to its partner-swapping parties.  Another was known for esoteric spiritual rites like yoga, incense, séances, chanting and so on.  And then there was— Elysium Fields.

After numerous successful lawsuits the LA County Supervisors gave final permit approval, and Elysium Fields flourished as a private membership-only club until the 1990s.  A good neighbor, the club was well-respected member of the Topanga community.  Unfortunately, after Ed Lange died in 1995 his two daughters sold the property for $2.5 million.  The executive director, Betty Meltzner and her husband poured their personal money into a new property in Malibu, but it soon floundered.

On a hot summer’s day, I enlisted my buddy, the Silver Tongue, (whose soft, understated voice was like a FM DJ) and raced  through the mountain curves in my Triumph sports car (top down), a potent mix of anxiety and fear kept my pedal on the floor.   Just north of the center where the Post Office, a head shop and the general store served local residents, a plain street sign announced Robinson Rd.  Twisting and turning uphill for a couple miles, we arrived at a solid, wooden 10 foot fence with a regular house gate and purchased our temporary memberships.  Forking over the high admission charge (in those days $5 would buy two record albums or a ticket to see the Animals at the Hollywood Bowl), we summoned as much cool as possible for a two horny, young guys from the Valley.

Once we got over the initial jitters, we had fun sipping wine, looking at the girls behind our sunglasses, and cooking in the hot tub.  I envied the regulars who had booked the private meditation room in advance.   I made a few contacts but didn’t get lucky that day.  In addition to the recreational activities, human potential workshops (a la Esalen) were offered on various days.   I planned to come back for enhancing my aura, thinking it may help me get girls, but I never did.  My consciousness was still wrapped up in my Berkeley college days and the political revolution, not personal enlightenment.

Although I embraced the counterculture ethos of skinny dipping at youth hang-outs like Tahquitz Falls in Palm Springs, Elysium was more than kids self-consciously jumping into the water.  Distributed around the lush lawn a couple dozen ‘grown-ups’ ranging in age from 25-50—all naked—‘frolicked.’  Not just lying around, but playing volleyball and shuffleboard or chatting and sipping wine, while several waited for a turn in the sauna/ hot tub.  All in all, a civil, calm adult scene.  We meandered on the look-out for young women to ogle among the mostly ‘mature’ women in the grounds.  Feeling quite exposed and nervous the whole time, it felt like a dream, a Maxfield Parish painting from the 1920s, all fuzzy and ethereal.  Mentally I took notes:   Life lesson #1 most bodies are average, more or less, without clothes.  Lesson #2 when nudity is the norm, it isn’t titillating, but actually relaxing, pretense is dropped along with clothes.

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Harbin’s Temple before the fire

Both lessons were regularly affirmed for me years later during my annual trips to Harbin Hot Springs, a clothing-optional neo-hippie resort north of San Francisco, until it burned to the ground in 2014.  On the other hand, non-participation invites the voyeurism seen at Black’s Beach near La Jolla in San Diego in the 70s.  When the word got out that people were disrobing at Black’s, the cliffs above soon became a magnet for all kinds of  with binoculars.  The scene was ruined.  That never happened to Elysium.  Maybe it was the admission fee and the secluded location, but it exemplified the highest hippie ideals; free love (not just physical), community, consciousness expansion, and fun.

Fast forward to 2016 and the emergence of my seniority in age, if not maturity, one of my interests now is pilgrimage to the old counter-cultural scenes.  What was the back story?  What was it about?  What did it contribute to my life and others?  What, if any, survives the decades?  We live in a continuous present with ever thickening layers of experience over experience, which often results in embellishment, denial, and puffery.  With that in mind and wondering if I could find any artifacts and spirit of the old Elysium Fields of Topanga, I drove up there recently.

The Robinson Rd sign still points to the highlands where bucolic spaces welcome dogs and beat-up old vehicles.  I passed fancy restored homes closer to the highway, and then higher up, California oaks thicken and the yards get bigger and some with old trucks and equipment rusting in the weeds.  My thoughts drifted back to that day decades ago and the spirit of possibility I felt.  This day I sensed or saw nothing evocative of that magical day in 1971, just a few Buddhist prayer flags and a phone pole with a flyer announcing a lost dog and guitar lessons.  Your classic Topanga life that could’ve been 1991, 1971, or 1951, still expressing eccentric individualism and California country living.  Although in my Porsche Cayman (still in a sports car), I drove slower this time taking it all in.   At the assigned address, a foreboding gate blocked the entrance.  My only option to get closer was farther  up Robinson Rd around the backside where I saw the familiar lush, green lawn, surrounded by a few out buildings.  And empty.  No people.  No dogs.  Like an empty movie set.  I tried to imagine that day with the hip, exploratory young and middle-aged adults of LA who came up here to explore consciousness and sexual freedom, but no ghosts appeared from the oaks and the luxury cars.

Today that site and most of Topanga look the  same, but the visit revealed the lessons of Elysium.  A significant element of those free-wheeling times in the Sixties/ Seventies, Elysium made a mark as a real-world example of progressive culture that transcended ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation.   For me, my vision of community, creativity, and expression was solidified in the rustling leaves of the oaks.  Now, I realized it is my turn to share the hope and the ideals that I tasted that day over forty years ago.  Even in these potentially dark days of moralistic, hypocritical family values national leaders, experiments in liberation and community continue and always have.  Deep in my heart and many others of my generation, the experiments of those days aren’t forgotten.     Its seeds continue to sprout in healthy, consciousness-expanding, uninhibited resorts and communities all over the world.   Elysium was a dream, but the dream didn’t die.

