My Search for the Beatniks Who Lived at the “Abalone Factory,” Princeton-by-the-Sea: Part I


You might wonder–legitimately–why I was going to interview the stellar attorney Marvin Lewis for a story about beatniks at Princeton. My answer is, read and you’ll see why–or at least I think you will. Suffice it to say I that via my Coastside research there had been several references to beatniks living at the old Abalone Factory. I worked hard to find a link (and I’ll get back to that later).

And in the fall of 1979 I walked into Mr. Lewis’s office on Market in San Francisco. He had a full head of hair and his voice was strong and there was no doubt in my mind that he knew exactly what he was going to say–and nothing else.

Of course I was excited. To me, “the local historian,” this was a long way from stories about the Ocean Shore Railroad and artichokes–for me, this was going to be really good stuff. Unlike some of my local interviews with people who were reluctant to talk about the colorful prohibition era and their role in it, Marvin Lewis had no inhibitions whatsoever.

He was perfect the interview. He knew why I was there and he was ready to go and anxious to tell me the story he would never forget. (Marvin Lewis passed away in 1992).

June: [I got straight to the point]: How did you get involved with Michael McCracken?

Marvin Lewis: Well, I’ll tell you how I became involved. In my early years of the law, and I still do some criminal work, I did heavier criminal work. I don’t know how many years we’re going back. I can’t place it exactly. I know I was living in Hillsbourugh so it has to be within the last 20 years.

Maybe 15 years ago if we can place the beatnik era. But it seems that there was a superior court judge in Los Angeles County who knew of me as a lawyer in San Francisco. And he was a personal friend of a wealthy doctor and his wife. And they had three daughters. Two of the daughters had married establishment men and they lived in Beverly Hills and Westwood in L.A.

And, the daughter, Carol, had become, and we’ll use the term–a beatnik.

Mainly lived at that time drinking in the pubs, where the poets recited and the artists had their paintings.

[Carol] had been—was up for trial for the sale of cocaine. And I said I’d like to speak to the mother and the mother came up with one of the daughters, and a very elegantly dressed woman, and a very fine woman, and very distressed over the situation.

[Carol’s mother said her daughter] had been living with a man by the name of McCracken, an artist.

I named a fee. It was substantial and I was paid the fee. I said to have the daugher come in.

1959: When the “Beat Scene” Hit Miramar Beach, Part V, Conclusion

What most astonished Pete Douglas was the appearance of artist Michael McCracken with his entourage in tow. McCracken, who resembled 1950s actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., ws well known on the beat scene in San Francisco. Pete says that for awhile McCracken was “the beat leader in Princeton…along with these legendary characters right out of the book ‘On The Road.’ When these characters traveled down Highway 1, “they fell in at Princeton. He (McCracken) was what you’d call hard core on the scene…”

McCracken’s “scene” was at Princeton’s Abalone Factory, an old wood frame plant that once had processed fresh abalone. McCracken painted abstract floor-to-ceiling murals and lived there with his fellow free spirit friends. Also sharing the cramped space were goats that clomped across the floor and exotic birds that swooped and flew through the air.

Pete Douglas says that he was carefully watched by the paranoid McCracken who “suspected me because I was employed. That was enough right there. As a probation officer, that was even worse.”

On that hot Sunday afternoon–while Michael McCracken and friends romped and rolled in the weeds that grew in front of the Ebb Tide Cafe and the Brazilian soundtrack from Black Orpheus blasted in the background–someone arrived with the svelte Miss San Mateo, a beauty whom Pete says became Karen Black, the well known movie star. He remembered her wearing the kind of bathing attire suitable for a beauty competition, “out of character with the raunchy scene, posing on the picnic table.”

Into the mix, the sociology teacher arrived, his troop of open-eyed students trailing behind him.

“They arrive,” mused Pete, “with these cases of beer. Finally we coaxed them in, and they were foolish enough to start bringing in their beer–which never even reached the front door.”

By then the scene had become what Douglas defines as “a hard party. Carrying on. Arguing. It was going on indoors and outdoors everywhere. There were even people on the roof.” Pete had never seen such a “totally involved party” in his life, “in which there weren’t passive spectators. They were oblivious to anything going on.”

They were oblivious even to the cars accumulating on unpaved, rocky Mirada Road–cars that moved slower and slower, finally grinding to a halt.


