Built by the Community, For the Community

The Topanga Women’s Club engaged community members to build the House, rebar by rebar and brick by brick. Photo courtesy Topanga Historical Society

In 1964, Lee Kelly was a single mom who had recently moved to Topanga. She met her new neighbors who told her there was a yearly Children’s Christmas party at the Community House. She made her way up the hill with two kids in tow, and wandered into the strangest place she’d ever seen—a brick building with a dirt floor and no roof. A big fire was burning in a big fireplace; there were presents and toys for the kids and Santa made an appearance. “What is this place?” she wondered.

In 1952, the “A Nickel a Brick” drive was organized that provided all of the building blocks for the House walls. Photo courtesy Topanga Historical Society


The Community House today. Photo by Bonnie Morgan


The Topanga Community House was born as an idea in 1949 to give young people in the canyon a safe place to gather and play. Seven founding members, all women, established the Topanga Woman’s Club. Together they hosted card and dance parties, cake raffles, bingo games, held rummage sales, and even donated livestock to support their efforts. A 12-acre parcel was offered to the club in 1950 and a decade later, the shell of the house was built and the mortgage paid, all done by local volunteer labor and love.

Dorothy Boehme, president of Topanga Women’s Club, plants a tree on the Community Center grounds. Photo courtesy of Topanga Historical Society
Initially grading of the property purchased to be the site of the Topanga Women’s Club, later to be known as the Topanga Community Club. Photo courtesy of Topanga Historical Society

From “The Topanga Story”
In November, 1948, the ladies of the canyon held meetings to organize a club that could purchase property and sponsor the building of a community house. They immediately began to raise money with bake sales, card parties and dances which combined fun and fundraising.

On June 23, 1949, the Topanga Community Woman’s Club was officially recognized by the state of California as a not-for-profit corporation and the search began for a suitable building site. Final choice was a 12-acre parcel owned by Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Julian on a bluff east of Topanga Canyon Blvd. across from their creekside ranch. On the market at $12,000, the acreage was offered to the club for $6,000. A down payment of $500 was made and an agreement signed for $50 per month at a modest rate of interest. The money was raised with sales of the “Memory Cook Book.”

Lee Kelly and her late husband, Richard Kelly, were hard-working caretakers of the Community House for almost 20 years. “In my time, we dealt with a number of people who misunderstood that the place was actually private property. They paid taxes and had a right to be there, they said, as they fired up the BBQ they’d brought with them. We had to tell them that the area was not created by their taxes and was not safe for fires
of any kind.”

First stage of developing the ball field: grading and obtaining a source of water for the grass.
Photo courtesy Topanga Historical Society

While dealing with this proprietary attitude, Kelly and other members of the Topanga Community Club (TCC) were devising other ways to serve the community. There was rarely enough money to do anything but there was no shortage of ideas and pure determination. The ball field was built in the mid-1980s through the blood, sweat and tears of volunteers, so that all of Topanga’s kids would have a place to play.

Someone had to get those volunteers going. Kelly again: “We organized volunteer work parties for brush control and land work. The ball field was developing as a place for Topanga kids to play and, in 1985, we managed development of the ball field where, with the help of volunteers, we revived the well, obtained a tank to store water that we plumbed from the well up to the tank that sat above the horseshoe pits, down to the field and then to the entire field itself. We laid the sprinkler system, dug post holes, purchased poles and fencing and erected them, and sewed together torn golf course netting and hung it.”

Ballfield netting was pieced together by hand from discarded and torn golf course netting.
Photo courtesy Topanga Historical Society

Kelly considers keeping the ball field committee and work field parties going her greatest contribution. That’s what made the ball field happen, that and the labor and goodwill of dozens of volunteers.

Joe Valente and Rick Provisor knit together netting remnants for the ball field screen. Photo courtesy Topanga Historical Society

In 2011, Kelly Rockwell felt inspired to attend a TCC Board meeting to make a proposal for a new playground. The old one had been built in the ’70s and was tired and neglected. She realized what a great meeting place it was and could be for families with young children.

“They were open to the idea, but I was going to be responsible for all aspects of improvements. I knew a few parents at the time and we had meetings at the playground while our kids played around us.” said Rockwell.

Nonie Shore agreed to co-share the committee and that’s when things really took off. “Fundraising for the playground was sort of a grassroots venture,” says Shore. “I started by going to all of my friends in the Canyon and the TCC Board. We figured the more people that we could get to donate what they could and then we would all spread the word.”

