Don’t these folks look really small? And the rocks really big?


Dear John

Dear John,

Yes, there were two restaurants. “Frank’s” in Moss Beach, overlooked the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, the beautiful reefs you speak of. The other was pink in color and stood a mile or so from the foot of “Devil’s Slide,” that dangerous but breathtaking slice of roadway, “a little Big Sur,” that separates Pacifica and San Francisco from the Coastside.

Frank Torres owned both restaurants. Frank’s son, whose name eludes me, did operate the one in Moss Beach for a time. Unfortunately oldtimers report he died youngish of imbibing too much.

Frank’s has gone through several sets of ownership since Mr. Torres death ( he was rumored to have been a power during Prohibition). It’s now called the Moss Beach Distillery and the former roadhouse is publicized as the home of the “Blue Lady,” a ghost who roams about at night. You get the idea.

The other Torres restaurant, the pink one, was torn down (but leaving one wall to satisfy the Coastal Commission’s rules) and replaced by the very modern, sort of abstract-ty Chart House restaurant which changed management several times before suddenly closing down a year or so ago. The empty building overlooks a spectacular view of Montara beach.

The reefs you recall (at Moss Beach, where the Distillery is located)l are as breathtaking as ever–but now there is a new element. A local young surfer named Jeff Clark “discovered” a fantastic surfing cauldron that is called “Mavericks,â€? and is NOT named after Clark’s dog as is sometimes said.

When conditions are ideal, the waves are enormous, sometimes as tall as a six-story building– and Maverick’s is now listed as one of the best surfing venues in the entire universe–and the yearly contests where world-class surfers are summoned when the waves are awesom–draw thousands upon thousands of observers and fans to the little fishing village of Princeton.

In recent years so many people have come to view the surfing contest that there are rumors of banning the hordes because the landscape is so fragile, lots of erosion. One plan is to have the public watch the surfing events on closed circuit tv at the old Candlestick ballpark in S. San Francisco,

Princeton, which borders the airport you remember so well, is also adapting to changing times.. A large hotel and indoor mall is being built. I don’t mean to give you the idea that this a city -size hotel and mall; it’s not, but it’s big enough for us Coastsiders.

The airport is still home to pilots learning to fly and other small aircraft bringing visitors to the Coastside, perhaps to play golf at the pretty Ritz Carlton Hotel, south of Half Moon Bay. Or to wind surf, kayak or hike to the peak of glorious Montara Mountain—and drink in the Coastside’s natural beauty.

Yes, during WWII the airport was also a training sites for the Women’s Army Corps (WACS) and I have some extraordinary photos of them on my site–and there are pictures of many of the other places you speak of.

In the 1950s the airport hosted drag strip racing featuring big stars like “Big Daddyâ€? Don Garlits–there is a photo of the racing superstar at the airport—the surroundings might bring back warm memories.

On April 29 the annual “Dream Machine” extravaganza is being held at the HMB airport–all kinds of cars, fully loaded, weird and fancy. Other types of incredible machines. We didn’t have the Dream Machine show last year because Devil’s Slide fell in and we were dependent on one road only, two-lane Highway 92.

Sounds to me like you’re ready to re-visit those exciting images of your youth.


Dear June

I stumbled on your web site yesterday and greatly enjoyed many of your pieces about the Half Moon Bay area and it’s history. As a young boy I spent a great deal of time at the airport while my dad flew his airplane. The airport had quite a history from [email protected] and it’s use as an alternate to SF Intl. I also remember a couple of very good restaurants Torres’ just north of the airport and another one at Montara. I think they were two brothers.

There was also a great reef just north of the airport that I used to walk out on at low tide.

I currently live in the Chicago area but enjoy reminiscing about the san Francisco area.

John F.


Hotels in Outer Space & Phil Salin & the Rocket Co. in RWC

I am a big believer in outer space as the next real frontier. And I notice that billionaire businessman Robert Bigelow (see his website at is investing in a real hotel in outer space–as well as other space “widgets.”

Which reminded me of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society and some of the fascinating people who attended the Sunday jazz concerts in the 1970s– I was especially thinking of the brilliant Phil Salin, politically pure libertarian, and who with his equally brilliant friends set up the privately owned Rocket Company in Redwood City. His goal was to launch his own satellite at a time when only the government was doing it.

