History of Sherwood Country Club and Lake Sherwood

Photo originally appeared in the News Chronicle, Thousand Oaks, Friday, September, 4, 1981 (photo by Gary Smoot)

Longtime Lake Sherwood resident Jack Speirs decided to draft his 1932 Ford truck into service in the lake residents’ battle against AB914.

Jack Speirs' Lake Sherwood Rally

Jack Speirs next to his 1932 Ford

“The bill will allow Dayton Realty Co. to do what four Ventura Couny boards of supervisors have not let them do — completely develop the Lake Sherwood area into urban tracts.”

Speirs sas he’s been stopped by many residents asking him about the sign.

“I tell them to send a letter to Governor Edmund Brown Jr. asking him to veto the bill”

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(original article appeared in the “News Chronicle” in January of 1985)
by David Harpster
photos by Roger Hardy

LAKE SHERWOOD has been good to Jack Speirs. ~ So Jack Speirs is repaying the favor.

The longtime lake resident, who fought hard to rescue the former movie star hideaway from intensive urban development, says he owes his good fortune to the once picturesque lake.

“What I have here, and all I’ve done, is all because of the people I met and friends I’ve made at Lake Sherwood,”

the 68-year-old writer said.

Jack Speirs

Lake Sherwood’s Hero

“So I figured owed a debt to the lake, and I damn well pay my bills.”

Speirs, who discovered the lake by accident while trying to drive to Port Hueneme in the early 1940s, was a high school dropout with his outdoor sights set on being a Hollywood writer when he and his wife, Hazel, first set eyes on it.

“It looked just like a Southern lake, a private heaven,”

Addicted to its beauty and splendid bass fishing, Speirs spent as much time as he could at, acquiring quite a reputation as a fisherman among Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and other celebrities and writers who hung out there when the area was a favorite spot for location shooting by movie crews.

“Then it occurred to me that I was wasting my time knocking at the back door of the studios,”

he recalled and jumped at an offer to manage the the lake.

While performing his managerial duties, Speirs worked occasionally as a stuntman and “met a “whole bunch of guys” employed by the Walt Disney studios, as well as a variety of radio and baseball film writers and actors.

Speirs, lacking a formal education,

“I dangle participles and fish worms with equal joy”

was at first reluctant to broach the topic of breaking into the writing business with his fishing buddies.

“But then one of them told me that if you can communicate clearly and cleanly, you’re grammar’s going to be OK,”

After writing a story outline and script for ‘a radio detective show, for which he was paid $400, Speirs’ career took off. He later penned and produced more than 60 screen and television films for Disney, including “Vanishing Prairie” and “Nature’s Half-Acre.”

He also wrote all of Walt Disney’s personal TV material from 1952 to 1966, and scribed more than 175 dramas and mysteries for radio.

In addition, he authored nearly 500 articles for outdoor and sporting magazines.

His paucity of schooling. – he attended Polk Creek Elementary School in West Virginia and spent exactly one week enrolled in high school – hasn’t hindered him a bit, Speirs said.

“That’s as far as I got. I didn’t want school to interfere with my education,”

“If I had to do it all over again I’d leave sooner.”

After “bumming around the country,” doing odd jobs, Speirs met his wife-to-be, Hazel, in California m 1940, and married her in 1941.

In 1949, they gave up managing the lake and my bought a lakefront home, enjoying an enviable life until 1962, when Dayton Realty Co. purchased the lake and riled everyone up with its development plans.

“They were so high-handed…”

“They beat everyone over the head with an invisible baseball bat. What they were proposing was a total violation of Ventura County ordinances.”

What ensued was a years-long struggle against Dayton, marked by the draining of the lake in late 1983 and culminated by its recent purchase by multimillionaire David H. Murdock.

Jack Speirs fishing on Lake Sherwood

Jack Speirs fishing on Lake Sherwood

Speirs helped launch an extensive homeowners campaign-against Dayton’s plans, but he refuses to take any bows for the ultimate success.

