I Count Myself Lucky That I Met Bruce Haig: Story by Fayden Holmboe

Story by Fayden Holmboe fayden2.jpg

When I first moved to Half Moon Bay from the Hillsdale area in the late sixties, there were a few locals that certainly stood out and it was always interesting to visit with them.

Bruce Haig seemed old to me but he was probably only about fifty. He had a weathered face like a farmer who had worked the land for many decades. Bruce was an ageless thinker, and he had more cool solutions to expensive problems than anyone I’ve ever known.

I met Bruce about 1969 as he rode his bike up to the front yard of “Little Joeâ€? Cotruvos house on the corner of Santiago and Francisco in El Granada. Bruce always rode a bike when he was off work, wherever he went to on the coast. He might be the only person in history who could smoke a pipe continually while riding up hill. His pipe had a large stainless stem between the tobacco bowl and the mouthpiece. He put toilet paper in it and this acted as the filter, “economic and efficient”, he exclaimed, owning about eight of the same design.

Bruce’s home had a window facing west that was about four- feet- high, and six-feet- wide with a fine view of the harbor. He could see Snakehead Point (also known as Pillar Point) and to the south the fog horn on the breakwater.

About 1975 new neighbors built a two-story house on the lot immediately to the west of Bruce’s 4 x 6 foot window blocking his entire coastal panorama. There was nothing but a wall of stucco looking back at Bruce. Bleak at best and the only thing breaking up the monotony of the wall was a very small sliding glass window and that was way up on the second floor.

Bruce went over, pipe in mouth, introduced himself to the new neighbors and asked in his always low-key voice, would they mind if he “painted a mural on the blank wall of their home?” They said okay so Bruce drew what was missing from his ocean view on their stucco wall.

You could still see the “real view” from other windows in Bruce’s dining room. If you stood in the dining room you could compare the “real view” with the painted one on the stucco wall and then back again to the “real view”.


This same 4×6 window was broken in the top right corner, with about two feet missing from it. Most people would have replaced the window. Instead Bruce got out his salvaged pieces of stained glass, channeled lead, then made and installed a beautiful little stained glass sun with rays coming off it in this corner.

Bruce was the shop teacher at Hillcrest Reform School in San Mateo, and he had so many talents besides woodworking. A good sense of humor was one so the kids would obey him, I’m sure.

There were many dimensions to Bruce. He was an accomplished potter, had a kiln and a few potters’ wheels in the backyard. If he found a log in the woods or on the beach, he’d carve it; if he found some scrap metal he’d make a fancy wind vane out of it. But the result was never just average. Whatever Bruce Haig made was finished, thought out, and well done.

In the late sixties Bruce said he didn’t like the violence on t.v. so as his personal statement he took an old Phillips t.v., gutted it and covered the screen with fabric. That was the only channel you could watch!

If you met Bruce on the street you would never have dreamed he was as creative as he truly was, an inspiration to me for sure, and funny to boot!

Long live the Bruce Haigs of the world!!!

(Watercolor of Snakehead Point and the beach at El Granada by Galen Wolf).

The House Built Entirely Of Doors


The San Mateo-Half Moon Bay Road’s (Highway 92) famous “House of Doors” was built by Fred Nordholz, a German saloon owner. According to legend, the doors were used in buildings at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco. When the spectacular international show closed, Nordholz purchased the doors and shipped them down to Half Moon Bay where he built a house with them. Later in the 1950s Half Moon Bay’s colorful, outspoken Mayor Ann Howe (yes, think “An how!”) bought the house, hoping to turn it into a museum.

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part VIII

(Recap: A number of seriously creative handmade houses dotted John Wickett’s scenic 4,400-acre Skyline property in the 1960s. They were tucked away, difficult to find, usually by invitation only– reached by hiking on crooked dirt paths, muddy in the spring– ducking under tangled tree limbs while pushing away dense leafy foliage… )

Predictably, none of the fantastic structures were designed to meet county building codes. After all they were built to challenge the imagination. One house featured a storybook “drawbridge with chains and platforms”.

But perhaps the most sensational creation was the fabulous treehouse built by Kendall Whiting.

“Kendall’s treehouse was five stories tall, 50 feet above the ground,” John Wickett told me. “He put in an elevator and a suspended sliding cable…”

Five stories tall? An elevator? 50 feet above ground?

No wonder Kendall Whiting’s magical treehouse was the talk of Skyline and Beyond. (And that’s what it was, truly magical– I know, I actually rode in the “elevator” to the top of the treehouse).

But Whiting’s treehouse became so famous that it also brought worries. “We were afraid of lawsuits,” John admitted. He had good reason to be concerned. By now word had spread fast about the flower children who lived in fantastic houses on an incredible mountain with huge redwoods and cool meadows.

“Too many people were getting up around there,” Wickett said, “and it was getting to be a problem. All the sightseers wanted to see the property and the treehouse.”

(Sadly, eventually Kendall Whiting would fall out of his treehouse–and the amazing structure he created was torn down.)

…To Be Continued…

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part VII


In 1979 John Wickett explained me me that “They [his guests, the members of the Floating Lotus Opera Co.] were hoping I’d just gone away and whenever I’d be on the property, walking around near them, someone would get me talking about something in the opposite direction.”

Of course the tactics didn’t fool John Wickett. “Eventually,” he said, “I found all the buildings.”

The “buildings” were actually handmade houses tucked away on Wickett’s property. To reach the “spectacularly innovative” houses with views of the Coastside mountains and the glimmering Pacific Ocean, John had to hike on crooked dirt paths, duck under tangled limbs, while always pushing away leafy foliage. In one sun-soaked clearing he recalled admiring a geodesic dome made from scratch.

