The Past is Present at Big Sycamore Maintenance Station
If you are a fan of late 1920s California architecture and the beach, this maintenance station is a dream location.
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There is a place on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) near Point Mugu in Malibu that’s so serene, so fragrant and so lovely it could be a high-end spa or meditation retreat. It is, instead, the Big Sycamore Caltrans maintenance station.
Built between 1929 and 1931, in what a 1992 Caltrans’ architectural report calls “Californian/Spanish Colonial Revival” style, its construction closely followed the completion of PCH through Malibu in 1928. The station was one of a growing number in the more remote areas that were built to house not just equipment but also maintenance crews who could not otherwise find affordable (or any) housing nearby.
Big Sycamore features a foreman’s cottage adjacent to the station, along with a large garage and a handful of out-buildings. It has been virtually untouched since its construction. Its sister station in Malibu, Las Flores, was built around the same time but had been altered from the original before portions of it burned down in 1993.
In addition to the age and style of the buildings, “what’s unique about the station is …how beautiful it is here,” said West Region Area Superintendent Vic Korzan, who has worked in the area for about eight years.
Korzan pointed out some of the yard’s features, such as the garage. Vehicles were considerably smaller in 1929, so the thick wooden doors can’t accommodate today’s maintenance equipment, although there’s adequate parking outside. The structure, which houses tools and other miscellaneous items, features the terra cotta barrel tile roof typical to the era, as do all the support buildings.
Not that long ago, the adjacent cottage was occupied by a succession of Caltrans supervisors. Now, it is used by Point Mugu State Park as a nature museum where tours and classes are held during the summer. Although a large bobcat is now mounted where a worker once probably hung his jacket, the cottage is still very well preserved as a residence.
Station personnel consist of Supervisor Barbara Cisneros and a crew of five. They are kept very busy catering to the endless demands of PCH, which frequently takes a pounding from either the sea on one side or the rocks on the other. “Maintaining it is a challenge but I have a terrific crew,” Cisneros said.
Challenge is an understatement for the trials of last December, when severe rainstorms caused rock slides that required closing the road for about three weeks. It reopened on January 8 (for details on the storm detail, see “The Pacific Coast Highway gets Rocked” in this issue of Inside 7).
“It’s a great-looking building and everybody really likes working here,” added Korzan. “The employees take pride in the area – up and down the coast and the maintenance station.” Not that it’s all a day at the beach, however. The crew has to deal with a variety of critters including rattlesnakes and tarantulas (!). They have even had to rescue seals that wandered onto the roadway.
Despite its age, Korzan insists the station is still very functional. Sure, there are some minor inconveniences, such as older plumbing and heating and the relatively small size of the yard. “But all in all, if you asked them, I don’t think anybody would trade this place for one of the modern Caltrans buildings,” he said. “Every time you walk in you can feel the past.”