Adamson family

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Biographical note

Frederick Hastings Rindge was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Samuel B. Rindge (1820-1883) and Clarissa Harrington (1822-1885) on December 21, 1857. Frederick was the fourth of six children and the only child to make it to adulthood. Frederick attended Harvard University and graduated in 1879. He spent the next few years traveling around Europe and America and working at a Boston Commission House. In 1883, his father died, and in 1885, his mother passed away, leaving Frederick his father's estate worth $3 million.

On May 27, 1887, Frederick married Rhoda May Knight (more commonly referred to as May K. Rindge) of Trenton, Michigan. That same year, the couple moved to Los Angeles, California. Together, they had three children: Samuel Knight Rindge (1888-1968), Frederick Hastings Rindge, Jr. (1890-1952), and Rhoda Agatha Rindge (1893-1962).

In 1892, Frederick and May K. purchased the 13,300-acre Spanish land grant, Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit, also known as Malibu Rancho, from Matthew Keller. Frederick was very happy with his purchase and between 1889 and 1902 he wrote several books, including Happy Days in Southern California, which recounts his experience living on the Malibu Ranch.

The Rindges had many outsiders interested in using their land. In 1904, the Southern Pacific Railroad applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission to build tracks linking the Long Wharf in Santa Monica with their northern tracks in Santa Barbara. The proposed connection went right through the Rindges' Malibu ranch. When Frederick learned of Southern Pacific's intentions, he planned to build a private railroad on his property to keep the railroad company out. The Rindges were able to do so because of a law that prevented the duplication of an existing railroad line. However, before construction began, Frederick died, leaving his wife to carry out his plans. She did, and 15 miles of tracks were erected.

Following her husband's death in 1905, May K. incorporated and organized the Marblehead Land Company to manage her husband’s holdings and the needs of Malibu. In 1907, May K. began her battle with the state and county to keep a highway off of her property. She became famous for her battle with the authorities. However, she eventually lost the battle and the county obtained a right-of-way through her property. In June 1929, the Roosevelt Highway (now the Pacific Coast Highway) opened.

On November 18, 1915, May K. and Frederick’s daughter, Rhoda Agatha, married Merritt Huntley Adamson (1888-1949), who worked as the Superintendent on the Malibu Ranch. Merritt was a native Californian who graduated from USC Law School before he took the position on the Malibu Ranch. Following the marriage, the pair established the Adohr Stock Farms, which grew to be one of the largest producers of milk in the world.

As a source of water for irrigation of cultivated farm land on the Malibu Ranch, the Marblehead Land Company built the Malibu dam, completing the project in 1932. When completed, the impounding reservoir at the dam had a capacity of 575 acre feet.

In 1929, construction on what is today known as the Adamson house began. The family would spend summers in the house until 1937. At that time, it became the family’s permanent residence.

During the Depression era, Marblehead Land Company fell on tough times. Although they had several projects in the works, the company signed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy in 1936. During this period of reorganization, Marblehead created Malibu Water Company in 1938 as a public utility water company to oversee water system operations in the area it had previously served. Merritt served as the president of Malibu Water Company for a number of years.

In 1941, May K. started construction on a 50-room house on the property. Unfortunately, she died in 1941 before it was completed, and the Franciscan Order purchased it in 1942, along with 26 acres of land. Today, the house and property are known as the Serra Retreat.

Just a few short years later, Merritt passed away in 1949 leaving Rhoda Agatha to manage the family business. Together they had three children: Merritt Jr., Sylvia, and Rhoda-May. Rhoda Agatha stayed active with both the Marblehead Land Company and Adohr farms until she passed away in April 1962. Merritt Jr. intended to enter the family business. He graduated from the University California, Davis with a degree in animal husbandry. However, in 1966, the Adamsons sold Adohr Farms to Southland Corp, due to the high cost of raising cattle.

Merritt Jr., Sylvia, and Rhoda-May decided to focus their interests on real estate development for the land. In 1967, they formed Adamson Cos. to oversee the family business. In 1968, Adamson Cos. gave 138 acres of Rancho Malibu land to Pepperdine University. The school, which was then based in Los Angeles, moved to Malibu in 1972. Other developments followed, including construction on a mobile home park, condominiums, and state parks.

In 1966, the State of California filed an eminent domain lawsuit seeking to turn the Adamson House into beach parking. The state won the lawsuit and purchased the property from the Adamson family for $2.69 million, a valuation set forth by the court. However, after much encouragement by the community of Malibu, the house was deemed a California Historical Landmark in 1985 and was later opened to the public as a museum.

From the guide to the Rindge and Adamson family papers, 1891-1967, (Pepperdine University. Special Collections and University Archives.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Rindge and Adamson family papers, 1891-1967 Pepperdine University. Special Collections and University Archives.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Adamson, Merritt, 1888-1949 person
associatedWith Adamson, Merritt, Jr., 1926-1986 person
associatedWith Gross, R. F. person
associatedWith Leason F. Pomeroy & Associates. corporateBody
associatedWith Malibu Water Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Marblehead Land Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Rindge Adamson, Rhoda Agatha, 1893-1962 person
associatedWith Rindge family family
associatedWith Rindge, Frederick H. person
associatedWith Rindge, Rhoda May, 1864-1941 person
associatedWith Southern Pacific Railroad Company. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu Dam (Calif.)
Malibu (Calif.)
California Highway 1 (Calif.)
Subject
Dam construction--California--Los Angeles County
Occupation
Function

Family

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