“One of my tricks was to go out and direct traffic,” laughed Douglas. But his gallant efforts were hopeless. “By now I’m dancing and I look out and I see we were ringed. There was a crowd just standing there and watching us.” He says some of those watching were people who had abandoned their vehicles. What else was there to do but join the party?

And how did the party end?

Pete Douglas told me that he doesn’t remember.

But it was the end of a decade–and, in a way, the end of innocence. The horror of the Vietnam War loomed in the future–and the “beats” of the 1950s would usher in their socially committed brothers and sisters of the 60s.


1959: When the “Beat Scene” Hit Miramar Beach, Part III


“The idea of running a little joint appealed to me because, after all, the fantasy of every former beatnik or would-be beat type was an espresso shop,” Pete Douglas recalled. “Not that I had that directly in mind–but that was the fantasy, to drop-out and run your own little joint…”

Pete told me that “the stereotype of the laid-back beat was to have his coffee shop with cards, poetry books, chess, etc.”

In 1959 Mirada Road, sometimes called “the strip”, still retained a flavor from rumrunning days when the Coastside was “wide open.” The once stunning Palace Miramar Hotel stood brooding at the southern end of the road–while at the northern end the Ocean Beach Tavern (the present-day Miramar Beach Inn) was a roadhouse with official Prohibition era bona fides.

In the middle of the road stood Douglas’ tiny coffee shop. It had once been home to the notorious Drift Inn Cafe, where, Pete said, the bartendress often passed out dead drunk and kept an oak club handy so she could bonk undisciplined customers on the head.

…To be continued…

1959: When the “Beat Scene” Hit Miramar Beach, Part II

DSCN0780-thumbnail.jpgOn that hot Sunday in 1959, Pete Douglas sasid Mirada Road looked like a “poor man’s movie set–with crazies auditioning for the roles. It was the kind of hard-leather, levi, greasy, bearded, crazy hat kind of scene.”

It was also a very democratic scene, with every strata of society represented. Joining the revelers were “playboys from Marin”, who stepped out of their sleek, candy apple red Corvette and went arm-in-arm with “heavily made-up chorus girls from the City.” One fellow wore an “authentic Cavalry uniform” with a saber tucked in the belt.

Douglas was looking forward to witnessing the reaction of the sociology teacher and his herd of students due to arrive for a lesson in “Something a little different on the beach.”

A family man at the time, Pete Douglas said he was leading a double life. On weekdays he worked as a “respectable county official (probation officer), wearing a gray flannel suit and button-down collar.” On weekends he shed the establishment image for a uniform including beltless levis (“It was not cool to wear a belt.”), sneakers, black turtleneck and an old captain’s hat. Appropriately attired, he presided over a “Sunday afternoon drop in, open-house-kind-of-thing.” The Ebb Tide was a place where people “fell in” and new people met.

…To be continued…

1959: When the “Beat Scene” Hit Miramar Beach, Part I

[Prologue: To the young bohemians, the unpleasant message of the 1950s was that it was not the individual that was important, it was the individual’s possessions. The bohemians chose to live in abandoned warehouse lofts, took menial jobs–or didn’t work at all.

They were fervently anti-establishment. And jazz music was their religion. Many came from middle class homes and rattled the nerves and sensibilities of their elders as they spewed a mumbo jumbo about “acting out” and unleashing their inhibitions. They were members of the Beat Generation who patterned their lives on characters in Jack Kerouac’s book, “On The Road.” They revered the existentialist French philosopher Jean Paul Sarte and hung out at the City Lights bookstore near the cafes in North Beach in San Francisco.]

Photo: The Douglas brothers, Pete and Jack, hang loose at the Ebb Tide Cafe.

On a balmy Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1959, a ragtag crew of pranksters spilled out of the funky Ebb Tide Cafe onto dusty Mirada Road overlooking the sparkling Pacific Ocean at Miramar Beach. They were madly gyrating to the soundtrack from the celebrated movie, “Black Orpheus”–whose spectacular backdrop was the kaleidoscopic carnival in Rio de Janiero.

“It’s the music of the slums on the hills overlooking Rio de Janiero. In the hot sun, there’s nothing like it,” Pete Douglas, concert manager of the acclaimed Miramar Beach jazz house, the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, told me in 1979. Twenty years earlier the thin and wiry Douglas was in his late 20s–and the owner of the funky Ebb Tide Cafe–a weekend coffee shop and hangout for part-time Coastside beatniks.

…to be continued…