Sometimes making meetings is hard to do, but when the Palisades Rotary announced that Bill Bruns would be the speaker, people signed up quickly for the luncheon meeting at Modo Mio on November 15.
Always informative and one of the few people who “knows where the bodies are buried” in Pacific Palisades, Bruns has lived here with his wife Pam since 1972 and was editor of the “Palisadian-Post” from 1993 through 2013. Earlier in his career he was a journalist with Life magazine and TV Guide, and the co-author of nearly 20 books.
Most recently, Bruns worked with eight of his former colleagues at the “Post” to produce the Palisades Historical Society’s “Centennial Retrospective: 1922-2022.” The 60-page magazine, richly illustrated with photos from the HS’s collection, chronicled the town’s history, key victories by local activists, and the notable personalities who have lived here, from Will Rogers and Ronald Reagan to Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.
“It was fun researching and pulling together this issue for many months,” Bruns said. “We cleared about $30,000, thanks to generous support from residents, businesses and organizations, and this enabled the Historical Society to stage a free centennial celebration under a huge white tent on Simon Meadow in May.”
[The magazine was mailed free to every household in the Palisades. Extra copies are available for purchase at the Collections bookstore on Antioch.]
Bruns recounted how the town was founded by a group of Methodists in 1922, in the aftermath of World War I and the global influenza pandemic, as a community “dedicated to peace and a haven for folks of modest means.”
Isolated at that time from the rest of Los Angeles, Pacific Palisades grew slowly during the 1920s (with barely 200 homes constructed), Bruns noted, “but notable estates were built in the Riviera, the Huntington and Castellammare, along with the Riviera Country Club and the Bel-Air Bay Club.”
After World War II, Bruns said, the town began taking off as young married couples moved here and started their families. This led to sports programs at the new Palisades Recreation Center, a growing business district, the Chamber of Commerce (1949) and important service clubs such as Rotary, the Optimist Club and the Lions Club.
“Ever since the 1950s, these various volunteer organizations (also including the Woman’s Club, the American Legion and Palisades Pride) have strived to improve and sustain the quality of life here. Their members all share a deep appreciation for this town.”
Bruns also credited dedicated activists who worked to “save” the town from the 1920s into the 1990s. “They campaigned to protect the Santa Monica Mountains from further development, they defended the beach from Chautauqua to Sunset, they enacted a 35-ft. height limit along Sunset, and they defeated the proposed Reseda to the Sea highway, which would have cut through the mountains and down through Temescal Canyon.”
He added, “Imagine how this highway would have bisected the town, and all the beach traffic coming through from the Valley, not to mention the subdivisions that would have been built from here to Reseda.”
Bruns also cited the 20-year No Oil campaign, which ultimately prevented Occidental from drilling for oil along PCH (below Via de las Olas), and the “Don’t Mall the Palisades” campaign which saved the historic Business Block building from demolition.
Like most everyone attending the Rotary luncheon, Bruns still laments the demise of the former Swarthmore business block, from Sunset over to Monument. “For about a decade in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Swarthmore was a classic small-town business street,” he said. “We had Mort’s Deli, Dante’s restaurant, Terri’s, 31 Flavors, a la Tarte, the toy store, BOCA, Benton’s sporting goods and Village Books.”
“Unfortunately, these businesses started closing and the property owners (Palisades Properties) were so divisive, they ultimately decided to sell everything to Caruso. And now we basically have two business districts: Carusoville and the stores and restaurants below Sunset.”
Bruns continued, “Most of the old-timers in town have little regard for the retail stores in Caruso’s mall, but the newer residents seem to think it’s a great destination. My feeling is that Palisades Village is now four years old; it’s a done deal, so why waste time arguing about it? Basically, it’s a high-end food court with five indoor/outdoor restaurants that are indeed popular, especially when it’s not raining.”
Describing other aspects of life today in Pacific Palisades, Bruns noted that the public and private schools remain strong and continue to help support the housing market here (along with the weather and the location). And the long-awaited George Wolfberg Park at Potrero Canyon will finally open on December 3, offering hiking trails from the Recreation Center down to the ocean.
Looking towards the future, and the vital need for community volunteers, Bruns praised three new organizations — the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness, Resilient Palisades and the Palisades Forestry Committee — for their work within the community and how they have attracted dozens of relatively younger new members.
Yet he’s worried about the character of the town as it evolves over the next 10 or 20 years, and home prices keep soaring to unimagined levels. “Let’s face it: almost everybody who moves here will have to be rich in some way, either through their professions or through family inheritance,” Bruns said. “We can only hope that these new residents will invest in the community, if not as volunteers, then through generous donations to the dozens of organizations that are working hard to sustain the town’s quality of life.”