About a decade ago, the Palos Verdes Historical Society was looking for a place to store a mammoth tusk.
Ginger Clark, a Rancho Palos Verdes resident, heard about the tusk — which hasn’t been on display since the old museum it used to call home closed in 2006 — and the society’s efforts to find somewhere to keep it. She had a simple reaction:
Since then, the tusk, discovered in 1927 in the Peninsula’s Malaga Canyon, has been securely kept in a museum case and under tarps in Clark’s front yard, at the corner of Grayslake Road and Montemalaga Drive.
It was under a tree; nobody could see it,” said Clark, adding she rarely told anyone about the tusk in fear that it would be stolen. “People worked around it. Who would know there was a museum case there anyway?”
But Clark plans to move in the fall and can no longer keep it. So the tusk had to move as well — and is now on display once more.
The tusk was installed Saturday, March 27, at the Peninsula Center Library, in Rolling Hills Estates. The tusk, about 4 feet, 2 inches in length, is on a long-term loan to the library from the Historical Society.
Clark, who published the book “Rancho Palos Verdes” as part of the Images of America series in 2009, said this will be the first time the tusk will be out in public in about 15 years.
“The tusk was on display at the old museum, which was located in the tower at the Malaga Cove School,” Clark said. “It was shut down in 2006 when the school district took back the building. Everything went into storage then. So this is the first public display of the tusk since then.”
And, when the Peninsula Center Library opens to the public April 6, for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the mammoth tusk will be a centerpiece, said Jennifer Addington, director of the Palos Verdes Library District. It will be in its original-but-refurbished plexiglass case.
“(It will be) in a nice central spot in the middle of the library,” Addington said, “between reference and circulation.”
The tusk’s origins
The mammoth tusk — which could have been 10-feet long when the animal was alive — was discovered by Dr. F.H. Racer, from Lomita, in 1927, and excavated that same year by John Kohler, according to Joe Cocke, a retired National History Museum of Los Angeles worker.
Cocke, who lives in Redondo Beach and still scours the Palos Verdes Peninsula for fossils, said that at the time, Kohler identified the tusk as coming from a mastodon, but it was later determined to come from a mammoth.
The mammoth tusk was varnished in 1927 after it was first found, Cocke said, and when it was uncovered from the tarps recently, it was still in good shape. He cleaned the tusk and put a coat of sealer for extra protection.
Cocke, who worked for the Natural History Museum for 33 years, wrote “Fossils of the Palos Verdes Hills” and has been digging up history on the Peninsula since he moved to Rolling Hills as a child. There are, he said, other archeological finds in Palos Verdes.
“When I worked at the (LA) museum,” Cocke said, “we collected a mammoth in the same canyon, a real nice one.”
Hope for a museum
And now, the Palos Verdes Historical Society wants to convince a benefactor to come forward to fund a permanent museum that can house some of their prized artifacts, said Dwight Abbott, a board member and cofounder of the society.
Some of the artifacts are:
- A classic Chickering grand piano manufactured in about 1880, which was owned by actress Joan Crawford;
- Two models of the Vanderlip estate that Frank Vanderlip, founder of the Peninsula, had made in France. The Vanderlip estate sold last year for more than $10 million;
- The original King Neptune statue from Malaga Cove Plaza that was stolen in 1969 and later returned; and
- A bison pelvis bone, dated to be about 13,500 years old, which Cocke unearthed in 2012.
The bison pelvis, Abbot wrote in an email, is particularly noteworthy.
“Most interesting is that the bone bears butcher marks from Paleo-Indians,” Abbott said, “that indicate this area was among the earliest human occupation on the West Coast.”
Dana Graham, president of the Peninsula’s historical society, echoed the need for a permanent museum.
“We’re trying to get this stuff out,” Graham said, “and let people see it since we don’t have a place to display it.”