De Butts stops here, Malibu decides

Times Staff Writer

The residents of De Butts Terrace in Malibu are resting easier now that the City Council has approved a name change for their mansion-dotted, ridge-top road near Escondido Canyon.

Weary of crude comments and teasing, De Butts residents recently lobbied the city to change the name of their street. But Mayor Ken Kearsley and others resisted, saying that the moniker honored a colorful and pioneering mid-20th century Malibu family.

As an alternative, residents proposed Paradise View Way, a suggestion that divided the five-member council and led to accusations that a few affluent people were attempting to erase a piece of Malibu’s past and supplant it with a name at best nondescript.

According to family and friends, Marianne and Edward Delaplane deButts migrated west after World War II from Delaplane, Va. Marianne deButts for many years wrote a popular folksy column for the Malibu Times called Squeaky Mesa. The column, started by their daughter, Forrest, when she was a schoolgirl, was named for the family dog.


During their long years of residency in the remote area, most of them without running water, the deButtses dubbed one road De Butts Terrace, another Delaplane Road and yet another Fauquier Road, after their home county in Virginia. That name was changed years ago to Winding Way.

As the road-naming dispute became more heated earlier this month, Kearsley (who had mistakenly recalled that Squeaky was the family’s donkey) suggested that Squeaky Mesa or Squeaky’s Mesa would be an ideal replacement tag. It was the residents’ turn to pooh-pooh the idea. They countered with the Overview, a name that marks the street on old maps.

At Monday night’s council meeting, the situation seemed at an impasse until a surprise nomination ended up carrying the day. A member of the Murphy family, another colorful Malibu clan, was among those observing the proceedings. Homeowners identified him as Sebastian Murphy, and they came to realize that he offered a prospect that was arguably as historic as De Butts Terrace.

A council majority, with Kearsley casting the deciding vote, agreed that the name Murphy Way would resolve the issue. The road that continues above De Butts Terrace is now called Murphy Motorway. Both portions will be joined as Murphy Way.


Forrest deButts Nelson, of Soldotna, Alaska, had no comment on the change Tuesday.

But in a letter to the Malibu Times written before the decision, she said she would not “approve of any other name, but you go ahead and call it whatever you want to. It is your area now.”

As for the Murphys, their patriarch was Dudley Murphy, a groundbreaking movie director. Susan Delson, author of the recently published “Dudley Murphy, Hollywood Wild Card,” has said that “Murphy had a kind of radar for breaking cultural scenes -- Greenwich Village, Jazz-Age Paris, Harlem at the height of the Renaissance, early Hollywood. Man Ray, Ezra Pound, and architect Richard Neutra were just a few of his collaborators. He talked montage theory with Sergei Eisenstein and got drunk with James Joyce. The only surviving North American mural by Mexican master David Alfaro Siqueiros was painted on the walls of his back garden.”

Murphy, who had been a World War I bomber pilot, carried his daredevil streak into Hollywood, where he made 1924’s “Ballet mecanique,” one of the early classics of avant-garde cinema, and directed a film of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones” in 1933. He also directed “Black and Tan,” with Duke Ellington, and “St. Louis Blues,” with Bessie Smith, both in 1929.


In the 1950s and 1960s, Murphy was well known for his Neutra-designed seaside Holiday House on Pacific Coast Highway, a motel and bar that is now the site of Geoffrey’s restaurant. At the time, it was a favorite hideaway of the Hollywood set. “It was mostly Hollywood stars having affairs,” Kearsley said.

Kearsley said the Murphy family still owns land above the former deButts family property that includes the upper waterfall in Escondido Canyon.

Allison Thomsen, a De Butts Terrace resident, was relieved that residents and the council were able to come to terms. She said homeowners plan to install a concrete bench with a plaque honoring the deButts family.

Thomsen said a unifying name should help the continuing problem of address confusion in the area of winding roads. One homeowner, she said, gets mail addressed to three different yet equally applicable addresses: on Winding Way, the Overview and De Butts Terrace.


She added that she hoped that Malibu-ites could now settle down and turn to more pressing topics. “The city has a lot of problems they have to fight right now,” Thomsen said, “and this is a small one.”

Now all they have to do is get the U.S. Postal Service on board.