Bill Wheeler and Lou Gottlieb established communes in west Sonoma County in 1967 during the Summer of Love fifty years ago. Lou’s Morning Star Ranch was west of Sebastopol while Wheeler Ranch was on Coleman Valley Road west of Occidental. The land set people free of convention, government and uptight parents. Abodes consisted of everything from earthen domes to tree houses to a mattress under the stars. There was no electricity while showers were found under a garden hose or inside a sweat house. The preferred dress code was au naturel, weather permitting.
Music was always in the air with hippies breaking into song without provocation or reason. A rhythm section would soon appear, kids of all ages banging on inverted cans or upturned oatmeal boxes. Celebrated musicians would also lend their melodic muses to the festivities. The Steve Miller Band, The Grateful Dead, The Limeliters (of which Lou Gottlieb was an original member), Moby Grape, Jimi Hendrix and others would show up announced. (more…)
Negri’s Restaurant in Occidental came to be when Joe Negri Sr. crossed the Atlantic and left the canals of Venice behind. After landing on Ellis Island, he soon found a job cooking at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in N.Y. where he caught the attention of Rudolph Valentino. Joe soon became Valentino’s personal chef, traveling to San Francisco. Mr. Negri later moved north to Occidental in 1938 and purchased the site where Negri’s rests today.
His wife Theresa cooked while Joe ran the bar. He always had a quarter and a joke ready for the children as he traveled through the dining room to greet customers. Joe passed in 1970 and Theresa left us in 1994. Today Evelyn Negri, her daughter Sandy, and her grandchildren Amanda and Tori take care of the family legacy. (more…)
Fiori’s Restaurant in Occidental was the pride and joy of Ray Fiori, a tireless chef who oversaw some of the county’s most popular kitchens in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Born Aug. 29, 1924, in Santa Rosa to Clara and Anthony Fiori, Ray was one of four children reared in the restaurant world. He attended grammar school in Santa Rosa before the family moved to Occidental to open Fiori’s restaurant in 1935.
Ray Fiori eventually enrolled at Tomales High School. After graduation, he joined the Army Air Forces, but his plane crashed during a training mission and the bellygunner suffered injuries that cut short his stint in the service. After being medically discharged, he returned to Sonoma County and his parents’ Occidental restaurant. (more…)
Freight trains in 1915 would normally leave Occidental in rural Sonoma County around 7:30 a.m. for the ferry terminal at Sausalito and return late afternoon. While timber had been the main cargo for the previous three decades, greed reduced the redwoods to 5% of their original growth. The final knockout was the Russian River fire of September 17, 1923, which burnt everything from Guerneville to the Pacific Ocean. With this calamity, there was a shift in merchandise. (more…)
Morningstar Ranch in Occidental, CA was an active open land counterculture commune (also known as The Digger Farm). In my upcoming crime novel, Don’t Stop the Music, two youths flee from the clutches of a San Francisco mobster and hide in the redwood hills of rural northern California at the enclave.
Morningstar was part of the changing society of young adults in the 1960’s that traveled back and forth between the Haight-Ashbury and Sonoma County. The commune was established by musician and satirical comedian, Lou Gottlieb. (more…)