Instead, he credits the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. and other government officials with thwarting Dayton’s proposal to build 1,395 lakefront homes and related commercial facilities.

Speirs also praises financier Mr. David H. Murdock for acquiring the lake from Dayton, and instead proposing a scaled-down development plan.

Sipping a beer and reflecting on the long battle to save the lake, Speirs said in a recent interview that he was just one of several vocal opponents of Dayton’s plans.

Fellow homeowners Yvonne Emerson and the late Lillian Borgeson were also instrumental in fighting the Beverly Hills realty firm, and many other lake residents also participated in the foray, he said.

“I had a little help from a lot of people and a lot of help from a little people,”

he explained.

“All we did – and all I did – was to support the county officials and ordinances and keep the issue alive,” he continued. “We didn’t give up and let Dayton have its way. The only way you can lose is if you quit.

“That’s all I did. I didn’t quit,”

Speirs also extolled his wife’s support and understanding over the years.

The 150-acre lake is now dry, awaiting formal county approval of Murdock’s plans first to clean up the lake, then to refill it and develop the surrounding land. Speirs called Murdock a “sensible environmentalist” and believes the wealthy landowner will succeed in cleaning up weeded lakebed and getting rid of unsightly docks.

“He has good taste,”

“That’s a rare quality. He has an unlimited ability to think on a great scale.”

Is he relieved that an apparent solutions to the lake is at hand?

“Relieved? ” Damned right, I’m relieved,” he replied.

He said he now wants to focus his energy on traveling to Nashville, Tenn to sing country music.

“That’s what I started out doing back in West Virginia,” he recalled. “You don’t have to be good. Just loud and willing.”

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(Originally appeared in the Chronicle on March 17, 1965)

Lake Sherwood | MGM Goldwyn Mayer

Lake Sherwood | MGM Goldwyn Mayer | Lake Sherwood

Lake Sherwood Other Valley Sites Viewed

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is considering moving its gigantic movie studios to the greater Conejo Valley, The Chronicle learned exclusively today.

Lake Sherwood area has valuation of property and has been mentioned as one of the sites under consideration by the big movie maker, but it is also understood that more than one site within the greater Conejo area is under scrutiny of the MGM site seekers.

For approximately two years, MGM has been conducting a search for a successor to its 185 acre sprawling movie studios in Culver City.

A spokesman for the movie maker said today, however, that no decision has been made and he gave no indication when a decision would be made.

“About a dozen different spots have been and are being considered,” the MGM spokesman told the Chronicle “and no decisions have been made.”

Along with MGM, two other big movie firms, Twentieth Century Fox and Columbia Pictures, have been considering leaving their L.A. movie capital sites for areas giving additional room.

Behind the scenes battles have been underway for many months between proponents of new sites for the movie makers and the city officials and chamber of commerce area’s where the movie sets are now located.

Currently MGM employment at its Culver City site varies from 2200 to 3500. The movie maker has used the property ever since the birth of the movie industry over 40 years ago.

Conjeo area is being touted, it is understood, at a future home for the movie maker because of its proximity to many outdoor movie making locations, its nearness to the homes of many stars who live in San Fernando Valley, Beverly Hills and the West Los Angeles area, and the availability of large acreages at prices well under the current valuation of property in Los Angeles. The ideal climate and clear skies are also mentioned as attributes for the Conejo area.

Representatives of various large landowner in areas where MGM might locate in the greater Conejo area refuse to discuss the possibility. They cited the possibility of disrupting discussions if premature disclosures were made.

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On the Move

by Ed Ainsworth

(Thursday, February 15th, 1962)

CONEJO-Every time I drive along the new freeway to Ventura my mind inevitably turns back to the horrors of
the old Conejo Grade, that steep and winding road which had to be negotiated by certain cars of early age … It was an experience nobody ever forgot: to sputter and boil up this dreadful incline …

But the experiences of persons in the era when automobiles had come along were nothing compared to those of the early residents in the horse and buggy period ….

