Photo: Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. Courtesy of Atelier Éditions.

Sun Seekers

  • Words Lyra Kilston

Author Lyra Kilston charts a fascinating scene from the Golden State’s vast counterculture mythology.

  • Words Lyra Kilston

A black-and-white photograph from 1948, taken in a canyon near Los Angeles, shows a group of seven mostly bearded and bare-chested men holding long wedges of watermelon. Their faces range from beaming to contemplative, their physiques from ascetic yogi to muscled surfer, and their stance, as though emerging from a bush, invokes their nickname: “Nature Boys.”

“We all had a common desire to abandon civilization and to live a natural, healthy life,” one of them later reflected. Their needs were minimal: sun, water, fresh produce, and some companionship. Another photograph shows them beatifically playing mandolin, guitar, and drum, bare-chested on a sunny sidewalk. These are the only two known photographs showing this loose group of what might be called proto-hippies, or perhaps Calif...

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