The Not-So-Hidden Mansion Ruins of Malibu’s Solstice Canyon

This post is dedicated to Huell Howser, who passed away Jan. 7, 2013 at the age of 67. As the host of “California’s Gold” and other KCET shows, Howser helped Angelenos and tourists alike discover the Golden State’s diverse communities.

The foundations of Fred Roberts' ranch can be explored at Solstice Canyon.
Solstice Canyon Hike, Malibu
The foundations of Fred Roberts' ranch can be explored at Solstice Canyon.
Solstice Canyon Hike, Malibu
The foundations of Fred Roberts' ranch can be explored at Solstice Canyon.
Solstice Canyon Hike, Malibu
The foundations of Fred Roberts' ranch can be explored at Solstice Canyon.
Solstice Canyon Hike, Malibu
The foundations of Fred Roberts' ranch can be explored at Solstice Canyon.
Solstice Canyon Hike, Malibu
The foundations of Fred Roberts' ranch can be explored at Solstice Canyon.
Solstice Canyon Hike, Malibu
The foundations of Fred Roberts' ranch can be explored at Solstice Canyon.
Solstice Canyon Hike, Malibu
The foundations of Fred Roberts' ranch can be explored at Solstice Canyon.
Solstice Canyon Hike, Malibu
The Keller house, built in 1865, is the oldest structure in Malibu.
Solstice Canyon Hike, Malibu
The foundations of Fred Roberts' ranch can be explored at Solstice Canyon.
Solstice Canyon Hike, Malibu
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Imagine walking out your front door every morning to a community that looks like this: California sycamore trees, sage shrubs, evergreen oaks, and lavender; and with mountain lions, red-tailed hawks, giraffes and camels as neighbors.

Camels and giraffes are hardly (or at all) native to the Santa Monica mountains; they were among the animals brought into the area by grocery-chain entrepreneur Fred Roberts and his wife, Florence, to roam on the property of their Malibu retirement home.

Their home in the mountains was a decades-long project that began in the 1930s, when Fred slowly began to purchase land in the area. He eventually accumulated 556 acres for the site of his and Florence’s retirement home. In 1952, the couple commissioned architect Paul Williams (who had also worked on the ill-fated Murphy Ranch) to design the house, which they named “Tropical Terrace.”

But the Roberts weren’t the first to settle in the area now popular with hikers. The location’s proximity to easily-accessible water and shelter has made it the perfect place to settle for many throughout Solstice Canyon’s history. The Keller family built a stone-walled hunting lodge there in 1865, and the structure – visible today from the hiking trail – still stands, though the 2007 Corral fire destroyed most of it.  In fact, the Keller home is what drew the Roberts to Malibu when they picnicked near the site in Solstice Canyon. And about a thousand years before the Kellers, the Chumash Indians lived on the lands, using their canoes for fishing and traveling to other villages along the coastline.

The Roberts’ Tropical Terrace was “built of stone, brick, and wood (and) was a perfect architectural fit for the home-site of waterfalls, springs and lush vegetation,” according to the Paul Revere Williams Project website. Fred was well aware of the fire-prone area and had the architect use flame-resistant materials for its safety system.

Sadly, Fred passed away in 1976 before he could see his vacation home completed. The house burned down in 1982; today, hikers can see its original foundation, along with fireplaces, the bomb shelter, an old bathtub and more at Solstice Canyon.

The entrance to the Solstice Canyon trail hike is located at Corral Canyon Road and Solstice Canyon Road just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.


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