This whole subject of our changing landscape in Southern California fascinates me because we are so prone to forget quickly how things looked even a few years ago, and to take modern improvements for granted.

What I ‘am building up to can be told in just one word: Triumph! …

At last I believe I’ve solved the riddle of “The Lost Lake” which was posed here recently by a reader who wanted to know what had become of Lake Triunfo . ..

And “Triunfo” translating as “triumph” from the Spanish brings me to my theme …

Recollections of a Pioneer

Mrs. Martin R. Miller of Thousand Oaks, evidently, sharing my interest in locating forgotten landmarks, wrote me that her father, Joe Russell, probably could solve the riddle of Lake Triunfo if anybody could. He was born in 1883 on the Triunfo Ranch, which is located about halfway between Los Angeles and Ventura and is in both counties …The ranch had been created out of the old Conejo grant and had been acquired by Russell father nearly 100 years ago. Joe Russell lives today within half a: mile of the spot where he was born on the ranch …

His recollection is that there were several small lakes in the past on Triunfo Creek, which originates at the present Lake Sherwood Dam and then flows on down to form Lake Malibu and then to the ocean .. . As I mentioned here not long ago the term “Triunfo” was applied to the region as early as the winter of 1769-70, the very first year of the existence of California as a Spanish settlement, by the party of Capt. Gaspar de Portola on his return from trying to locate the Bay of Monterey …

Lake Sherwood itself has seen some’ changes because the dam originally was called Mathiesson after the man who owned the ranch where it was located; then it was renamed Las Turas Lake, and because a Robin Hood picture was made there, finally became known as Sherwood. It now is owned by the James R. Canterbury family …

A Fast Realty Deal

… real estate deals were handled about 1870 like this:
Russell’s father was on a stagecoach going from Santa Barbara to the Triunfo Ranch to negotiate for its purchase. On the stage was another man who confided to Russell’s father that he was going down to try to purchase the same ranch . . .

Russell Sr. was so eager to obtain the property that he got off the stage at Ventura, hired a livery stable horse and rode  hell-for-leather so that he beat the stagecoach to the ranch, took a 20-minute tour of the property in a buckboard with the agent for the sale, Jack Greece, and sealed the deal with a $20 gold piece just as the stagecoach drove up . . .

The other prospective buyer, surprised at seeing Russell, hopped out and told Greece,

“I’ve come to look at the ranch.”…

“It has just been sold,” replied Greece. . .

I guess things have changed along the Conejo …
But, anyway: “Triunfo!” –

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Lake Sherwood – 1955 – An Angler’s Retreat

Seventy years ago (1955), days were much simpler for Lake Sherwood and Hidden Valley Residents. For one thing, the Mickey Mouse Club hadn’t made it’s debut. And the Los Angeles Dodgers only existed in Brooklyn. Some, today, might even consider they were the only Dodgers.
Good Angling for Sherwood (1955)

Lake Sherwood, then, had its

appeal because of the its nearness to the Metropolitan area, the picturesque setting, and the always prevailing chance that a big one will hook onto your line.

The lake was considered a “pretty fair size.”

The pamphlets say that Lake Sherwood has 13 miles of shoreline, but my guess is that half that figure would be nearer right. The lake is down considerably—about four feet at the spillway—but there’s’ still plenty of water for good fishing

At the time, the Lake was owned and maintained by a man named Jim Canterbury—who also set the ground and lake rules, permitting to use up to five and a half horse motors, “but must bring their own” and could pay a $2 launching fee. However, you were only permitted to remove 5 bass, five catfish, 10 bluegill, 10 crappie and 5 rock bass, which were “not too difficult to attain when the fish are hitting.”

Today, life on Lake Sherwood is filled with tranquility. All that one would expect from a beautiful setting on a beautiful lake. It was not always this way. The lifestyle was in jeopardy many times throughout the past 200 years.

This is, in fact, the only constant in its history. If not for many passion-filled residents and Mr David Howard Murdock, Potrero Road might well have been lined with “high-density” housing and shopping malls.

