04 March 2018

Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact #57: Edendale Christian Retreat, Brea, ca. 1963

This entry in the Carbon Canyon Historical Artifact series highlights a color postcard from the early 1960s of the Edendale Christian Retreat, which operated for several years in that decade at the west end of the canyon at its intersection with Soquel Canyon.

As noted in several posts on this blog previously, a major figure in the canyon was Edward F. Gaines, who owned the Flying Cow Ranch for about a half-century from the early 1900s to the mid 1950s.  Gaines, who lived in the Paramount area near Long Beach, built a Craftsman-style ranch house, raised hunting dogs, stored his treasured and authentic 19th century stage coach, among other elements at the Flying Cow over the years.

The family of Syd and Ann Sybrandy, highlighted in the Long Beach Independent Press Telegram, 25 December 1955, as they celebrated their first Christmas in the United States after migrating from South Africa through the Netherlands.  Click on any image to see them enlarged in a separate window.
After his death, the family sold the property and part of it became the Olinda Village subdivision which was created in 1964.  On the south side of the property and on the other side of Carbon Canyon Road, about 100 acres became the Edendale Christian Retreat.

The facility was created by Sytze (Sydney) Sybrandy, born in 1913 in Exmorra, a small dairy town in the northern Netherlands who lived for years in South Africa, where he married Ann Munnik in 1942.  While his family were dairy farmers in both Holland and South Africa, Sybrandy went into civil engineering, receiving a degree in the subject in Cape Town in the latter country.  He worked on bridge and road construction projects, followed by those with apartments and factories, before he formed his own practice in 1948.

Los Angeles Times, 25 August 1960.
In spring 1955, the couple and their three children (two daughters and a son) emigrated by ship to the United States, coming through New York.  They settled in the Artesia/ Cerritos area, where Sybrandy's parents and siblings settled and operated a dairy.  Today there is a Sybrandy Street in Cerritos on the site of the dairy.  Later, brothers of Sybrandy operated dairies in Chino and Ontario, after the diary areas of Artesia/Norwalk/Cerritos were developed, and then on to places like San Jacinto near Hemet.

The first Christmas the Sybrandys, who had three daughters and a son, spent in America was covered in a lengthy article in the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram including a photograph of the family.  The piece noted that, while in South Africa, the yuletide holiday came in the summer, the family had to adjust to a different season even in the Mediterranean climate of greater Los Angeles.

Times, 25 April 1963.
The article also noted that "because native labor is cheap in South Africa, most households have several servants," a "luxury [that] is prohibitive in the United States."  This vague reference was to the use of blacks as household labor in a country with a brutally repressive apartheid regime. Additionally, the piece stated that the family was not particularly religious in South Africa, but were converted by American missionaries and did work among the black population before migrating to the Unites States.

Sybrandy continued with a private civil engineering practice in Garden Grove and also was an architect for the Reformed Church of America, established in 1628 by Dutch colonists at New Amsterdam, better known as New York City.  He designed and contracted to build church structures in Pomona and Diamond Bar, for example.

Times, 21 April 1963.
Having a successful practice in the post-World War II boom years in America, Sybrandy, in 1960, purchased 87 acres of Gaines' Flying Cow Ranch, including the ranch house and other structures.  The family was residing in Buena Park when the acquisition of the ranch was made. 

In August, Sybrandy and his wife formally filed an application for rezoning "for [the] establishment of a non-denominational religious retreat" that was to be used for weekend events and feature "cabins, house trailer accommodations, picnic grounds, artificial lake, chapel and an open-air theater."  It was reported in the Los Angeles Times that the Sybrandys "plan to develop the retreat as a philanthropic project with funds they saved during 20 years that Sybrandy worked as a civil engineer."

Times, 21 April 1963.
With the rezoning approved, the Sybrandys developed Edendale into the retreat and an April 1963 feature in the Times featured the headline "Retreat Begins to Attract Attention."  Described as a 100-acre property, Edendale was said to have been "little more than brushland two years ago" when Syd decided to "do something more worthwhile with my life" and develop the retreat, which "caters mostly to church groups, particularly the youth organizations."  There were also family reunions, picnics and campouts held there, as well, according to the article.

Among the amenities was a 64-person dormitory, with sleeping arrangements of eight to a room; a lodge; a dining room; and a recreational area.  It was also noted that
Natural facilities include the steep walls of the Carbon Canyon which form a natural amphiteater used to present biblical pageants. "Eventually," Sybrandy explains, "we plan to have a trail of scenes from the Bible along the walls of the canyon.  Each will be lighted in turn at night with a taped narration broadcast over our public address system  This is the sort of thing we do for our Easter Sunrise Pageant."
Those Easter events were held for several years and included reenactments of scenes from the Bible concerning the life of Jesus and which featured Sybrandy's children and live animals raised at the site.  Nativity pagrants were also conducted at the retreat.  Churches were said to be very enthusiastic about Edendale, with one Long Beach church member stating "this is one of the best things in the world for these young people" because there was nothing like it for them in an area where "everything is houses and asphalt."

Times, 19 December 1963.
With hayrides, campfires, volleyball, hiking, sing-alongs, and pillow fights, as well as the barnyard with animals given Biblical names, there was plenty to do.  Sybrandy was quoted as saying "It's a tough job . . . but this is something that's really worthwhile—something that gives you a warm feeling . . . I'd rather have that good feeling than all the money in the world."

Edendale, however, struggled to keep the momentum going over the long haul.  Perhaps a major issue was that the increasing development in north Orange County made the trip out to Carbon Canyon seem like less of a retreat, compared to camps in the local mountains, for example.  While youth and adults events continued to be held out there until at least 1968, the decision was made to sell the property.  Sybrandy and his family lived in Brea for a time before he moved to San Diego County, where he died in 1998 at age 85.

Times, 7 June 1964.
By summer 1970, Hollydale Mobile Home Estates was developed and opened on much of the Edendale site, though the western portion of the property remained for religious uses, housing Christian churches (including a Korean one in recent years) and, for the last several years, a Hindu temple.

The postcard is taken from the steep hillsides across Carbon Canyon Road to the north of Edendale.  The state highway, which was designated in 1933 but not signed and which was renumbered State Route 142, with signs, in 1964, is barely visible at the lower left corner.  A tree lined driveway led to the complex. with the steep two-gabled white roof of the Gaines ranch house is just right of center.

Times, 23 March 1967.
A large swimming pool with a L-shaped structure adjacent and a host of other buildings dot the landscape.  In the background are the rolling hills at the junction of Carbon Canyon, which is to the left, and Soquel Canyon at the center.  It would be another twenty years or so before Chino Hills State Park was established where the main group of hills are behind the retreat.

On the reverse of the postally unused card, produced by Amescolor, an Escondido company that produced postcards for the nearby La Vida Mineral Springs (which is likely where Sybrandy heard about the company), is a short description with the address and phone number of Edendale and reading "Close to population areas of Los Anglees and Orange Counties. Ideal for retreats, banquets, group meeting, hayrides, swim parties, etc."

A color postcard of the Edendale Christian Retreat taken from across Carbon Canyon Road, ca. 1963.
While it didn't last particularly long, the Edendale Christian Retreat is still an interesting part of the broader history of Carbon Canyon and this postcard is a rare document of the facility.


Anonymous said...

I swam there often hiked the grounds raided the fruit trees enjoyed the animals housed there. I attended school with their daughter Pam . lived across the road for years and enjoyed it all. GOOD TIMES .

prs said...

Thanks anonymous for your recollections and glad you found the blog and post.