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…)
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…)
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…)
There 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…)
The Russian River flood of 1986 brought both sadness and humor to the scene. One story relates how the Pink Elephant saloon in Monte Rio kept its doors open despite the presence of three feet of muddy water inside. Patrons continued to play a game of pool while in their boats. Others fished from atop bar stools.
There were also stories of bewilderment and sadness. The bartender on the night of February 18th, closed the Pink Elephant 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. 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, one of the family members spotted the son of the mortuary’s owner wearing the leather jacket. A struggle ensued and the treasured item was forcibly returned to the family of the deceased. (more…)
In the historical fiction novel, Stumptown Daze, we go back to 1960 and find our two lovers, Lani and Jake, visiting Angelo’s Resort (also formerly known as Angelo’s Sandy Beach Resort and Restaurant) in the backwater town of Monte Rio, California. Jake, a germaphobe, is repulsed by the sight of customers feeding raccoons and he goes on a tantrum. Needless to say, this causes newfound friction for our offbeat couple.
I remember my parents taking us kids to Angelo’s during the 1950’s (see image of dining-dancing lounge above). My favorite dish to order as a ten-year-old was veal parmesan. I would scrape off the cheese and eat it and leave the rest for the local critters. This bewildered my mom to no end not to mention my father who had to fork out the money for such a waste.
Stumptown Daze, a romantic comedy novel, has a scene at Monte Rio’s Village Inn.
In Stumptown Daze, our caregiver Lani and her new boyfriend Jake have a mishap at the Village Inn on their way to another iconic restaurant–Angelo’s. To this day, the Village Inn is not only a favorite spot for the wife and me, but also for luminaries from the nearby Bohemian Grove.
In older days, the Russian River Rat Pack consisted of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Phil Harris and Danny Kaye–all fine Catholics until they arrived at the summer retreat. The annual variety show was a fundraiser for the local Catholic church, St. Catherine. Many an hour was spent by these Bohos at the Northwood Golf Club. Phil Harris would rent a house near the ninth hole and roast passing golfers. Bob Hope’s one liner regarding the course still holds true today: “The fairways at Northwood are so narrow you have to walk down them single file.” (more…)