With Spring nearing, let's take a peek at Vacation Wonderland of old. This is the eleventh edition of Fellow Book Benders, a free monthly online newsletter about the ridiculous truth and historical tidbits of San Francisco, the Russian River and beyond. Can you spy a glimmer of your yesteryear from these tales? Hold on tight for a slippery ride down memory lane.
Monte Rio, in rural west Sonoma County, was a bustling community at one time. During the Big Band Era, the downtown boasted at least three hotels, several saloons, restaurants, a dance hall, a railroad station, etc. The North Pacific Coast R.R. delivered as many as fifteen thousand visitors on a summer weekend with holidays such as the 4th of July seeing that number doubled.
After the last train pulled out in 1935, there was a decrease in tourists, but you still had plenty of activity. The photos above show Main Street during the early 1950’s. On the south side (top left pic), you had various businesses including the Pink Elephant, Heinlein’s Cafe, entrance to amphitheater, Knotty Room diner (I can hear the Hawaiian music now), Noonan’s Market, and Lee Torr Jr.’s Real Estate and Insurance.
On the north side (top right pic) on Moscow Road was the old Post Office (now the Russian River Historical Society). At the intersection of Moscow Rd. and Main Street was Stella’s Bakery. Heading east remains Bartlett's market, which was and still is the main store in Monte Rio. Next was Lara’s Garage (now Noel’s Automotive Service) and Chevron gas station. Near Dutch Bill Creek was Yee’s Chinese restaurant.
We shouldn’t forget across the bridge where an indoor rollerskating rink/cafe once stood adjacent to the existing Rio Theater (between the movie house and river). Next door was Ramona’s hamburger stand (the shack is still there) while Kohler’s Hardware was across the street (now Napa Auto Parts). Remember the Union 76 Gas Station in front of Fern’s?
The Bohemian Club of San Francisco started in 1872 in the back offices of the Chronicle. The journalists added artists and musicians to the mix and would meet regularly nearby. However, William Randolph Hearst soon realized that the boys were spending more time at the “club” than at the office. To appease their boss, higher-ups such as corporate types and local military officers were included. Since 1893, their summer retreats have been held at the present location in the redwood hills of Monte Rio along the Russian River.
During the early years, access to the Bohemian Grove was by train, which entered the compound via a trestle over the Russian River near the present-day ninth tee at Northwood Golf Course. This bridge was washed out in a flood around 1910. Supposedly, every ex-Republican President since 1893 has attended the Grove.
The theme for the three-week encampment is “Weaving Spiders Come Not Here”, implying that all business deals be left outside. The opening night’s celebration begins with a Cremation of Care ceremony (top left pic). It involves the poling of a small boat across a man-made lake where hooded figures receive a child-size bundle (called "Dull Care") and place it on an altar. Warnings of impending evils screech from a forty-foot owl (its voice was that of Walter Cronkite) and soon thereafter the bundle is set afire.
Camp valets, shuttle service, personal barbers and 5-star chefs insure the presence of comfy creature features. There are art and natural museums, a market and a dining hall, a library, stage plays (e.g. George Washington and his Slave, Billy; The Count of Monte Cristo), lakeside talks (e.g. "Fly Casting Techniques"; "Physics for Future Presidents"; "The Dammed Mekong"; "The Role of Nuclear Energy") , music concerts (e.g. organ recitals; Buffalo Springfield, Steve Miller Band; The Grateful Dead), swimming, as well as trap and skeet shooting.
In recent years the most powerful men in America have attended the July retreat at the Bohemian Grove. Government types with names like Bush, Powell, Kissinger & Rumsfeld rub elbows with the Iacoccas & Gates of this world. With its combination of power and wealth, the site has long been the target of several protests, some highly charged.
Mary Moore (top left pic), a former beauty queen turned left-wing activist, spearheaded the Bohemian Grove Action Network (B.G.A.N.) to give voice to the public outcry against the commingling of CEO's and politicians. The organization aided journalists who wished to penetrate the secret surroundings of the Grove. Phillip Weiss of Spy magazine once said: “You know you are inside the Bohemian Grove when you come down a trail in the woods and hear piano music from amid a group of tents and then round a bend to see a man with a beer in one hand and his penis in the other…” Ron Jenson in a five-part Channel 4 documentary, Secret Rulers of the World, said that there was an overwhelming presence of Elvis impersonators, pseudo-pagan spooky rituals, and heavy drinking. In 2002, 37-year-old Richard McCaslin had heard on a Texas radio station that officials were burning children upon an altar at the Bohemian Grove in northern California. He came heavily armed, wearing a skull mask and outfitted with “Phantom Patriot” written across his chest. After setting several fires and squaring off against the local Sheriff’s department, he surrendered and was arrested.
Many of the locals reject these protestors, saying that the Bohemian Club has provided the area with a cultural and financial facelift (e.g. the hiring of hundreds of citizens as well as sponsoring an annual fundraiser). SIDEBARS: At one time the Bohemian "Rat Pack" consisted of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Phil Harris and Danny Kaye. This Irish contingent funneled much of the money raised at the annual variety show to St. Catherine's Catholic Church.
