I have hiked with Temescal Canyon Association when they do their spring to summer Tuesday night hikes. One of the hikes they do yearly is the hidden staircases of Castellemare. I am not familiar with that part of the Palisades, so that hike was a first for me.
My understanding is that the staircases were built during the early formation of these neighborhoods to provide easy walking access to the beach. During our hike we met up with a representative of the Pacific Palisades Historical Society who gave us a wonderful walking tour of the area. One of the most interesting stories she told was about the mysterious death of a young actress, Thelma Todd, who owned a cafe on Pacific Coast Highway called Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe. I don't recall the details of the story, but Miss Todd was found dead in the garage of Roland West, a movie director whom she was romantically tied to.
There is suspicion she was murdered by him or by gangsters, but it may have been accidental. It remains a cold case today. As we walked up the very staircase she used from her cafe to Roland's house the night she died, we tried to reenact in our minds the scene before reaching Roland's home. The intrigue of it all reminded me of the days of telling ghost stories at slumber parties.
After I arrived home from my hike, I passionately told my hiking experience to my family. It was so cool to have history in my own backyard and to visit a place where it happened. That experience deepened my relationship with Pacific Palisades in a whole new way.
Since that experience and other similar ones, I have developed a vision about this community. I can see the youth educated about local lore through fun, inexpensive school field trips to convenient physical sites right in the neighborhood. I envision them going home to their parents bubbling with enthusiasm as I did--and taking their parents to the sites and teaching them the lore so that everyone knows it.
I believe having a sense of place where you are is a beautiful way to live, and I know of no better way to develop a sense of place than by learning local lore. If our young felt a connection to place they live and attend school, they would care about it and then perhaps things like vandalism and littering would be a thing of the past.
Just now I was talking to the historical society president and discovered that today students from Palisades Charter High School and Temescal Academy were given a tour of The Historic Pascual Marquez Family Cemetery in Santa Monica Canyon. I was excited to hear that such a thing is now being introduced in the curriculum.
I hope day the students too will have the thrill of hearing the mystery of Thelma Todd and visiting those staircases--and learn to appreciate, as I did, the treasure of knowing one's local history.