Of course–none of the structures were designed or built to meet stringent county codes. Instead they were built to challenge the imagination. One unusual house, John said, featured a storybook “drawbridge with chains and all of these platforms going out.”

…To Be Continued…

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part VI


[Recap: In the 1960s the colorful members of the aptly named Floating Lotus Opera Company were happily living on John Wickett’s 4,400-acre Skyline property. Meanwhile, the San Mateo County District Attorney’s office was hounding Wickett because of neighbor’s complaints about these same guests, who, as free spirits weren’t wearing very much clothing.]

During a 1979 interview at John Wickett’s 4-story Pacific Heights, San Francisco home, he told me that most of the young free spirits “used assumed names to forget their pasts.” Most often they took one very sweet new name like “Sunshine”, “Blue” or “Flower”. The 1960s was the era of the famous “flower children” and John said “they didn’t want to embarass their parents.”

One who changed his name was the artist Jim Maggio. On Wickett’s land, he re-named himself “Sandy Castle”–and he brought new and fascinating young creative people to Skyline. “People from top-notch, affluent East Coast families,” John told me.

Later, according to John Wickett, Sandy became the manager of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young–the signature ’60s musical group that is synoymous with the flower children movement. (And eventually Neil Young bought land near Wickett’s property). You could love the English Beatles or the Stones, but you’d surely have a collection of CSN& & Y albums. They created the authentic American mood of the time.

The County D.A. was trying to force people off Wickett’s land but he managed to delay their legal moves for a while. Whenever the pressure intensified, he gently told the flower children, “You can’t be so evident.”

They loved the cool breezes at the top of the mountain, and the warm sunlight in the magical meadows– and, taking Wickett’s advice to heart, they retreated deeper into the woods where they hoped they would not be seen.

But on a sparkly sunny Skyline afternoon, the sound of hammers and handsaws broke the warm silence.

…To Be Continued…

Langston Bowen R.I.P.: A Very Funny Recollection By Fayden Holmboe

Lang Bowen’s Driving Lesson Dilemma

fayden2.jpgStory by Fayden

MiramarBeach.jpgMiramar Beach, circa 1920s

Langston Bowen (most of us called him “Lang” back then) passed away about a month ago; he lived out here for a long time, and the most memorable thing I remember about Lang was a driving lesson gone bad.

So to set the stage, Lang lived at the south end of the road the Miramar beach Inn sits on.This house is now known as the “Hastings House”. After the “outer” breakwater was installed, the currents changed and ripped the beach down dramatically, so instead of walking straight out of the front of one’s house onto the beach, you had to climb down a cliff wherever access was possible. It looks similar to how it is
today, the difference is they hadn’t put the rocks in yet to curb further erosion.

I think that happened in 1970.

Some of these new cliffs stood fifteen feet or more between the road and the sand.

As memory serves me, Lang had one of the first Toyota land cruisers, a large station wagon- sized- four wheel- drive. He volunteered to help this kid Steve learn how to drive. Teaching someone to drive
is a charitable act at best, while at the same time putting one’s life, health and material wealth into a unpredictable teenager’s hands.

Apparently Steve hit the gas a little too hard backing out of the driveway, drove himself, Lang and the landcruiser out of the driveway and across the road a little too quickly to brake. Slowly………
slowly the car tilted until it sat on its back window and bumper facing down into the sand, its windshield facing skyward. It looked kinda like the space shuttle at the launch ramp in Florida .

After all this happened, I came walking upon the scene described. I looked down over the front of the car (I was standing on the road) through the windshield at a very puzzled Lang and Steve gazing back upward at me. Lang, whenever puzzled and unnerved, had a smile with enough teeth to look like the front grill of a fancy Lincoln Continental. With this smile he welcomed me to the scene not seeming to be terribly upset although somewhat bewildered.

So I asked Lang what in hindsight was an absurd question! “Do you need any help”?

Wth his Lincoln Continental “full-teethed” grin dazzling me and the heavens beyond, he laughed and replied “Uh……..no……….no……NO……we’re fine”!

So believing him, I walked away and went on in life with whatever I was doing.

Now, remember there were no cell phones. I have no idea to this day how they got out of the car (but they did), I have no idea how the car made it back onto the road (but it did), and we laughed about it later.

Ahhhhhh, the end of the sixties, we all did inhale, and no none of uswere running for president.

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 IV

Armed with a sociology degree from UC Santa Barbara, Pete Douglas set out to create what he called “a spontaneous scene” at the Ebb Tide Cafe at Miramar Beach–(today the home of a reborn Ebb Tide Cafe and the longtime location of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society).

Surrounding the Ebb Tide was a knee-high fence and within it a picnic table. On weekends Pete dangled the speakers of his hi-fi out the windows–and played big, round 78 rpm records like the lush soundtrack to the hit movie “Black Orpheus”.

“And,” Pete told me, “I used to sit out there in my captain’s hat and occasionally wave in some interesting people driving by. I didn’t have any money–I had to create my own social scene. Where else could be better than Miramar Beach?”

People were everywhere on that very warm fall Sunday in 1959 and Pete Douglas recalls it as a magical day. Here was the Beat Generation, fictionalized in books, creating the real thing on our beautiful Coastside.

On the other side of the hill, on the Peninsula, the temperature had soared and thousands of people hopped into their cars and headed for what they expected to be the air-conditioned Coastside.

They were disappointed: Instead of relief, the stream of vehicles caused what was then a rare occurrence–a major traffic jam on Highways 1 and 92. Some of the more adventurous drivers glimpsed the odd assortment of people “cavorting and pirouetting” on Mirada Road and veered toward the beach.

….To be Continued…

RonS.jpgPhoto: For years Ron Swinnert was a familiar face at the Bach Society.

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…