Left refers to those who left the comforts (or miseries) of home for a new start in the sixties especially the “back-to-the-landers some of whom established communes, or the itinerant travelers along the Hippie trail, or the lost hedonists of the Haight Ashbury that freaked out Joan Didion (“the center was not holding”). Another kind of left-those left behind (bewitched, bothered and bewildered). Or, those on the political left. Or, the counterculture however defined. I was not really a part of the “left” but I was intimately involved with it. Certainly politically. And, to some extent physically. But, in reality, I was much more like that iconic character Chance in Jerry Kosinski’s Being There: “I like(d) to watch.”
My perch was the Sea Gull Restaurant and Cellar Bar in Mendocino which I owned and operated from the early seventies to the mid-eighties. We had thirty to forty employees at any given time and as many as a hundred if all the short-termers that passed through in any given year are counted. Many of these were Left as defined above. Our customers consisted of locals that had grown up and still lived and worked on the Mendocino coast, a significant counterculture group that began and continued to immigrate from various urban centers, and tourists. I had a front row seat to the Age of Aquarius or whatever name you want to give to the period of the sixties to the eighties, a golden time for some that was “strange” and “weird” for others.
Much has been written about these years. Movies have been made. Music survives. Opinions differ. My purpose is not to rehash all of this but to study it in preparation for an historical novel I’m considering about those Sea Gull years.
Try out this random thought. An 1850 shipwreck led to the discovery of the Mendocino coast, gave rise to the logging industry and after many years to the Sea Gull. Imagine a “dark-skinned sailor” from Goa (India) rescued by native Pomos, nursed back to health, making his way eventually to San Francisco where he is befriended by a fellow Lascar who offers him a job. A hundred or so years later his great great grandson visits the Mendocino coast in search of ? (his roots, buried treasure), perhaps to honor the old man’s wishes of having his ashes scattered in the cove where the Frolic wrecked. Somehow this links the back-to-the-landers with the travelers along the Hippie Trail. Seemingly strange connections are found: Mendocino and Goa-Charles Manson and Charles Sobhraj-ocean beaches-drugs-enlightenment-Portuguese heritage-tourists-Ganesha.
The Sea Gull was a popular family restaurant. It wasn’t all sex, drugs and rock & roll although that was a part of it. Aside from employing many people, feeding others and providing a place for them to hang out (not the only place-the Uncommon Good was another), the Sea Gull contributed to the election of a supervisor who helped establish class K housing, provided support for environmental causes and championed local artists.
This was the scene discovered by the great great grandson of a Lascar from Goa who landed on the Mendocino coast after a shipwreck. Maybe.
Is there a story here? I don’t know but I’m going to find out. Trial and error.
NOTES and REFERENCES
“The dark-skinned sailors from the Frolic (Lascars from western India and Malays from modern Indonesia) spoke Portuguese, the trade language employed from Bombay to Macao.”
Thomas N. Layton, The Voyage of the Frolic
“I have assumed that the Lascars all came from Panaji in Goa, and that they served under a serang, or native boatswain. The names of Mariano Rosales a the other Lascars are taken from the crew list prior to this final voyage.”
Thomas N. Layton, Gifts from the Celestial Kingdom
HOUSES OF YERBA BUENA IN 1844.: In 1844 the houses of Yerba Buena were these : The Hudson Bay House, the store of Spear & Hinckley, the store of Wm. A. Leidesdorff, the grocery of David Cooper, the grocery of J. J. Vioget, the grocery of Peter Sherreback, the grocery of Victor Prudon, the eating-house of John Fuller, the grog-shop of Gregorio Escalante (a native of Manila), the grog-shop of Jacinto Moreno (a Lascar), the blacksmith shop of Tinker & Thompson, the carpenter shop of Andrews, the carpenter shop of Davis, Reynolds & Rose, and the dwelling of Señora Briones.
West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California, edited by Iain Boal, Janferie Stone, Michael Watts, and Cal Winslow
The Hippie Trail: A History, 1957-78, Sharif Gemie and Brian Ireland
A few patrons and some of the staff referred to the Sea Gull Cellar Bar as The Meat Market or The Butcher Shop. This was a variant of the Mendocino Shuffle itself “a pun on the rather open sex life of many free-love folks at the time” and the inspiration for at least two local bands (Mendocino Shuffle and Philo Hayward and the Shuffle Band). [Think in the Morning: The Mendocino Shuffle]
Marijuana, cocaine and sex were not something we personally policed although we were aware they were part of the scene. As long as patrons were subtle and reasonably well behaved we operated under the philosophy live and let live. What we did focus on was cutting off drunks and making sure underage drinking was avoided. [Think in the Morning: Was It Really That Wild?]
From the time Bill Zacha founded the art center in 1959, many artists and musicians have made Mendocino if not their home a place of refuge away from the frenetic activity of the city, a quiet and beautiful place where they can work in peace.
One musician that frequented the Cellar Bar at the time the Halls were the owners, although he did not play there, was Gene Clark of the Byrds. John Einarson writes about Clark’s time in Mendocino in his book Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds’ [Think in the Morning: Music at the Sea Gull]
While the save the headlands movement was progressing toward success, another movement was moving alongside it. John Olmsted was a naturalist, docent and educator at the Oakland Museum, UC Berkeley Extension and the Mendocino Art Center. Olmsted observed a unique geology and natural landscape along the Mendocino coast. At Jug Handle beach he found a rare living museum cascading upward and inland for two and a half miles where one million years of time and geologic uplift was visible in five terraces along what is now, after Olmsted’s hard work, the Jug Handle State Natural Reserve and Ecological Staircase Trail. [Think in the Morning: Two State Parks and a Red-Tailed Hawk]