Fundraising banner for Topanga’s Only Playground. Photo by Bonnie Morgan

The TCC oversaw the project and ultimately chose to go with playground design firm Play by Design, that would call on the collective community to build the final product. During a “Design Day” event, a playground architect talked to children in the classrooms at Topanga Elementary and took their sketches to draw inspiration. She worked all day and unveiled the final playground design that evening.

“The playground is very similar to that original drawing,” said Rockwell. “Many families contributed funds and committed to upkeep and maintenance of a new playground. It was so inspiring!”

Once they secured matching funds through Supervisor Yaroslavsky’s office, they knew the playground would be built.

Eighteen months of planning and fundraising culminated with the opening of a brand new, state-of-the-art playground at the Topanga Community Club. Topanga’s Only Playground (TOP) was built in true community style—swing by swing.

Dedicated volunteers worked late into the evening to keep the playground build on schedule. Photo by Kelly Rockwell

The TOP Committee was an extraordinarily organized bunch. Build Week was launched with several shifts per day, and over 600 volunteers, an entire shed of donated and loaned tools and teams of food preparers to keep everyone fed and taken care of.

Jayni Shuman woman’s the tool shed comprised of loaned tools from community members. Photo by Kelly Rockwell
Jayni Shuman, master tool organizer. Photo by Kelly Rockwell
Volunteers handling playground construction. Photo by Kelly Rockwell
Volunteers of all ages engaged in the playground build out. Photo by Kelly Rockwell

When the new playground opened to the public, there was a rush of nearly 40 children swarming the new equipment. Standing on a fresh bed of fragrant wood chips were a brand new tree house, a castle, swings, slides, a professional fireman’s pole and a wobbly bridge—all designed and built with input from the local children. The new playground serves children of all ages, with picnic tables and benches, a parents’ area and a community bulletin board.

It’s Your House, Ball Field and Playground Too!

November is the Membership Drive at the Community Center! As a privately owned non-profit, TCC does not receive tax income from the county or state. Since 1949, the TCC has served generations of Topangans and relies on community support. Every Canyon resident is encouraged to become a part of this community hub.

What does membership get you?

First and foremost, you become a part of this legacy of Topanga. You receive discounted tickets to our main fundraising events: Topanga Days, Reggae on the Mountain,
Square Dances, Disco Dances and the Swap Meet. With a children’s organic garden, ballfield, playground, walking path and more, the 12 acres of property offers something for everyone.

Membership qualifies you to vote for changes, programs and board members. Attend our General Meetings on the second Thursday of the month and contribute your voice to what we do.

Adrian Wright, former TCC Board President said it best in her September 10, 2009 article in the Topanga Messenger celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Community House.
“If you live, work, or visit Topanga Canyon, chances are you have already been touched by this remakable place and the people who keep it up and running. Perhaps your toddlers raced their big wheels at the Co-op, your school kids darted around the ballfield, or your teens sang and danced through a fab musical number.

“Did you dance in the Father-Daughter Dance during a magical Nutcracker performance? Maybe you were married here, or said farewell to a friend, or voted your conscience, or applauded some amazing music. Perhaps you rabble-roused with an activist organization or enjoyed a senior dinner. Maybe you screened your debut film under the stars. You might have been one of the legions of volunteeers, who over the years have held this place together with their enthusiasm, money and shovels! Or, perhaps you danced in the sun at Topanga Days.

This “Home in the Heart of the Canyon exerts a powerful pull and gives back so much more than we can ever hope to give to it.”

Limited-time specials for those who join or renew:
1. RENEW PLUS 3. Join or renew and get three months added to your renewal date.
2. RENEW FOR 3. Get three years’ membership at a discounted rate: $200 Family, $100 Individual, $125 Couple, $100 Senior Couple, $60 Senior.
3. BUSINESS SPONSOR. Purchase a $100 Business Sponsorship and receive a listing on our website. Offer free memberships to your customers – bring in three memberships and receive a complimentary listing on our new website. For example, realtors can offer free memberships to new residents!
Go to www.topangacommunitycenter.com to join or renew.


Bonnie Morgan

Bonnie is the Chief Operating Officer for the Messenger Mountain News. She comes from a rich background of research, marketing and technology and is the company's business manager, web designer and social media geek. bonnie@messengermountainnews.com

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