Duncans Mills, the Blue Heron

images of Blue Heron

The Blue Heron was built soon after the town of Duncans Mills was established in 1877 and has served as a trusted watering hole ever since. Several history buffs whisper that it is the oldest tavern along the entire length of the Russian River. The Blue Heron is known today for its hearty pub food and selected spirits.

“What the Shuck”, the saloon’s intrepid cook, serves barbecued oysters alongside Sunday afternoon music on the patio. My dear friend Dave Camarillo, a.k.a Dr. Love, and his Blue Burners are a favorite (voted best blues band in the county by Krush radio, 95.9 FM). (more…)

Downtown Monte Rio, California

image of 1950's Monte Rio, CADowntown Monte Rio, California,  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, dance hall, 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, you witnessed a decrease in tourists, but you still had plenty of activity.  The photos show Main Street during the early 1950’s.  On the south side (top pic), you had various businesses including the Pink Elephant bar, Heinlein’s Cafe, entrance to amphitheater, Knotty Room diner, Noonan’s Market, and Lee Torr Jr.’s Real Estate and Insurance (now Burger’s Construction Shop). (more…)

Benny Barth, musician and local treasure

image of Benny Barth/ width=Benny Barth, musician and local treasure, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1929, becoming a song-and-dance man by the age of four.  He took up the trumpet but soon left it behind when he noticed that the girls liked him better as a drummer.  Benny received a music scholarship to Butler University where he played the best black jazz clubs in the city. To this day, he is the only white member of the Bebop Society of Indianapolis.  When the group met at Benny’s house, they would gather in a circle with their arms around each other, each scatting two choruses of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Hooly Koo”.  In this segregated city, neighbors would prance by, shielding children from the sinful sight.

He became part of the Mastersounds that were signed by World Pacific Records in the late fifties. They were hot, playing at the Blue Note in Chicago as well as the original Birdland in New York.  These boys had hit the national scene. (more…)

Northwood Golf Stories, Monte Rio

images of northwood-golf-clubNorthwood golf stories know no boundary.   It all began with Alister Mackenzie who built the Russian River gem in 1928.  He supposedly refused quarters at the nearby Bohemian Grove and chose instead to stay in a railroad car.   The black ‘n’ white photo shows Alister standing near his preferred  “lodging” at Northwood, which was the end of the line for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.  Just out of the reach of the local gendarmes, the temporary residence soon became the hangout for local card sharks, distillation entrepreneurs, and ladies of the night.  And all this time you thought he was a proper gentleman.  Oh my!

Contemporary tales tell of wayward golf shots that caused much consternation.   More than a few motorists have levied complaints with the pro shop, telling of white orbs hitting their vehicle on Highway 116. One such object evidently bounced from one auto to the next, ping-ponging off eight total, finally nesting in the sidecar of a W.W.II motorcycle.

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Northwood Golf Course in Monte Rio

mackenzie-golf-course-northwoodNorthwood Golf Course in Monte Rio features the magic of architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie.  He was a friend of Bohemian Jack Neville who was five-time California state amateur champion and a member of the 1923 Walker Cup team.  Neville persuaded the Brit to build a nine hole course on the seventy wooded acres across the Russian River from the Bohemian Grove.  Following construction of Northwood Golf Course in 1928, there was a succession of owners including the Korbel family.   A pedestrian bridge (remnants of which are still there if you look closely) connected the Grove to the Korbel vacation home on Redwood Drive where Bohemians would play cards, hold socials and taste local delicacies. 

Across the street and close to the ninth green still stands one of the earliest pro shops of Northwood (private residence now).  Its old charcoal stove, cleat-marked wooden floors and snooker table remind us of another era. (more…)

Alister MacKenzie Golf Courses in the Bay Area

Image of mackenzie-coursesAlister MacKenzie golf courses in the Bay Area include Sharp Park (Pacifica), Claremont Country Club (Oakland), Green Hills Country Club (Millbrae),  Northwood Golf Course (Monte Rio), and Meadow Club (Fairfax).  He is best known for Augusta National (Georgia) and Cypress (Monterey), which at one time was ranked #4 in the U.S.   Sports Illustrated called him “golf’s greatest architect.”

Although born near Yorkshire, England, his strong identification with his Scottish roots featured prominently in many aspects of his later life.  In 1897 he graduated from Cambridge University with a Bachelor of Surgery.  He served as a doctor during the Boer War in South Africa where he became fascinated with the camouflage techniques of the enemy.  As a result, he surrendered his medical practice during World War I and became a camoufleur, making the best use of natural cover. (more…)

Bohemian Grove in Monte Rio

Image of Bohemian Grove 2Image of Monte Rio-pink & protestorsIn recent years the most powerful men in America have attended the July retreat at the Bohemian Grove in Monte Rio along the lower reaches of the Russian River.  Government types with names like Bush & Powell & Kissinger & Rumsfeld rub elbows with the Lee Iacoccas & Bill Gates of this world.  With its combination of power and wealth, the Bohemian Grove has long been the target of several protests, some highly charged. (more…)

Bohemian Club of San Francisco

Image of Bohemian Club-inscription Image of Bohemian Grove 1The 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. (more…)

Railroad Misadventures along the Russian River of Old

Image of railroad at Monte RioThere were plenty of railroad misadventures along the banks of the Russian River of old.  The first wreck of the Fulton and Guerneville Line (an offshoot of the SF & NP R.R.) was in 1898.  While a locomotive was switching over to the turntable in Guerneville, it gave a nudge to a string of flats.  The brakes bled and the cars started off on the slight downgrade to Guernewood Park.  At the same moment, the Bully Boy was coming from Mission Gulch (present day Old Cazadero Rd.) with six loads of logs.  On the curve (where Old Caz Rd & Hwy. 116 meet), a head-on crash sent Bully Boy airborne. (more…)

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