Phil Salin and his innovative friends relaxed at the Sunday jazz concerts at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society. Pete Douglas, the “father” of the BDDS, always used to tell me about the physicists and engineers and big brains who came to hear the music and Phil was one of the them.

They were a non-drinking crowd who favored Pepsi and mineral water.

I never met Phil Salin; he died of cancer young after fighting for his life with everything he could find including alternative cures in Japan. I did meet his wife Gayle Pergamit, along with K. Eric Drexler and Chris Peterson, the authors of “Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution” (Morrow: 1991). Gayle took me in hand and I spent two days learning all about nanotechnology. She was teaching me; I don’t know if I was such a great student, though….

Gayle told me that Phil was a very smart visionary guy who loved challenges and was always steps ahead of everybody else. He was gregarioius; he was tall, 6’4″, 230 pounds. He talked with his hands as he grew enthusiastic about new ideas and projects.

One of Salin’s “rocket company” people, Kathy McGrade, was a metallurgist, who lived next door to the Bach. One of her jobs was to buy lots of big mixing bowls and large bags of sugar. When perplexed store clerks asked her what she was up to, she told them the truth: “We’re mixing rocket fuel.” They laughed but nobody believed she was serious.

Well, she was serious.

Phil Salin and the Rocket Co. people found a warehouse near the former Pacific Telephone tower, a local landmark in a little industrial area, predominantly welding and machine shops. Nearby there was a community of single family homes, a shopping center, a corner bar.

The Rocket Co. needed a place with very tall ceilings to accomodate a 55-foot tall vertical rocket. They wanted a barn but the warehouse they rented turned out to be perfect.

Members of the company introduced themselves to the authorities, to the fire marshall, and they gave tours.

When word spread about the rocket company, the locals said, “Building rockets in Redwood City?” People were concerned about hazardous materials–but Kathy McGrace assured the authorities that the common kitchen had mroe dangerous materials. The most dangerous stuff they had was paint, she said.

Still, you couldn’t blame the neighbors for wanting to see samples of the fuel, to have it tested, to see what was in it. They were terrified that the building was going to blow up.

[I will be adding more to this story. There were other interviews I want to add. Meanwhile see the email I received below.]

Hello June,

I’m not sure if this email address will work for you, since I am writing about an older article.

I just read the musings you wrote about my dear brother Phil, and his rocket company. I happened to google his name, since I have been thinking about him. It was his birthday earlier this month. I spotted your article- it was a very sweet read for me, and it was kind of you to write about him.

Thanks so much,

Pat Salin Huston

Why? Why? Why?


Why is it that everything that makes the Coastside “the Coastside”–the place that is (and has been) so different from other places….Why is it that everything that makes the Coastside unique has to go?

I am reminded of the giant Cypress tree on Hwy 92 that used to greet us as we drove into Half Moon Bay…it wasn’t just a tree, a Cypress tree; it was a genuine landmark, warm and welcoming, dependable. Around the corner on Main Street, near the concrete bridge (built in 1900; the first of its kind) there used to be a classic barn…it belonged to Pablo Vasquez, the son of Tiburcio, who once “owned” all the land from around the bridge to Miramar. It was an old, old barn that hadn’t been taken care of but it had character, lots of personality.

Both the grand Cypress tree and the Half Moon Bay barn are gone…

Now I hear the goats I so enjoyed seeing going back and forth on Highway 92 have been evicted (and some say they are headed for the slaughterhouse). I understand the goats were kept there rent-free and the owner of the goats had a lucky break== but the goats grazing in their green patch of pasture also made the Coastside “the Coastside.”

And that’s what attracts people to the Coastside and why many of them want to live here.

But why such a rush to erase every special thing that makes the Coastside “the Coastside”?


That’s me–sipping coffee in the magician and his wife’s comfy waterbed….in the Moss Beach house…photo by Sunset magazine to show off the beautiful wood cabinetry and “pull-out” bed tray. Cool. Late 1970s.

Michael Powers Plays In His New Dome (1970s)


Where did this come from? Not very clear, is it–but you get the idea…I had old 8mm film transferred onto DVDs but I have a mac and it turned out that the dvd was not supported by my video software. Then I found an interesting free download at the mac site–with “snapshot” capability and that’s what you see here. Blurry photos of some of the frames.