Frederick C. May; Founder of Malibu Lagoon Museum


Frederick C. May, founding president of the Malibu Lagoon Museum, which was designed to present a living history of the legendary oceanfront enclave in the 1920s, has died. He was 76.

May died Saturday at St. Johns Hospital of cancer, his wife, artist Julie Van Zandt May, said Tuesday.

His enthusiastic endeavors as a civic leader followed a string of successful careers as aircraft parts manufacturer, thoroughbred horse rancher and property developer. He served six terms as director and one as president of the Malibu Board of Realtors.

May’s efforts as founder and president of the Malibu Marlin Club, his five years as chairman of the Malibu Summer Festival and his 14 years as chairman of the Malibu Board of Realtors Golf Tournament helped win him many civic awards. He was the Malibu Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Citizen of the Year in 1977 and the Malibu Lions Club Citizen of the Year in 1979. He was recognized for outstanding community service in 1982, and was one of Malibu’s Volunteers of the Year last year.


But it was the museum, which grew out of his work with the Malibu Historical Society, that became the center of May’s last decade. He organized the supporting museum association when the institution opened in 1982 in the old Rhoda Rindge Adamson House on Pacific Coast Highway. As president for the first five years and again in 1992, May helped raise funds to supplement allotments from the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

“It takes a lot of community involvement to make a place like this tick,” May told The Times in 1985. He logged about 100 volunteer hours a month at the museum. “We have a hundred volunteers who are house docents, museum docents, service skill people, and a 15-member board of directors who all contribute their particular expertise where it’s needed.”

Frederick Clemens May achieved another type of public attention three decades ago. From 1960 to 1962 he was married to actress Lana Turner. It was her fifth marriage and his second.

At that time, May had already retired from positions as owner and president of several aircraft parts companies and an import-export business and was raising thoroughbreds on his Circle-Ma ranch in Chino.


Born in Schenectady, N.Y., May moved to Los Angeles as a youngster. He became a leader early in his life, winning election as student body president of Manual Arts High School and as president of the sophomore class at USC.

He began his career as contract administrator for Douglas Aircraft Co. in Tulsa, holding Department of Commerce licenses in navigation, meteorology, aerodynamics, engines, instruments and parachutes.

In addition to Julie, his wife of 27 years, May is survived by his children from his marriage to the late Colleen Hansen, Frederick C. May Jr., Judy Ingraffia and Laurie Canty; two stepchildren, Jon Bare and Cathryn Alpert, and his sister, Virginia Nikirk.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Malibu Lagoon Museum, P.O. Box 291, Malibu, Calif. 90265.