The fight to keep Lake Sherwood’s beauty and agrarian lifestyle is the legacy of the many hard fought political battles between residents and numerous committes.

From the hunter-gatherer Chumash Native American Indians to current residents, the Lake is deeply rooted in history and folklore, not the least of which is the legendary Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood motion picture.

The tale begins with Joe Russell’s livery ride to “Triumfo” — or “triumph”—which was not fully realized until the mid 1980’s.

Sherwood Development

cont’d from Part 3

Article Originally appeared in the New York Times, March 3, 2011.

by Frank Bruni

He stayed for 17 years, buying cheap land and constructing affordable houses for all the people moving South and West after World War II. “I was building as fast as I could break ground” he says. “Bang, bang, bang: I could hardly get a house finished before it was sold.”

Houses and small office buildings were followed by larger office buildings, in Arizona and California and eventually the Midwest. To invest all the money pouring in, he bought stock, then more stock, then whole companies. He acquired control of International Mining in 1978 and in the early 1980s became the largest shareholder in Occidental Petroleum by selling the company his 18 percent interest in Iowa Beef. (That was back when he and filet were on friendly terms.) He took over Dole, part of a larger company, Castle & Cooke, which he acquired control of in 1985.

It was a heady ride, and his partner for the headiest stretch of it was a raven-haired, German-born beauty who became his wife in 1967, when he was in his mid-40s and she was in her late 20s. Her name was Gabriele. Although he was married twice before, he hadn’t fathered any children. With Gabriele he had two boys, who joined a son of hers whom he adopted. He moved his base of operations from Arizona to California and, for his new family, bought the legendary Conrad Hilton estate in Beverly Hills. Soon afterward, for weekend getaways, he also bought the ranch, in Ventura County, about a 30-minute drive away.

Ventura Farms

Ventura Farms

For the three boys, he got all those animals, and for Gabriele, jewels, gowns, fresh flowers — whatever she wanted.

“He adored her,” says E. Rolland Dickson, Murdock’s personal physician at the Mayo Clinic and a longtime close friend, adding that even 15 years into the marriage, “he had that look of a young guy on his honeymoon.”

He and Gabriele traveled the world; he chose one trip, she the next. Murdock says:

She always wanted to do what I wanted to do, and I always wanted to do what she wanted to do. It’s very hard to find somebody that way.

And harder still to lose her. In 1983 she was given a diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer. There was no effective treatment, though he looked wide and far. The couple took a suite at a hotel adjacent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Determined to heal her somehow, he wondered about nutrition and began to do extensive research into what she — and he, in support of her —should eat. The answer was more or less the kind of diet he has stuck to ever since.

Because many cancers have environmental links and the one she got didn’t run in her family, he suspects that lifestyle was a culprit, and is convinced that if the two of them had eaten better sooner, she would have been spared the surgery, the radiation, the chemotherapy, the wheelchair, the year and a half of hope and fear and pain.

If I had known what I know today… I could have saved my wife’s life. And I think I could have saved my mother’s life too.

Gabriele Murdock died 18 years into their marriage, in 1985. She was 43.

cont’d from Part 2

Article Originally appeared in the New York Times, March 3, 2011.

by Frank Bruni

… In restaurants Murdock will push the butter dish toward the server and say, “Take the death off the table.” He will ask employees or friends who are putting sugar in coffee or milk in tea why they want to kill themselves and will upbraid people leaving healthful food unfinished about the vitamins they’re squandering.

I experienced this during a visit in early February to his California ranch, where I joined him for lunch: a six-fruit smoothie; a mixed-leaf salad with toasted walnuts, fennel and blood orange; a soup with more than eight vegetables and beans; a sliver of grilled Dover sole on a bed of baby carrots, broccoli and brown rice.

Potrero Road

Potrero Road

“How did you like your soup?”he asked me after one of his household staff members removed it. I said it was just fine.

“Did you eat all your juice?” he added, referring to the broth. I said I had left perhaps an inch of it. He shot me a stern look. “You got a little bit of it,” he said.

