“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part I

MtnHouse.jpgThe Mountain House Restaurant

Geographical Definition: For those of you who don’t know, Coastsiders live in the flatlands. They are called “flatlanders” by the folks who live up on the hill–up on the mountain, near Kings Mountain, up on the two-lane tree-covered Skyline Road, most of which now sits in the affluent Woodside community.

About 1956, John Wickett, a very kind, eccentric fellow, bought some 4500 acres off Skyline as an investment. The property embraced the top of Kings Mountain with spectacular views of the bay and the Pacific–as well as ancient redwood trees and cool meadows. A historic sawmill once stood there and crudely built huts and shacks dotted the dazzingly green landscape.

Mr. Wickett got more than an investment. The land would forever change his way of life.

In 1979 I interviewed John Wickett at his San Francisco Pacific Height’s home. Pacific Heights, with its breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, is home to some of the rich and famous. Author Danielle Steele has a fabulous home in the area–consulates from all over the world have their headquarters here. Really, it’s unlike any other city.

But John Wickett’s three-story home and his interior decorating, I’m sure, ran counter to prevailing tastes. It was stuffed with bizzare things, many of which he had obtained at auctions. Near the front door was a mechanical creature I immediately recognized. It was the brightly painted, gaudy “Laughing Lil”–so named because she laughed hysterically, bending at the waist with outstretched arms, in a spastic manner. When I was growing up in San Francisco’s Sunset District, she had been a famous resident of Playland at the Beach”. “Laughing Lil” was part of the life of every kid who visited the popular amusement park, now replaced by beach condos and apartment buildings.

The floors of Wickett’s home were densely covered with outlandish objects, wooden, ceramic, metallic, short, tall, some unidentiable. I could have sworn that one of the larger “objects” in a corner of a bathroom was a gynecologist’s table. Upon closer inspection I saw that it was….

Every inch of painted wall space was covered with embroidered fabric or colorful cloth from all over the world.

He had created a home that was the antithesis of what most people called a home. I think that was his purpose, to shock, to shake-up, to show that there was no one right way to live a life. John Wickett’s was clearly a different life–and he never wavered in it.

You could walk (or run, or lope) up the stairs of the multi-leveled home–or ride in the soft, velvet-lined elevator. I chose the elevator. My destination was John Wickett’s office, down a narrow corridor, past many closed doors.

He sat there waiting for me–there was a vitality and energy surrounding this kind, warm and very eccentric man.

Photo: San Mateo County History Museum. Visit the museum located in the historic Redwood City Courthouse.

…To Be Continued…