Homeless settle into miniature golf course

The former Malibu Castle miniature golf course on Marine Avenue near the 405 Freeway has become an encampment for homeless individuals as development plans for the site have stalled. (photo by Steve McCrank)

With its four-story windmill and medieval facade, Malibu Castle in Redondo Beach beckoned motorists traversing one of the country’s busiest freeways with promises of family fun.

Today, the miniature golf putting mats are faded and the arcade games and castle that housed them have long been taken away. Tall weeds sprout from broken concrete. Walls are covered in graffiti.

Once a regional attraction for families and young people on dates, Malibu Castle has been a haven for the homeless for years.

“It used to be beautiful here,” said Rich Williams, 48, who recycles cans and bottles for money and said he had been living in a camping tent on the overgrown stretch of property on Marine Avenue for about four months.

“I used to come down here as a kid and play putt-putt. So it’s been unique to be a part of its demise.”

On a recent afternoon, three tents rose from the ruins of the old miniature golf course. The drone of traffic from the San Diego (405) Freeway echoed in the warm air.

“Once in a blue moon someone will come down here and take pictures,” Williams said. “Living by the freeway, we’re not supposed to be down here. But where are we supposed to go?”

The amusement park was a popular attraction for decades, but it closed in 2005 to make way for new development. A city-owned hazardous waste recycling yard popped up a short time later but closed in 2007. Today the property is surrounded in barbed wire and a chain-link fence.

The last of the park’s golf statuettes - the Dutch-inspired windmill, a Mayan temple, a tiki hut surrounded by lava rock - have been torn down.

Police work with the property’s owner and developer to monitor the area, occasionally conducting sweeps. There have been assaults and an attempted murder. On a late afternoon in early February, a 26-year-old transient hung himself from a tree towering above the old golf course. Friends painted a mural on the site paying tribute to the man, Donald Hale. Williams said he helped cut the tree down after Hale’s death. The suicide was confirmed by Los Angeles County coroner officials and Redondo Beach police.

“We go out there routinely and check to make sure it’s empty,” said Redondo Beach police Sgt. Dave Christian. “There’s been a lot activity out there for quite some time.”

But new life for the property could be coming soon. Plans are being revived to develop two hotels on the 5-acre parcel.

The project, a proposed Marriott Residence Inn and a Hilton Garden Inn, has already won approval from the city’s Planning Commission. The City Council in November 2010 signed off on a ground lease and financing terms, despite earlier protest by officials from the Lawndale-based Centinela Valley Union High School District, who argued the city did not sufficiently study environmental impacts.

But the proposal by developer TRCF Redondo LLC fell through after financing dried up because of the stale economy.

“The developer and city have been working together since then to put new financing into place to allow for construction to begin,” said Peter Grant, Redondo Beach assistant city manager. “The capital markets are still recovering from the recession, so securing financing for the project is going to require help from the city.”

Citing the ongoing negotiations, Grant declined to disclose the city’s portion of financing for the hotel project.

But under the lease deal approved in 2010 by the City Council, funding would have come from $45 million in bonds through the California Enterprise Development Authority as part of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

If the revived hotel deal moves forward, the payoff could be huge. The city anticipates collecting more than $2 million annually in hotel bed taxes alone, Grant said.

douglas.morino@dailybreeze.com

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