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Malaga Cove Plaza is the northern gateway to the scenic coastal drives and views along Palos Verdes Drive West in Palos Verdes Estates.
Completed in 1930, the plaza was intended as the centerpiece of Malaga Cove, the first of several exclusive planned communities on the northern coast of Palos Verdes. Patterned after Mediterranean hillside villages, these enclaves would offer affluent homeowners all the essential amenities of golf, polo, tennis, and country clubs. Three brick buildings with arcades form a Spanish-style plaza to reflect the community’s Mediterranean ambiance. After the Depression scuttled the further development of these communities, Malaga Cove Plaza became the civic center for the city of Palos Verdes Estates.
In the center of the plaza is the Neptune Fountain, a 2/3-scale marble replica of a 16th century bronze fountain in Bologna, Italy. A large statue of the Neptune, the Roman god of water and the ocean, stands atop an ornately decorated pedestal rising from the fountain.
The Neptune statue originally installed in 1930 was an exact copy of the one in Bologna. Neptune’s anatomical completeness reportedly upset the prim and proper residents of the new Malaga Cove community. A renovation of the fountain in 1969 included a new Neptune statue, with the addition of a fig leaf to avoid further offense to public decency.
Beneath Neptune are four putti— (“poo-tee”), cherubic baby boys that were ubiquitous in Italian Renaissance art— and an array of marble figures, some of them spouting water from appropriate orifices. Given the moral outrage over the original Neptune statue, it’s strange that nobody seems to have been bothered by the lack of diapers on the putti, or the the lack of brassieres on the female figures whose bosoms gracefully spray streams of water.
The Neptune fountain and statue are iconic symbols of Palos Verdes
Estates. The statue is also the source of Palos Verdes High School’s
“Sea King” mascot.
The plaza’s bougainvillea-covered bricks display an array of colors that vary with the weather, season, and time of day. In the days before digital cameras, when I shot color negative film, these bricks were one of my favorite “stress tests” for photo labs.
In mid-day light, the bricks have an unusual color that’s not the usual “brick red.” A lab with well-trained, conscientious printing operators could deliver prints that render them with reasonable accuracy. A lab that relied entirely on automation (or that had operators who saw the bricks and set the machinery to an arbitrary “brick red”) couldn’t do that.
The best time to visit (and to photograph) Malaga Cove Plaza is in the late afternoon, just before sunset. Since the plaza faces west, the arcade is in shadow in the morning. As sunset approaches, the brick arches and the Neptune Fountain take on a warm glow and reveal their textures.
If you’re planning a visit, read these travel notes for advice on navigating the confusing intersection surrounding Malaga Cove Plaza.