It seems as though every California city has at one point in its history been home to an eclectic group of residents. The Guadalupe Dunes, located in Oceano, once boasted a unique community of intellectuals, mystics, artists, and vagabonds who called themselves the “Dunites”.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, a collection of disenfranchised sand worshipers claimed the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes as their own, salvaging the wood and scrap materials from an ill-conceived boardwalk and resort town built during the turn of the century. The Dunites were comprised of a number of odd personalities, including Spanish-American war veteran Edward St Claire, notable author and Socialist gubernatorial candidate Upton Sinclair, recovering alcoholic and evangelical naturalist George Blais, artist Elwood Decker, and Gavin Arthur, astrologist and grandson of President Chester A. Arthur. The members published their own alternative magazine with contributors such as Ansel Adams. Dune Forum only lasted for five issues as its expensive price of 35 cents during the Depression and Bohemian content proved to be a hard sell for the majority of the population.
In addition to being the refuge for society’s outcasts, the Oceano Dunes is an Official Archeological Site that is the resting place for Cecil B. DeMille’s massive “Ten Commandments” set, a wildlife sanctuary, and recreation area. Visitors interested in exploring this amazing landscape can delve into the area’s history at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center. For more information, check out Norm Hammond’s book, The Dunites for a comprehensive history of men and women who survived on nuts and fruit, dressed in loincloths to go to town, and wandered around the sand as modern mystics.