Topanga Digital History

A Community Based History Project

The Topanga Digital History is a community based history project that aims to preserve and explore the history of Topanga by sharing the personal stories of those that shaped it. The project, a collaboration between the County of Los Angeles Public Library and Topanga Historical Society, collects the Topanga community’s photographs, historical documents, and most importantly stories to help tell the unique history of Topanga.

If you are interested in sharing your Topanga story, please contact digitalprojects@library.lacounty.gov.

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Topanga Stories

Actress Ellen Geer has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in theater, film, and TV. In 1973 she joined her actor parents Will Geer and Herta Ware in their Topanga home where they had founded an open air Theater in the 1950s. The theater had been established during some of the difficult years when Will Geer was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Named the Theatricum Botanicum and built in a natural bowl under California live oaks, the theater became the venue for Shakespearean plays. After her father’s death in 1978 Ellen became the theater’s artistic director, established a professional repertory company. By 1984 the company had grown into an Actor’s Equity Union house. The Theatricum Botanicum celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013. Ellen is married to Peter Alsop and they have two daughters Megan and Willow.

Lynn Dickhoff  Topanga native was born in 1943 to Katherine and Lee Haines. Katherine was an “almost native” Topangan having arrived in Topanga as an infant with her parents Thomas W. (Bill) and May Kneen in 1915. Thomas W. built a resort called Kneen’s Kamp. The resort’s main house served as the family home, where Lynn grew up with her parents, and siblings Bruce and Carol.

Lynn attended school in Topanga, Canoga Park and the University of California at Santa Barbara. She spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, and later married Bruce Dickhoff. Lynn and husband Bruce, both former school teachers, travel extensively, and especially enjoy lengthy camping trips. Lynn’s interests include gardening and botanizing, skills that she acquired from her father, a respected professor of botany at Pierce College

See Photos from Lynn

Nancy Williams, an “almost Topanga native,” moved to Topanga in 1949 at the age of 7 and has lived here most of her life. In the sixties she studied art in San Francisco and sold her work out of Ansel Adams’ Best Studio in the High Sierras. She set her artwork aside while she and her husband raised their two sons Eric and Brian, and she was active in community work.

In the 1980s she took up her art again, focusing on watercolor as her favored medium. In 1992 she helped organize the Topanga Canyon Gallery and has served on its board since. She describes her art subjects as “One hundred percent Topanga scenes.” She is now married to John Williams and retired from her work as an administrative assistant to the President of Pepperdine University. Currently, she devotes her energy to painting, with particular attention paid to favorite locations such as the winding Topanga Canyon Boulevard, and Old Canyon when the the sycamores are in fall color.

See Photos from Nancy

Richard “Dick” Sherman arrived in Topanga in 1963, worked for Rocketdyne until 1968, and then for local contractor Karl Ingram. In 1970 he received his general contractor’s license and started Topanga Unlimited (later changed to Topanga Underground), specializing in designing and installing septic systems, water mains and underground utilities.

A hardworking, successful business man who enjoyed play along with work, Dick often ended his work days at one of the local drinking establishments in the company of Topanga’s “working stiffs,” many of whom he employed. A confirmed bachelor for many years he is now married to Lynn, his high school sweetheart. Dick still sends out his fleet of distinctive chartreuse colored Topanga Underground vans.

Rose Wiley, Topanga’s eldest native, lives on a 10 acre portion of the homestead granted to her grandparents Francisco and Manuela Trujillo in 1899. Born in 1931 to Francisco and Manuela’s son Dolores and his wife Cornelia, Rose attended school in Topanga and Canoga Park and later married Bob Wiley who had come to Topanga to live with his father while he went to school by way of the G.I. Bill. In 1957 they purchased 10 acres of the remaining Trujillo homestead where they raised six children: Marguerite, Robert, David, Laura, John, and James.

Now a widow, Rose lives in the house that she and Bob built where she is visited by her many children and grandchildren. Active and well-known in the community, a Topanga Historical Society Life member, and blessed with an excellent memory, Rose is the “go-to” person for questions about Topanga history.

See Photos from Rose

Rosi Dagit, a Senior Conservation Biologist and Certified Arborist, has been working for the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains since she moved to Topanga in 1987. She has initiated and coordinated numerous research, restoration, and monitoring projects throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. She published numerous technical papers as well as a children’s book, Grandmother Oak.

She serves as a member of the Los Angeles County Environmental Review Board and leader of the Topanga Stream Team. Rosi is married to Chris Denny, a physician who specializes in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at UCLA. Their son Sean, a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara with a degree in Astrophysics, is currently applying to medical school.

See Photos from Rosi

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Topanga Historical Society

Topanga Digital History is made possible through a partnership with the Topanga Historical Society. To learn more about the Topanga Historical Society, please visit our site

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