Downtown 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…)
Sam Sirdofsky is eighty-four years old and still defying gravity. She is flying high, working hard at her craft while displaying her talents at several different locations including the Russian River Art Gallery in Guerneville along the Russian River. Sam was born in Berkeley and holds a BA and an MA in visual arts and art history from the California College of the Arts and the San Francisco Academy of Art. A long career in illustration placed her work in major periodicals, animated commercials and fun projects such as rock posters (The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, The Black Keys) and children’s books.
Sam Sirdofsky’s giclee at the far left recently sold for $40k and is typical of her whimsical spirit. Her warmth and humor is visible in her work, translating into some great fun. The Russian River Valley is blessed with so many wonderful artists. Check Sam out at the R.R. Art Gallery.
Sonny Barger and his Hells Angels thundered up Highway One along the California coast one day in the late sixties. As the story goes, they parked their Harleys in front of the Jenner Inn and entered a redwood structure, which housed the lodge office, post office, tavern, family fish house and a general store. The owner refused to serve the bikers, cradling a shotgun. Sonny stood his ground, demanding some liquor. Another refusal. An Angel ignored the response and started to circle the counter toward the whiskey rack.
Without warning, shots rang out. A spray of rock salt hit the biker in the leg. He moaned and started to raise a fist when the owner said that he had called the sheriff. Sonny reeled back in his “brother” and the pack exited the store.
Outside, they were greeted by a pair of deputies. A standoff soon developed. (more…)
W.W.II along the West Coast put a different face on the conflict. This is a continuation of that story. Chapter 8: On Dec. 8, 1941, immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mayor Angelo Rossi of San Francisco declared a state of emergency. Civil Defense made blackout shades mandatory with block wardens patrolling neighborhoods. This inconvenience more than outweighed the fear of an impending Japanese invasion along our western shores. But don’t tell that to Jeannette Thompson who had trouble finding her way across a blackened Golden Gate Park in her white gown only to be two hours late for her own wedding.
Santa Rosa and rural Sonoma County experienced its own blackout in early December of 1941 when the local Naval base reported that “A large number of mysterious planes were spotted flying over San Francisco before heading north…” (more…)
Northwood 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.
Northwood 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…)
The Grateful Dead have long had a connection with the North Bay. The group was formed in 1965 in Palo Alto amid the rise of the counterculture movement. Jerry Garcia spent part of his early years in the tough outer Mission District of San Francisco before moving up to Sonoma County. He attended Analy High School in Sebastopol where he won his first battle of the bands. He helped write “Dark Star” in Rio Nido while performing there in September, 1967. The lyrics were symbolic of how “far out” the universe could get, and Captain Trips wanted to stick around as long as possible to see how weird it all might become. Unfortunately, however, he retreated to Marin where his demons caught up with him, dying of a heart attack in 1995.
The Stumptown Daze parade this last Saturday in Guerneville was a hoot. I never get tired of this small town tradition. All that was the lower Russian River was represented. You had mounted honor guard, rodeo queens, antique fire trucks, politicians, the El Molino H.S. Marching Band, erotic clowns, classic cars and so much more. One of my personal favorites was a gray-haired musical group that belted out some nifty dixie and jazz tunes. Never too old to swing. There was also a ragtag group of folks who live on the edge out here along the River. They festooned themselves with a mishmash of colorful hats, striped capes, and wide grins. As my grandfather once said, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.” Everyone was welcomed to participate and why not. (more…)
In 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…)
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. (more…)