The Story of Tom Runyon & The Old place
The story of Tom Runyon and The Old place began on Tom’s train ride out West to join the rest of the Runyon Clan who had made the journey from New York. In those days, coal was on the decline, and this motivated the coal baron Runyons to try their luck in Southern California. Tom’s childhood days were spent roaming the hills, the family canyon (Runyon Canyon), and the avocado orchards then being farmed in Hollywood. Later, in his teenage years, he would raise falcons for hunting, and run a trap line in the local hills for game and pelts - Tom was developing his taste for the local fare.
During the late ‘30s as ‘town’ became more populated, Tom’s mother Cornelia Runyon moved further westward to the remote outskirts of the Malibu coast, and built the still extant Runyon House. Cornelia - widowed at the time - had taken up stone sculpting and entertaining the emerging L.A. art and film crowd at her cliff-side home, giving Tom an understanding of what it took to captivate a crowd.
When the skies darkened and war loomed, Tom enlisted in the Air Corps and served in North Africa during WWII. After the war, Tom remained in the Air Force, rising to the rank of Major. Tom saved his money while in the service, and after returning to civilian life began to purchase land in Malibu. At the remarkable price of $38 an acre, he was successful and able to sustain himself financially.
Tom became friends and land partners with Dudley Murphy who had just opened the Holliday House Restaurant & Hotel at the site that is now Geoffrey’s. The Holliday House gave Tom a taste of the restaurateur’s lifestyle. At this time, Tom was living on the Santa Monica pier above the merry-go-round. Tom, known for his wild, eclectic parties, was soon to marry the love of his life Barbara, an artist with her own colorful story.
Seeking a new adventure, Tom set out into the hills he loved and came upon the shuttered Hank’s Country Store & Cornell Post Office, which he perceived as a gem in the rough - rough meaning not just the condition of the building. In the ‘60s the Cornell area was not what it is today. Hillbillies, cowboys, and good hardy folk were the locals. Spotting a potentially great opportunity, he promptly bought the building, and began the gradual process of opening The Old Place.
Renovations of The Country Store & Post Office took a few years, but finally The Old Place was ready for its debut, opening in 1970 with a cast of characters that would call it home. The Old Place attracted a wide variety of patrons from old Californian families to local Malibu stars seeking a unique crowd where everyone was treated the same. A collection of movie stars, tractor operators, outdoorsmen, artists and everyday folk mixed in the small space, and magic was created. This was the soulful heart of what we cherish today – the spirit of the place with its core of honesty, personality, and humanity. On opening night 1970 - with a wild boar on the grill hunted in Big Sur and drinks flowing - The Old Place began to fill with the smoke that gives us our flavor today.
As time passed and the restaurant thrived, Tom continued to build on the surrounding land, fleshing out his original vision of creating a place where time was a bit wound backwards. It took awhile, but Tom built the two adjoining buildings alongside the restaurant, the whole family pitching in on the construction. Even today improvements to the property are continue. For example, tile work by Alessandra Runyon’s studio can be seen detailing some of these new projects and outbuildings. Through their efforts, the Runyons have now partially resurrected the hamlet of Cornell, an unusually beautiful and quaint town that is constantly evolving.