Calabasas, California resident Charles Mureau, who died in 2004, a few days short of his 100th birthday,  could most accurately be called a Renaissance man. He was a landowner, an artist, an inventor, an astute businessman and an accomplished horseman who once “rode to hounds.” He had built a croquet field and a party house on his personal property, and owned a building across the freeway from his home that was Pelican’s Retreat restaurant for years.

Mureau left his mark on Southern California. He had come from Nebraska in 1945 and bought land in Calabasas: 24 acres for his own home on top of a hill north of the main artery leading from the San Fernando Valley northwest to the Conejo Valley, and the 3-acre property on which the restaurant (an old schoolhouse when he bought it) stood. He was considered a pioneer; Calabasas wasn’t yet the tony city it is today with very expensive homes. The street that borders his property and crosses the 101 Freeway is named Mureau Road, after him.

Calabasas Schoolhouse, which became Pelican's Retreat Restaurant

Calabasas Schoolhouse, which became Pelican’s Retreat Restaurant

I met the very gentlemanly and dapper Mureau when he was in his 80s. Sporting a mustache, usually in a British flat cap and cravat worn with a sports jacket, this soft-spoken bachelor was so spry and well dressed he seemed ageless.

For an interview I did for my Daily News column, I was invited to his hilltop art studio workshop, as unusual as he was. The airy, high-ceiling building had its own built-in dovecote, complete with cooing doves that flew in and out as they wished. Around the walls were Mureau’s many oil paintings and a few of his metal sculptures made from scrap and old car parts inventively put together.

He told me he used to be a member of the West Hill Hunt in the San Fernando Valley in the 1950s and 1960s. Instead of foxes, they’d use horses and hounds to go after coyotes, and the hunt would also be held in places like Santa Barbara and Thousand Oaks. Mureau and an Englishman, David Sanford Evans, published The Pink Coat or The Why’s & Wherefore’s of Fox Hunting in 1961.

In the early 1980s, Mureau was saddened by the AIDS epidemic in the US. Being naturally artistic and creative, his mind was usually ahead of others. He had put together a sculpture using scrap metal car parts: a carburetor and an oil can with a long spout, among others. He felt the sculpture was the perfect symbol for the AIDS Foundation, which was just getting off the ground at that point. He showed me a photo of the sculpture, which seemed to depict a lion tamer. I didn’t get the point at first, but didn’t want to say so. I showed my teenage son later, and he immediately figured out the message, “It’s a man taming his dick, Mom,” he told me with a laugh. I did some preliminary exploration on promoting the sculpture symbol, but it went nowhere and Mureau gave up on the idea.

Instead, he pursued his longtime dream of having a distinctive party house and a regulation croquet field to be used for tournaments. His property bordered the freeway and for years drivers could see the beautiful, large white octagonal building with a cupola surrounded by a lush green lawn.

While I was writing for the Warner Center News in Woodland Hills, published by Kathleen and Rodger Sterling, Mureau invited Rodger and me for a special private lunch in his party house. The Victorian-style building was quite spacious inside and boasted a solid maple hardwood floor for dancing and a 200 year-old English fireplace. The main room was big enough to hold at least 300 guests. To keep the old-fashioned idea intact, the bathrooms had pull-chain toilets.

Last time I looked, the party house and lawn, now in disrepair, can scarcely be seen through the bordering trees. I bet Charles Mureau, wherever his soul wanders, might be a little sad about his neglected property.


One Comment

  1. Such a fascinating old gentleman. Would have loved to see his party house and Victorian decor. I am an avid fan of PBS ‘ Downton Abbey and could picture him acting in it .

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