The Legend of Cum-a-Lot – Discovering Sandstone Retreat in the Swinging 60s
Read part one of The Legend of Cum-a-Lot here!
The next day we speculated on what might happen if we told Ted and Sherry about our fantasy and even that got us hot. We agreed that if we did, it had to be done in the most natural non-threatening way. Sometime later, after a particularly delightful day together, we got the opportunity. As careful as we were the tension accompanying our confession and the silence following convinced us that we had made a serious misjudgment. Our friendship with them began to dissolve. We saw them less frequently and just weeks later we began losing contact.
Eventually, Meg and I agreed that we had not blundered. We were quite clear in simply describing our fantasy and had made no threatening or insensitive moves. It seemed to be fear alone, fear of unknown or imaginary circumstances that prevented them from responding to us at all, whether positive of otherwise. We later learned that their relationship had been in serious trouble all along. They divorced and neither ever shared their feelings with us.
Our question then became: “Is it possible anywhere in this world, to be open and loving with people who understand, agree with, and can act on principles similar to ours?” We saw the idea explored in the movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice but it remained academic for us until early 1970, when we arrived back at the Sandstone Retreat.
In early 1967, three young, idealistic Los Angeles couples began their restoration and remodel and settled into the magnificent but rundown remote 15-acre Sandstone Ranch near Topanga Canyon, California, and declared their common relationship to be a clothing-optional, open-sexuality group marriage.
In the fall of 1969, Meg’s anthropology professor, the late Dr. Sally Binford, invited us to join her and some 300 staff and associates of the UCLA Neuropsychiatry Institute at Sandstone for their 1969 Halloween party. We went and we and they got a whole lot more than we had bargained for; a whole lot more. Something like was known as a “freakout.”
When word got out about the place, and its newly formed members-only Sandstone Retreat, the uninhibited avant garde, including; hedonists, journalists, psychologists and seekers, such as my Meg, and I, who were seriously interested then, as many are now in alternative lifestyles known as polyamory and polyfidelity, beat a path to their doorstep and declared the place the new Flagship of the Sexual Revolution.
We could not have imagined that we would soon become the managing directors and public spokespersons for such an institution that we would grow to over 6,000 members and supporters and become embroiled in a First Amendment court battle along the way.
People talked about Sandstone at Ed Lange’s Elysium Fields, also in Topanga Canyon. Elysium operated from 1967 to 2000, and was a clothing-optional growth center similar to Esalen in Big Sur, California. Seminars and workshops were presented as opportunities for personal change and growth. Neither was a place where “sick” people went to be “cured” but rather where open, curious people might go to learn more about their bodies and minds. Unlike the other places, we were told, where aggressive single men often outnumbered the women and “meditation rooms” were used for trysts, Sandstone insisted on openness and “gender balance,” a precisely even number of men and women, preferably “couples,” particularly during their wild weekend parties.
In January, 1970, we saw a small notice about Sandstone in the then notorious Los Angeles Free Press, an underground alternative newspaper founded by our delightful friend-to-be Art Kunkin. It listed the phone number of an office in Westwood. A man with a Bavarian accent named Albert invited us over to chat. Within minutes of our meeting he gave us both big hugs, took a $20 guest fee from and sent us along with an invitation to visit that Saturday evening.
The road to Sandstone is a two-lane, steeply rising, blindly curving piece of driver and vehicle torture. At night, as you pass over narrow ridges and around sheer outcroppings, you get brief glimpses of the sparkling city lights below. One last bit of rough road and you enter the flagstone lined courtyard of the remote mountainous estate carved in broad terraces from the native sandstone. In front of you is the expansive hacienda-style main lodge, to the right the redwood building enclosing the full-sized 90-degree swimming pool and beyond, acres of lawn, gardens, dozens of old eucalyptus trees and several residential buildings.
We parked and entered the lodge and came face-to-face with a nude, voluptuous, gamine-coifed pixie of a woman who delivered firm handshakes and introduced herself as Barbara Williamson. There were perhaps 20 other nude people in the large, plush, beam-ceilinged salon as she brought us over to the great raging hearth to meet her striking blond, blue-eyed husband, John, and another very handsome couple named Dave and Oralia.
Barbara took us on a tour of the place where we witnessed for the second time in our lives copulating couples and coupling multiples virtually everywhere we looked: in comfy dimly-lit corners of the salon; dozens in the red carpeted, mirror lined “ballroom” on a lower floor, some in front of that room’s fireplace; several on blankets on the front lawn under a full moon, and bunches in the dense fog of the heated indoor pool. Despite the forgoing, words cannot describe the sights and sounds, including choice rock n’ roll coming over the elaborate hi-fi, of the moans and groans and shrieks of orgasms as well as laughter at the clever commentary of a few pleasantly waggish participants.
It appeared to be almost exclusively heterosexual among the men with woman acting as bridges between them or engaging in consensual lovemaking for their mutual enjoyment. Barbara steered us toward the unisex dressing room telling us to make ourselves at home then tactfully excused herself and left us there alone.
We stood there for a moment facing rows of neatly hung clothing with lines of shoes and duffels on the floor below. We peered back out of the room and saw adult humans ranging from 18 to around 50 years old, of varying sizes and colors, mostly quite fit and attractive, wandering in and out and greeting us and one another with smiles of joy. In moments, our clothing and shoes joined the inventory and off we went, hand in hand, both with big smiles on our faces and I with an enormous throbbing erection.
We stayed together that evening savoring the spectacular Sandstone environment and wound up on one of the gold velour couches in the spacious upstairs salon, wrapped in plush towels and rapt in deep conversation with two other couples who had been members for several weeks. We talked with a couple married 37 years and another on a blind date. Suddenly, we noticed it getting light outside. We had been up all night and had no idea of time or of fatigue.
At the far end of the room were a large dining area and a long formal table. We watched as several individuals carried pitchers of juice and milk, a coffee urn, plates and tableware and trays of pastries, bagels and eggs benedict to the flower laden table. In a flash we realized that we were famished and leaped to our feet to join the already lengthening queue. Oh, the tastes and the odors. Breakfast was never so good.
We walked outside onto the southern balcony of the lodge and first realized the remoteness of the place. There were just a couple of small houses below and well over a mile away, with the road beyond them. To the east the sun was rising over a rocky ridge, on the west a steep scrub-lined slope, on the north the distant Sandstone Peak above and to the south a wild 1700 foot deep canyon with the Malibu coastline and the blue Pacific horizon beyond.
Then it hit me: The totality of this intense night of open sexuality, at least in this first instance, felt to me just like the liberating peak experience of a well-guided, well-tolerated consciousness expanding psychedelic experience, of which we had had many. As Timothy Leary had taught us, one’s emotional “set” and the protective physical “setting” of the trip had to be meticulously planned. Just then Meg turned to me and said, “What a trip…”
To be continued next week!