The stone walls of a home built to withstand a California wildfire still stand after more than a century.
Solstice Canyon Trail provides a shady, stunning hike through the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu. Not far up the trail is the Keller House, stone ruins persevering through more than 100 years of wildfires. According to the placard, when a wildfire burned through Solstice Canyon in 1903, the wooden cabin Henry Keller had purchased only two years before was decimated. Keller rebuilt the home, and used stone so that it could withstand fires. Though parts of the house have crumbled, the walls and chimney still stand.
Thanks to its durable building materials, Keller House is often touted as one of the oldest houses in Malibu. But compared to how long the surrounding area has been inhabited, the house is young. For thousands of years, the Chumash tribe of Native Americans lived throughout California, including in Solstice Canyon. The Chumash village of Loxostoxni was located at the mouth of Solstice Canyon until about 1800. But the Spanish began colonizing the area, including the Chumash domain, and in 1804 the Solstice Canyon area was deeded to the rancher José Bartolomé Tapia, and the land became known as Rancho Malibu. In 1857, Tapia’s grandson-in-law sold his interest in the land to Matthew Keller.
Many associate the Keller House with Matthew Keller, a famous vintner who owned wineries in downtown Los Angeles (at Union Station’s current location) and in Malibu. The Rising Sun Trail in Solstice Canyon is said to be named after Matthew’s winery on Alameda Street. But Matthew Keller’s son Henry inherited the land from his father and sold it off.
The wood cabin on the property was occupied by squatters who had moved it a short distance away from the property line. Soon after Keller sold the land, he purchased the wood cabin from the squatters to use for hunting. Only after his hunting cabin burned did Henry build the stone structure seen today.
In 2003, the National Park Service discovered Chumash remains from approximately 200 years ago in Solstice Canyon. The NPS negotiated with the Chumash who consented to removal of the remains, and the rest of the site was dug by hand.
Know Before You Go
The Solstice Canyon Trail is paved for the first half mile and stroller friendly up to the Keller House. The house is fenced off and under video surveillance, but can be seen fairly close-up by crossing a small bridge after viewing the informational placard on the trail. Wildfires often damage the area and lead to trail closures, including the 2007 Corral Fire and the 2018 Woolsey Fire.
After viewing the Keller House, continue on the Solstice Canyon Trail to see the ruins of the Roberts' House (built in the 1950s and destroyed by fire in 1982). The architect of the Roberts' House, Paul Revere Williams, also worked on the Theme Building at LAX and Murphy Ranch.
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