New Visitor Center Opens in Santa Monica Mountains (Photos)

One room of the visitor center mimics canyons | Photo: Zach Behrens

Hikers, cyclists and other lovers of the great outdoors can begin taking advantage of a newly headquartered visitor and recreation center in the Santa Monica Mountains. More than 800 guests attended the grand opening over the weekend, with tours focusing on the history of the area, the sustainability of the design, and the interactive features to make navigating the mountain range's numerous spots and 500 miles of trails easier.

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"Our goal is to make this complex network of parks more accessible and more understandable to the people of Southern California," said Lorenza Fong, who is the acting superintendent of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a 150,000-acre expanse managed by several agencies, from local to federal. "That's why we've moved to a more central location, why we're putting all the park partners in one building, and why we've installed touch screens with bilingual trip planners to help visitors find the perfect outdoor experience -- no matter whose land it's on."

Located at Las Virgines and Mulholland Highway near Calabasas at King Gillette Ranch -- which is named after the razor magnate -- the center was formerly a horse stable for the Gillette Mansion and re-purposed to accommodate some 35 million annual visitors to the Santa Monica Mountains.

Touch screens allow visitors to input criteria, such as dog-friendly, difficulty of hike, or best views, to find their ideal spot in the recreation area. | Photo: Zach Behrens

The center -- jointly managed by the National Park Service (NPS), California State Parks (CSP), Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) -- hopes to promote greater efficiency by replacing a former National Park Service (NPS) visitor center, which was situated in a poor-visibility area in Thousand Oaks.

Moreover, in compliance with the sustainability goals, the building is the first "net zero" visitor center. It even achieved platinum certification for environmental sustainability, meeting 2020 federal standards for sustainability eight years ahead of schedule. A website tracks how much energy the photovoltaic solar energy system panels generate.

Solar energy panels produce energy for the building while shading visitor's vehicles. | Photo: Zach Behrens

A view of the carport solar energy panels from below. | Photo: Zach Behrens

Former Congressman Anthony C. Beilenson, for whom the center is named, attended the grand opening.

Beilenson had introduced legislation in 1978 to create a Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. "This new visitor center is exactly where it should be -- where everyone involved in bringing this park into existence over all these many years had always hoped that it would be," he said.

King C. Gillette hired Wallace Neff, who is often referred to as the "Architect of California's Golden Age," to design the estate in 1926. The 588-acre property was finished in 1928, shortly after it was completed and MGM movie director Clarence Brown, whose credits include "Anna Karenina," "National Velvet," and "The Yearling," purchased it a mere seven years later, often using the property as a filming location.

It was sold again in 1952 and went through several owners, before being jointly acquired in 2005 by NPS, CSP, SMMC, and MRCA for $35 million.

Funding for the project was a combination of government sources and private donations. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act granted $9.5 million in funding for the visitor facility's construction. Additional contributions came from MRCA and SMMC.

Photo: Zach Behrens

Photo: Zach Behrens

Photo: Zach Behrens

Photo: Zach Behrens

Visitors can share photos to become part of an exhibit. | Photo: Zach Behrens

Photo: Zach Behrens

Retention ponds help capture rainwater and filter out pollution before water joins the ground water system. | Photo: Zach Behrens

Photo: Zach Behrens

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About the Author

I am a journalist and researcher, and have written numerous research and investigative pieces. My work has been published with several notable organizations, including Annenberg Digital News, CAMERA, KCET, the Middle East Forum, P...
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