“I get a lot — every bit I can.” He shrugged his shoulders. “That’s O.K. You’ll go before me.”

There was dessert, too: flourless cookies made with dark chocolate and walnuts, both rich in antioxidants, and sweetened not with sugar but with honey. He quickly polished one off and then called out to the kitchen to say that he wanted the cookies to make an encore appearance after dinner, so he could have another then. Five minutes later, still cookie-struck, he walked into the kitchen to ask that a few be packed up for him to have handy through the afternoon.

Murdock grew up in the tiny town of Wayne, Ohio, the middle child of three and the only son. He didn’t see much of his father, a traveling salesman with an inconsistent income, but was close to his mother, who took in laundry and scrubbed floors to help make ends meet. He softens when he recalls sitting in her lap while she read to him, a memory that he says hasn’t been dimmed by the length of her absence. She died, from cancer, when she was just 42 and he 17.

By then he was living on his own, having dropped out of school at 14. He has dyslexia, though no one initially realized it, and never managed grades better than D’s. “Everybody laughed at me,” he says. “They thought I was an imbecile.” He traded classwork for changing oil and pumping gas; he
lived in a room above the service station.

When he talks about his childhood, his lack of formal education is one of two themes he brings up again and again, usually to cast it as an inadvertent gift. He says that because he felt the need to compensate for it, he read prodigiously and, he stresses, without the narrowness of focus he notices in many conventionally learned people. Biographies of Andrew Carnegie, Socratic dialogues, Shakespearean sonnets, “The Prince”— he devoured it all over time. He also studied something called brain acceleration, which he says taught him to think about three things at once. “I’ll match wits with anybody,” he says. “I don’t care if they have the top degree in the world.” He notes that everyone on his research campus’s board is a Ph.D. or an M.D. But he, the high-school dropout, presides over the meetings.

The other theme is how low the point from which he rose to riches was. After finishing several years of service in the U.S. Army at age 22, he was not only penniless but also homeless, and slept for a while under a bush in a Detroit park. He would cadge free coffee from a friend employed at a greasy spoon. A man who worked for a loan company met Murdock there, learned that he was a veteran and offered to help.

With the man’s assistance, he rounded up $1,200 in loans and bought that diner, which he whipped into freshly scrubbed, newly painted shape. He sold it a year and a half later for $1,900, spent $75 of the profit on a car, set out for California and stopped along the way in Phoenix, where the opportunity to make money was too good to pass up….

to be cont’d…

Article Originally appeared in the New York Times, March 3, 2011.

by Frank Bruni

One morning in early January, David Murdock awoke to an unsettling sensation. At first he didn’t recognize it and then he couldn’t believe it, because for years – decades, really – he maintained what was, in his immodest estimation, perfect health. But now there was this undeniable imperfection, a scratchiness and swollenness familiar only from the distant past. Incredibly, infuriatingly, he had a sore throat.

“I never have anything go wrong,” he said later.

“Never have a backache. Never have a headache. Never have anything else.”

This would make him a lucky man no matter his age. Because he is 87, it makes him an unusually robust specimen, which is what he must be if he is to defy the odds (and maybe even the gods) and live as long as he intends to. He wants to reach 125, and sees no reason he can’t, provided that he continues eating the way he has for the last quarter century: with a methodical, messianic correctness that he believes can, and will, ward off major disease and minor ailment alike.

David H Murdock

Mr David H. Murdock

So that sore throat wasn’t just an irritant. It was a challenge to the whole gut-centered worldview on which his bid for extreme longevity rests. “I went back in my mind: what am I not eating enough of?” he told me. Definitely not fruits and vegetables: he crams as many as 20 of them, including pulverized banana peels and the ground-up rinds of oranges, into the smoothies he drinks two to three times a day, to keep his body brimming with fiber and vitamins. Probably not protein: he eats plenty of seafood, egg whites, beans and nuts to compensate for his avoidance of dairy, red meat and poultry, which are consigned to a list of forbidden foods that also includes alcohol, sugar and salt.

