Sandstone Retreat

Sandstone Retreat, officially the Sandstone Foundation for Community Systems Research,[1] was a clothing-optional, open sexuality resort for swingers located at Sandstone Ranch, a 15-acre (6.1 ha) estate in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Malibu and the Pacific Ocean.

Intentional Community
Sandstone Ranch
Location within Los Angeles County
Coordinates: 34°4′3″N 118°37′20″W
Country United States
State California
CountyLos Angeles
Founded byJohn and Barbara Williamson
  Total6 ha (15 acres)
519 m (1,702 ft)
Time zoneUTC-8 (Pacific (PST))
  Summer (DST)UTC-7 (PDT)

The community’s beginnings are based on the philosophical ideals of John (July 31, 1932 March 24, 2013)[2] and Barbara Williamson. John was an engineer by training, and a former project manager with Lockheed Aircraft who worked on the design and management of missile support systems, including development of the Polaris missile.[3] In the early 1960s, he opened his own electronics company, but later sold it to purchase the property at 21400 Saddle Peak Road, a cluster of well-maintained buildings on a 15-acre hilltop site in Topanga Canyon in 1968,[4] and founded the Sandstone Foundation for Community Systems Research, Inc. in 1969.[3] Barbara Williamson, née Cramer, was a former insurance sales representative[5] who had met and married her husband in 1966.[3] The Williamsons believed their venture was about exchanging partners for sex and setting society free,[2] and that monogamy was sexually unsatisfactory and preventing people from having full lives.[6]

The retreat offered members and guests over the age of 18 the resources of a spa with the addition of several large open communal sleeping areas, both indoor and outdoor, and communal bathrooms. Prospective members were interviewed on a daytime visit to determine suitability.[7]

The retreat was managed by a residential community consisting of up to 20 persons, a self-selective job. At its height in the early 1970s, it welcomed such members as Daniel Ellsberg, Anthony Russo, Betty Dodson, Max Lerner, and Dr. Alex Comfort, as well as a variety of major and minor Hollywood celebrities, educators, attorneys as well as members of the public.[8] The Williamsons sold the resort in 1973; reputedly never profitable, it finally closed in 1976.[3]

The retreat was the subject of a documentary called Sandstone (1975), still in release through It is mentioned in the 1973 edition of More Joy of Sex, by Dr. Alex Comfort (it was omitted from later editions),[9] and treated in the book Thy Neighbor's Wife (1980) by American author Gay Talese, who first set foot in Sandstone in 1971[2] as part of his preparations for writing, and lived at the retreat for several months.[10]


  1. Alex Mar, "What Happened to 'The Most Liberated Woman in America'?", Atlas Obscura, June 7, 2016.
  2. William Yardley "John Williamson, Co-Founder of the Sandstone Retreat, Dies at 80", New York Times, 4 May 2013
  3. Obituaruy: John Williamson,, 30 May 2013
  4. Kevin Roderick & AP "John Williamson, founder of Sandstone nudist and sex retreat was 80", LA Observed, 3 May 2013
  5. Ferderber, Skip: Times Staff Writer (April 6, 1972). Los Angeles Times (ed.). "Sandstone: Close-up of a Unique Life-style". John Williamson at Homestead.
  6. "John Williamson: Free-love pioneer", The Independent, 8 May 2013
  7. Hatfield, Tom; Rimmer, Robert H (December 12, 1988). Sandstone Experience. Random House Crown. p. 184. ISBN 978-0517518793. OCLC 1176055.
  8. Richler, Mordecai (April 28, 1980). New York Magazine (ed.). "Thy Neighbor's Wife (Book Review)". Bad Vibrations. Google Books. pp. 46, 48, 49.
  9. Comfort, Alex; Raymond, Charles; Foss, Christopher (1974). More Joy of Sex - A Lovemaking Companion To The Joy Of Sex. Fireside/Simon & Schuster. pp. 159–167. ISBN 978-0671221249. OCLC 43004433.
  10. Frayser, Suzanne G; Whitby, Thomas J (June 15, 1995). Studies in Human Sexuality: A Selected Guide. Libraries Unlimited. pp. 663–664. ISBN 978-1563081316. OCLC 246859790.
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