Categories: Community, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Getting Called Out at Little Beach, Maui (creative expression/ community)

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Descent to Little Beach

“Hey man, why you reading the paper?  It’ll bring you down,” said a young man at the weekly celebration at Little Makena Beach on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Awoken from miasma, his words blasted me back to the present.  I came all the way here from LA, to change my routines and attitude and after only two days, I fell into my pattern from home:  Distracting my ‘here and now’ with reading.  In front of me a crowd of 20 free-spirits danced, drummed, twirled batons and hula hoops and surrounding them a 100+ multi-generational crowd mostly indulged in the clothing optional-custom of this hidden beach.

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Wild ones on the Beach & a stray old hippie

 

My accuser was a skinny guy, about 23, with long, blondish hair wearing a headband and glistening smile.  He moved easily and quickly from one group or individual to another like he was the host of the event.  Of course no one leads this neo-hippie scene, the whole event emerges ad-hoc.  But this man, Joshua, played the maitre de of Little Beach, first drumming, then pulling a six-pack of beer out of a cooler and passing one to whoever he meets, myself included, then stopping for a hit off a joint and talking with a group of three young women, and then prancing down to the beach for a chat with an older guy with a long,  gray beard.  No generation-gap here.

The tropical sun blazed down on the revelers and I desperately sought some shade.  Back home I enjoy hot, sunny days, but this was too much and I hid in the shade of trees on the periphery of the beach.  That’s when the young host zapped me with the lightning bolt—‘Be here now.’

After miles and miles of jumble of big condo developments and tourist shopping centers in Kihei, the road goes through the antiseptic, planned community of Wailea with  its luxury hotel resorts and golf courses and the speed limit ratchets down inexplicably to 20 mph.  Not surprisingly hiding around corners and in  the bushes police wait for the celebrating Little Beachers.  I’ve been coming to Little Beach for decades on my many trips to Maui.  As in most cool places I’ve visited all over the world, the original tip came by word of mouth.  Someone in the tourist center said, “You might like Little Makena Beach.  You get there by driving past the luxury Makena Resort to Makena Beach State Park south of Kihei and park at Makena Beach State Park.”  Makena Beach offers a wide comfortable beach and some basic facilities, but  you have to know that somewhere over a lava outcropping lies a hippie haven.

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Carefully edited view of the Beach

 

Back in the day the original hippies crawled over the rocks and in the secluded cove let go of clothes and inhibitions and ‘cleverly’ named it Little Beach. The word spread and the Sunday afternoon bacchanal grew into a tradition and legend in the hippie world.  Nowadays one sees mostly younger folks like the young man who woke me up that day, but mixed in the crowd are many gray-haired celebrants.

Maui is like that now.  My first visit in 1976 etched the placed in my soul as a tropical idyll.  Beautiful scenery ranges from volcanoes to deserts to rain forest to tourist beaches , while at  the same time it is a typical American small city with all of the conveniences from Home Depot to Costco. But in those days for us Maui was a nature adventure.  A company called Beach Boy Camper Holidays rented converted pick-up trucks that we parked at any beach park and camped for free.  It was the anti-tourist tour of Hawaii.  That freedom of movement combined my priorities, freedom of movement and comfort.  Stop where and when you feel it and relax.  Maybe that underlies the appeal of the RV culture of today, freedom and comfort.

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Firesticks and dancers at sunset

 

Of course, the whole world is a lot more packaged these days.  Finding and participating in the free expression of Little Beach revived the part of me that is still 25. But it is difficult to find, since I just don’t travel in those globe-trotting young peoples’ circles these days.  No hitch-hiking, not much hanging out in bars, and needing a bit more comfort (bed and warm shower).  Stoked I stayed til almost sunset, and as I left groups of people were just arriving with their drums and batons and ice chests.  The night  brings on a wild fire dance I’m told.

On this trip to Maui I had the good fortune to drop into a group of free-spirited young people.  I rented a room via AirBnB, because I wanted to stay in a locals’ neighborhood.  The room and the house provided what I needed, plus the unexpected benefit of hanging with free-spirited youth.  As it happened, the owner was out of town and he had a friend stay to supervise the rooms.

About 24, she quickly invited her new boyfriend to stay.  About 22 with long hair with an occasional penchant for wearing long dresses, he had recently left a work/ stay arrangement at an organic farm and now was looking for work as a waiter.  Another day, a friend of his from home (Grand Rapids, MI) arrived who worked as a tree-cutter.  Finally a third guy who is a medical marijuana care-giver came from Michigan for a short visit.  So, we had an instant communal crash pad, just like I experienced in the seventies.  Someone scored a place to stay in a cool place, and the crew showed up.

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Pondering the ephemeral aspect at Buddhist cemetery

 

Like me, they had come to Maui searching for something different from home and its routines.  My Venice home serves me well, but it gets old after awhile, more so since I jumped out of the rat race.   Some older, retired people share this with young people:  We’re both free of most responsibilities and the adventurous ones break out:  The world calls, wanderlust hits and at the slightest hint or suggestion, it’s off to on a new adventure.  Even in touristy Maui.

Maui hit the spot for an easy break from the mainland routine.  The weather is almost always perfect, spectacular natural sights await, and has all the comforts of home.  For me as an adventure traveler it takes some adjusting, because the edginess that appeals to me is hard to find. But the revelry, expression,  and connection of Little Beach made it for me.  Don’t miss it, even if you weren’t a hippie.  Fun can be infectious.

Categories: Community, Creative Expression | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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