“I couldn’t figure it out,” he said. So he made a frustrated peace with his malady, which was gone in 36 hours and, he stressed, not all that bad. “I wasn’t really struggling with it,” he said. “But my voice changed a little bit. I always have a powerful voice.” Indeed, he speaks so loudly at times, and in such a declamatory manner, that it cows people, who sometimes assume they’ve angered him. “When I open my mouth,” he noted, “the room rings.”

The room ringing just then was the vast, stately common area of his vast, stately North Carolina lodge, which sits on more than 500 acres of woods and meadows where a flock of rare black Welsh sheep — which he keeps as pets, certainly not as chops and cheese in the making — roam under the protection of four Great Pyrenees dogs. He got the dogs after a donkey and two llamas entrusted with guarding the flock from predators failed at the task. The donkey and llamas still hang out with their fleecy charges, but they are purely ornamental.

North Carolina Research Campus

North Carolina Research Campus

Murdock loves to collect things: animals, orchids, Chippendale mirrors, Czechoslovakian chandeliers. He keeps yet another black Welsh flock at one of his two homes in Southern California, a 2,200-acre ranch whose zoological bounty extends to a herd of longhorn cattle, about 800 koi in a manmade lake and 16 horses — down from a population of more than 550, most of them Arabians, 35 years ago — with their own exercise pool. He has five homes in all, one on the small Hawaiian island of Lanai, which he owns almost in its entirety. He shuttles among them in a private jet. Forbes magazine’s most recent list of the 400 richest Americans put him at No. 130, with an estimated net worth of $2.7 billion, thanks to real estate development and majority stakes in an array of companies, most notably Dole. Five years earlier the estimate was $4.2 billion, but the recession took its toll.

His affluence has enabled him to turn his private fixation on diet and longevity into a public one. I went to see him first in North Carolina in late January. It is there, outside of Charlotte, in a city named Kannapolis near his lodge, that he has spent some $500 million of his fortune in recent years to construct the North Carolina Research Campus, a scientific center dedicated to his conviction that plants, eaten in copious quantities and the right variety, hold the promise of optimal health and maximal life span. The campus is a grand and grandiose sight, a cluster of mammoth Georgian-style buildings that dwarf everything around them. They call to mind an august, aged university, but the brick is without blemish, and there is no ivy.

Robin Hood & Sherwood Country Club

Sherwood, today, usually brings up images of Tiger Woods, a gorgeous Jack Nicklaus par 3 golf course, and some of the world’s finest luxury real estate in Southern California. This is, in fact true. But Sherwood is also known for some of Hollywood’s earliest, finest nostalgia and classic movie stars.

Douglas Fairbanks | Sherwood Forest

Sherwood’s Original Robin Hood, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

Douglas Faribanks, Sr and Robin Hood are often top of mind when hearing about Sherwood—and not because Fairbanks lived in one of Sherwood Development Company‘s beautiful Classics, but because of its seminal role in motion picture history.  Wikipedia notes:

Robin Hood is the first motion picture ever to have a Hollywood premiere, held at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre on October 18, 1922. The movie’s full title, under which it was copyrighted, is Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood, … It was one of the most expensive films of the 1920s, with a budget estimated at approximately one million dollars and generally received favorable reviews.

 Sherwood Forest & Company

Sherwood Classic, Viana

It was here that the fabled Sherwood Forest sprang to life, not because Fairbanks lived in one of the Sherwood’s beautiful Classic estates,  but for the setting of the fabled Sherwood Forest and its indelible mark on Hollywood’s earliest moments.

Today, behind the gates, is not unlike what Director, Allan Dwan recalled of Fairbanks:

Fairbanks was so overwhelmed by the scale of the sets that he considered canceling production at one point

There is no doubt that Sherwood Development Company had the same magical plans as Douglas Fairbanks, Sr did when we broke ground on our new construction.

No coincidence, anyway.