Rhoda-May Adamson Dallas, an heir of a pioneering Malibu family who, with her siblings, donated the land that enabled Pepperdine University to establish its campus overlooking the Pacific, has died. She was 94.
Dallas died Oct. 14 of natural causes at her longtime home in Studio City, her family said.
She was the granddaughter of businessman Frederick H. Rindge, who bought a former Spanish land grant in Malibu in 1892 and expanded it into a 17,000-acre working ranch.
Rhoda-May, born on Feb. 14, 1917, in Santa Monica, spent much of her early life on a choice slice of that land in a Spanish-style oceanfront house built in 1930 as a weekend retreat for her parents, the former Rhoda Agatha Rindge and her husband, Merritt Adamson.
The home, now known as Adamson House, was elaborately decorated with vibrant tiles from Malibu Potteries, a commercial venture founded in 1926 by her grandmother May Rindge, Frederick's wife.
During the Depression, Rhoda-May moved into the home with her parents, who remained solvent through their dairy business, Adohr Farms — "Rhoda" spelled backward. Little Rhoda-May modeled as the first "Adohr-able baby" in ad campaigns, according to a City of Malibu history, and worked at the dairy as an adult.
In 1968, the state acquired the historic residence and its grounds, near Malibu Pier, through eminent domain. It can be toured as part of the state park system.
"She always said, 'I had the best childhood ever.' She and her brother and sister would boat in the lagoon and hike the trails of Malibu," said granddaughter Deborah Miller, president of the board of the Malibu Lagoon Museum, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the house and grounds.
"Adamson House was definitely ranchy then," Miller said. "They had chickens, rabbits, and she used to walk her sheep named Bohunkus like a dog on the beach."
While attending Santa Barbara Teachers College, she met a fellow student, Ian Richard Dallas, a chemist. They married in 1937 and raised a daughter, Jane, and a son, Hunt, who died in 1999. Her husband died the following year.
After her mother died in 1962, the family's real estate empire passed to Rhoda-May, her brother Merritt and her sister Sylvia. They became partners in the Adamson Co., which oversaw and developed their holdings.
In 1968, the trio made what Pepperdine University called "a remarkable donation" to the school — 138 acres of undeveloped Malibu ranch land — that served as the core of the campus, which largely relocated from Los Angeles in 1972.
Since 1957, Rhoda-May had resided in a house that she and her husband built in Studio City.
"She was gracious," her granddaughter said, "and lived a very simple life."
Besides her granddaughter, Dallas is survived by her daughter; her sister; six other grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.