The Grove is particularly famous for hosting a Manhattan Project planning meeting in September, 1942, which led to the development of the atomic bomb. At the Grove that year were nuclear scientists Ernest Lawrence (Lawrence Livermore Lab) and Robert Oppenheimer as well as various military leaders.
Angelo’s Resort (top left pic), also known as Angelo’s Casino, was located on River Boulevard in Monte Rio and dates back to the 1940’s when it housed several slot machines. You could sway to the music of the pianist, who sat under a stuffed moose head, before enjoying the house specialty--veal Parmesan. A plate-glass window behind the bar allowed visitors to view the Russian River as well as to witness the nightly feeding of raccoons that would strip the spaghetti of its sauce before eating. During the daytime, swimmers gathered below at Sandy's Beach for an adventure on the rope swing or to cool off from the summer sun. It is presently known as Grandma’s House and is being used as a year-round vacation rental. The Village Innrestaurant (top right pic) traces its roots back to the Ludwig family when they built their summer home on the south bank of the Russian River in Monte Rio. In 1908, hotel construction began and it was first known as Ludwig’s Grove—possibly to identify with the nearby Bohemian Grove. In the 1930’s, the building’s name was changed to River View Inn and then to Holiday Inn, after the 1942 movie classic, which was partially filmed at the resort. The film’s iconic theme song, “White Christmas”, won the 1943 Academy Award for Best Movie Song and was written by Irving Berlin & Bing Crosby while dining at the restaurant. In 1952, the vacation spot was renamed Village Inn. Its current owners are Judy Harvey and Roger Hicks.
True Stories(or so I've been told):
Bill Schaadt (pronounced like the fish) was an artist, sign painter, collector, and avid angler. Between 1950 and 1990, he was considered one of the best fly fisherman in the United States if not the world. According to Newsweek magazine he reportedly caught more big salmon and steelhead than any other man alive. In 1974 he was the focus of a Sports Illustrated article titled "The World's Best". He was also featured in Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and several other periodicals, books and films.
With his angling skills and quirky, elusive demeanor, he became the subject of countless fishing tales. He collected just about anything that floated downstream and hauled it back to his house, which stood behind the present day elementary school. His front yard was a holding bin for hundreds of canoes, bicycles, furniture, propane tanks, car parts, framed paintings, garden tools, etc. This fitted his solitary existence. He was a loner and never married and was very possessive of his fishing holes. He would misdirect would-be fishermen by marking the wrong spot and then remarking it in the middle of the night. If others were successful in following him, he often would use a special hook that featured a soldered razor blade and cut his competitor's line.
If healthy, Bill never missed a day of fishing. Of meager means, he had to be creative. When he learned that one did not pay taxes on red-tagged property, he backed his R.V. through the house and lived in the vehicle. Bill Schaadt passed away on January 17, 1995. SIDEBAR: At one time it was estimated that 50,000 salmon came up the Russian River (official Water Agency count last year was 1,400). Fishermen would literally be knocked over if caught in the rush. The ecological disaster, however, that followed unregulated logging took its toll. By the 1970s there was very little fishing left on the north coast rivers.
The "Valentine's Day Flood of 1986" witnessed both sadness and humor. Twenty inches of rain dropped within six days. People improvised. One teenager secured a weed wacker to his surfboard and motored out of the flood. Two other men used dresser drawers like dugout canoes and paddled with their arms to safety.
Others were not so lucky. One woman tells of watching flames consume the second floor of her home while the river finished off the first level. Another submerged abode remained aglow, an eerie sight with lights quivering underwater. Locals shopped for necessities, canoeing through the aisles at Bartlett's grocery store.
The Pink Elephant saloon kept its doors open despite the presence of three feet of water. Patrons continued to play a game of pool while in boats. Others fished from atop bar stools. The bartender on the night of February 18th, closed the Pink and tried to walk through the flooded street to his home. However, somewhere along his journey he lost his way and fell into the raging waters and drowned. SIDEBAR: The family of the deceased complained to the folks at the Guerneville mortuary when their relative appeared in his coffin without his favorite leather jacket as requested. The mortician’s assistant said that the victim arrived from the local authorities without any such apparel. Two weeks later inside the town’s Safeway, someone spotted the son of the mortuary’s owner wearing the leather jacket. A struggle ensued and the treasured item was forcibly taken and returned to the family of the deceased.
Extras: Ifyou have enjoyed reading one of my novels, a short review with Amazon http://www.amazon.com would be appreciated. As Red Skelton used to say, "Good night and may God bless."
In April, we will visit San Francisco's Playland at the Beach. If you have a story regarding Playland, I would love to publish it in next month's newsletter. You can reach me through my website or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks and stay tuned. For more information on my novels as well as Don't Stop the Music (to be released in May, 2017), you can go to http://www.johnmccarty.org.