The place existed for over 33 years, for much of that time thriving under the watchful and loving eye of a man named Ed Lange.
Lange (photo above) had been a successful photographer for Life Magazine and publisher of nudist magazine in the 1950’s and 1960’s, amassing a modest fortune. In 1967 he bought the Topanga property and opened it to the public on Memorial Day that year. He deliberately called it a “Human Growth Center,” not a nudist club, so it could focus on self-help workshops and seminars offered by a plethora of medical professionals, psychologists, philosophers, and authors living in the Los Angeles area. Nudity was allowed, but it was not required except in the swimming pool. This made Elysium quite different than the conventional nudist venues of its day. People brought their spouses and partners, their kids, and their friends who otherwise might never have gone to a “nudist camp.” Within a few years, a local Native American shaman began hosting quarterly Sweat Lodge events. Tennis lessons and yoga classes were also added to the schedule.
It was an instant success. On most summer weekends, as many as 300 people might be on the grounds, but most Elysium visitors did not participate in the workshops. “We came to recharge our batteries”, was the phrase most often used by those spending a lazy afternoon sitting on blankets on the expansive lawn, chatting with friends, and appreciating the many nude forms that dotted the lawn. The weekly potluck dinner, held on Sunday night, was a favorite tradition.
Parallel to this success, was another story. At the time it opened, Los Angeles County had an anti-nudity ordinance, which stated that it was “illegal for two people of the same sex could not be nude in the presence of another person or persons of the opposite sex.” The law not only forbade the establishment of nudist parks, but it also applied to people in their own homes. Ed sued, and in 1969 an Appellate Court agreed. The headline in the LA Times, “Nudists Win!” brought a lot of publicity to Lange and to Elysium.
However, the County Board of Supervisors retaliated by voting to change the zoning ordinance retroactively, so Elysium was technically no longer allowed. Ed sued again, and it became the longest and most expensive zoning battle in County history. It took over 20 years and cost Ed over a million dollars in legal fees (and the County much more than that) before the case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. By this time, the political climate changed in Los Angeles and the exhausted County Supervisors decided to settle by granting Elysium a conditional permit. Lange was named Man of the Year by the local Chamber of Commerce, an honor he greatly appreciated.
Only two years later, Ed suddenly fell ill with prostate cancer. In May 1995, he finally succumbed and his daughters, Lisa and Dana, took over management of the grounds. Within a few years their tripling of the fees and poor business decisions had reduced the membership from over 1500 to 400.
In 1998 the members revolted, forming an elected Advisory Committee. The old workshop business plan was abandoned, and many new activities got added to the schedule giving the place a new sense of energy and purpose. Membership numbers started to rise as the club evolved into an AANR-affiliated nudist club. The daughters were removed from the Elysium Board of Directors, but they retaliated by putting the property up for sale. The members collected funds and offered to buy the land for the appraised price, but the daughters refused the offer. On October 1, 2000 they sold the property to a vice president of Hyatt Regency Hotels to be a private home and compound. The new owner promptly removed many of the Elysium trees and buildings, took out the large jacuzzi, and built a road across the 4-acre lawn.
The next year, the membership moved to a new property in Malibu, but it lost too much money and closed in November 2001.
The Southern California Naturist Association (SCNA) club was born two months later from the remaining members of Elysium, determined to keep our friendships and the dream of Ed Lange alive into the new century. Next year our SCNA club will celebrate its own 20th anniversary.