What’s in a name?

Miranda RobinBy Miranda Robin      October 30, 2020

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What’s in a name?
(l-r) The Rocky Ledge Land Preservation Team: R.C. Brody, Margaret Oakley, Jeanne Dancs Arthur, and William Preston Bowling. In 2015, the team raised $1.2 million to preserve an adjacent 20 acres. Photo by William Preston Bowling
As Topangans—and many others since the COVID-19 lockdown—drive up Fernwood Pacific to Tuna Canyon, they may notice an ornate wooden sculpture, a sign, hand-carved and blending nicely into the oak woodland of Dix Creek like it’s been there since the 1960s. The story behind the sign, “Robert Arthur Open Space Preserve” proclaims another victory for those who are dedicated to preserving Topanga’s open spaces. Dix Creek is a major tributary in the Topanga Creek Watershed and the six-acre preserve is the headwaters, functioning as a valuable wildlife passage and view corridor with evidence (GPS) of mountain lion(s) using these seasonal ponds. The parcel is now part of 126 continuous acres of undisturbed land bordered on the north and south by many magnificent rock formations and pristine chaparral. More than a decade ago, The Rocky Ledge Land Preservation Team was founded by Topanga residents Jeanne Dancs Arthur, R.C. Brody, William Preston Bowling, and Margaret Oakley. Together they “found” the money for the purchase and preservation of the property with funding of $206,000 from Coastal Habitat Impact Mitigation Funds; $148,000 from L.A. County Third Supervisorial District Prop 62 funds and $76,000 from Prop A funds; and $30,000 from private donations. The team owes a great debt of gratitude to Paul Edelman, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC); Garrett Weinstein from the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA); and the willing and patient seller, Will Oak Wild.  This was not the beginning of their endeavor. In addition to the Robert Arthur Open Space Preserve, The Rocky Ledge Land Preservation Team had secured more than $1.2 million and saved the adjacent 20 acres five years earlier, with help from County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Assemblymember Julia Brownley. MRCA and SMMC now own these parcels and will keep the acreage pristine for all to enjoy.
Topanga Artist Teeg Merchant and Jeanne Dancs Arthur sit in front of the sign memorializing the late Robert Arthur for his part in saving another six acres of open space. Photo by William Preston Bowling
Robert Arthur, Songwriter and Music Supervisor for The Ed Sullivan Show, decided to retire in the aptly named hills of Medley Lane. Each morning, he and his wife, Jeanne Dancs Arthur, watched in wonder as the sun rose and lit up the mountainside across the way. One December morning they were alarmed to see a bulldozer cutting a road across the mountainside.

The following day, as she sat on their land with her friend, Margaret Oakley, looking out at the cut through the chaparral, they spontaneously decided to see if they could somehow help to preserve the land as open space. That was the moment The Rocky Ledge Land Preservation Team was born, and 26 acres were saved for future generations to enjoy.

Robert Arthur passed away after a long life well lived but, sadly, before the purchase was finalized. His music lives on in the YouTube channel that Philip Otto created for Jeanne. Mike Barnes of the Hollywood Reporter talked about Robert as “the guy who creatively suggested to the Rolling Stones that they change their lyrics for their Ed Sullivan appearance from ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ to ‘Let’s Spend Some Time Together.’” There is a humorous YouTube video of Mick Jagger rolling his eyes as he sings, “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” the night they performed.(youtube.com/watch?v=Lg4VT0x_NMg).

Topangan Teeg Merchant, the artist who created the sign, made his mark in woodworking for Lloyd Wright, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright. The sign has a hint of Taliesin from the copper nameplate down to the type of wood. Jeanne contracted Teeg to make the sign in Robert’s memory because she was impressed by the work he created for them over the years. She knew Teeg would be able to make an exceptional tribute to her husband.

Today, not only will Robert’s music live on, his name is now associated with a protected open space that is harmoniously shared by humans and animals alike, not in that or any particular order.
Miranda Robin

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