Celebrate Oceano's colorful history during Dunite Days

clambert@thetribunenews.comMay 28, 2013 

“To be a Dunite, however, one does not necessarily have to live in the Dunes.”

— Gavin Arthur, writing in an issue of Dune Forum, the magazine he published in late 1933 to May 15, 1934

Chester Alan Arthur III was an unlikely Dunite.

Arthur, who changed his first name to Gavin, had money, a classical education and an aristocratic background — he was the grandson of President Chester A. Arthur, according to “The Dunites,” local historian Norm Hammond’s carefully documented account of the bohemian colonists who lived in the dunes during and after the Great Depression.

But Gavin Arthur also wanted to live simply as a hermit, and in September 1931 he started building a utopian commune in the dunes, including a private cabin near a grove of eucalyptus trees.

Today, Gavin Arthur’s cabin is the only building remaining from the community called Moy Mell, or “Pastures of Honey” in ancient Gaelic.

The cabin was winched and dragged up over the dunes into the town of Oceano in 1946 and remained near 13th and Paso Robles streets until September 2010, when it was moved to the Oceano Train Depot.

Now, members of the Oceano Depot Association hope to clean up and restore “Gavin’s Cabin.” During the association’s first-ever Dunite Days celebration on June 8 and 9, all proceeds will benefit restoration efforts.

“I’m intrigued with the utopian aspect, the idea of what it was,” said Hammond, who began his quest to study the Dunites after meeting Bert Schievink, who lived about 40 years in the dunes, in 1972. “He (Gavin Arthur) was the ringleader, and this was his cabin … the only surviving Dunite structure.”

Oceano Depot Association President Linda Austin said the group also hopes to expand the park area around the cabin with native plants, sand and benches. To her, restoring the cabin is vital to maintain a piece of Oceano’s colorful history.

“They didn’t just sit out there and do nothing,” she said of the Dunites. “They were artists and writers, philosophers and astrologists. This is a part of the life of this town that we’re trying to preserve here.”

The Oceano Depot will be open from noon to 4 p.m. during the Dunite Days event, which features a collection of Dunite art, artifacts, photos and other memorabilia. There will also be a reception on June 8 from 4 to 6 p.m. with food, entertainment and a raffle.

Commemorative mugs, wine glasses, T-Shirts, prints of Dunite art, books and other items will be available for purchase. Attendees can also buy personalized commemorative bricks, which will be used to provide a walkway to the cabin.

For more information, go to www.oceanodepot.org.

Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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