It’s no Malibu, but the area around Rincon Point has attracted its share of Hollywood people and projects through the years. 

As soon as it opened in 1915, the Hotel Rincon on Rincon Point was popular with movie folks, which proved to be a mixed bag. In 1916, three men from the Flying A studio in Santa Barbara partied there with their dates and then drove back toward Santa Barbara. Their car crashed near Carpinteria at 3:30 a.m., killing one of the women and besmirching the hotel’s reputation. 

In 1919, when the place had a new name (Rincon Inn) and new management, director D. W. Griffith and actors Lillian Gish and Robert Harron dined there. Griffith had directed Gish and Harron in two classics of the silent era: “Birth of a Nation”(1915), which lionizes the Ku Klux Klan, and “Intolerance”(1916). 

In 1925, a rubbery-faced character actor named Raymond Hatton built a beach cottage at Mussel Shoals, by what’s now the pier to the manmade Rincon Island near La Conchita. A year later, Hatton tried to rescue a drowning girl, but couldn’t reach her in the heavy surf. She died, according to news reports, as did another would-be rescuer. 

Union Oil Co. struck oil near Hatton’s house in 1927, and he bought three lots on Rincon Point for $3,000 apiece. The oil discovery also prompted Hatton’s Mussel Shoals neighbor, actor Warner Oland, to buy three lots of his own. Oland had his beach cottage dragged from Mussel Shoals to the point and spent time there for the rest of his life. 

More recently, James Arness, who played Marshall Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke,” surfed Rincon starting in the 1950s. Supposedly he was on his board there during the legendary swell of 1969. (His son Rolf Aurness – the original spelling of the name – won the World Surfing Championship in 1970.)

Kevin Costner bought a house on Rincon Point in 1992 for a reported $2.9 million. Other residents have included Susan Harris,creator of“Golden Girls”; Tony Thomas, producer of “Dead Poets Society” (and son of Danny Thomasand brother of Marlo Thomas); actress Sandra Will Carradine; and cinematographer and director Louie Schwartzberg.

Partiers at Rincon Point have included actors Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Eva Marie Saint, José Ferrer, Vivian Vance and Roddy MacDowell, plus author-screenwriters Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. Some parties were hosted by artist-writer Barnaby Conrad and his wife, Mary, and others by artist Jack Baker; their circles of friends overlapped, according to Baker’s daughter India.

In 1951, Hollywood location scouts came to Rincon Point in search of a beach that could double for 1920s Nantucket, Massachusetts, for a scene in the sequel to the movie “Cheaper by the Dozen.” R. W. Bates, whose family owned part of Rincon Point, showed them around. A Cape Cod-style beach house, formerly owned by the Rubel family, won them over. 

Even though the studio was going to pay to film at Rincon Point, Bates couldn’t help raising an objection. He pointed to a sprawling tree by the Rubel house. What, he asked, would audiences think when they saw a Monterey cypress in Massachusetts? The director said he didn’t know what a cypress looked like and neither did anybody else. 


“I am sorry to say that an ordeal faces us,” Bates told his family in a letter. He had learned the name of the film: “Belles on Their Toes.” “Imagine having to go to a movie with such a title!” 

It got worse. Bates and his wife, Juliette, drove to Ojai in 1952 to see the film, but the director, maybe belatedly unsettled by the cypress, had reshot the beach scene at Malibu. Rincon Point got edited out. 

The point does appear in a 1974 horror (also horrid) film called “Welcome to Arrow Beach,” directed by and starring Laurence Harvey. Early in the film, a free-spirited young woman played by Meg Foster heads from Bates Road toward the Rincon Point gate. 

Watching her from afar, a sheriff says she’s about to become a trespasser. 

No, says his deputy, not if she goes down to the beach. Beaches are open to the public.

“One thing you’ve got to learn, chum,” the sheriff replies. “Private property owners don’t see it that way.”

Foster crosses the wooden bridge that spanned Rincon Creek at the time (it got demolished not long after filming), strolls by nudists and their dogs on the beach, passes an ominous PRIVATE sign, takes a nude swim and falls asleep on the sand. 

She awakens to find suave Harvey standing over her. He invites her up to his house. She accepts. Unhappily, he turns out to be a cannibal. An allegory for the struggles between homeowners and beachgoers, perhaps? 




Stephen Bates is coauthor (with Vince Burns) of the book “Rincon Point,” on sale at the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History and elsewhere. He is a professor of journalism at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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