By Kirsti Scott
Like many of us, Holly Markoff has taken time while hunkered down during the pandemic to comb through family ephemera. “I unearthed some treasures while foraging through the family storage room, finding some keepers among the discards,” she says. “It’s been productive and fun learning about long-forgotten relatives and their lives.” She sent along photos of shells and a postcard with a strange-looking building and some advice from The “Hermit” of Flotsam Castle, which led me to dive into a long-lost story of an industrious beachcomber from yesteryear.
In the early 1900s, Louis C. Dart was an attorney practicing in Western Nebraska who suffered from numerous ailments, so he moved to Southern California to try to recover. Working several farm jobs to make ends meet made him even sicker, and he eventually ended up finding an old tent on the beach, just south of the area known as Clifton-by-the-Sea in Redondo Beach, below the area later developed as Hollywood Riviera.
A woman collecting clams along the shore found Louis and advised that he drink from the freshwater spring at the base of the bluffs, which she said had healing powers. Foraging for wild tomatoes and snails, and drinking the water every day for weeks, allegedly cured him of all illness.
He decided to stay, eventually building a “castle” from driftwood and other materials that washed up on the beach. Some of the items he used drifted from the port of Redondo, were washed or tossed overboard by ships, or came from occasional nearby shipwrecks. The only purchase Louis made while building his home was 20 cents for some nails. The rest came to him courtesy of “Neptune’s White Horses.” A sign above the castle door read, “This building cost but little money but much work without which life affords no satisfying kick.”
He lived with a cat and a guinea pig, and a few neighboring driftwood homes were built on the beach south of him. He earned money by selling drinks, cigarettes, candy, and pies to curious visitors. Eventually, Louis moved out of the castle, which was burned in May 1930 to make way for the Hollywood Riviera housing development.
But the story of this enterprising beachcomber who found his way back to health on the beach can still be remembered in the treasures saved from days gone by. I hope you get the chance to comb through the items saved by your family.
You never know whom you might meet!
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2020 issue.