Walking Through The Doors Of Coastside History

maymiemiramar_2.jpg(Photo: Maymie, the madam, poses in front of her longtime domain) mmc11.jpg (Photo: Michael McCracken, the “beat leader” who lived at the Abalone Factory in Princeton).

In the late 1970s I first heard of the beatniks who lived in the Abalone Factory out at Princeton….the whole idea of that wild, crazy scene, and Michael McCracken, “the beat leader” caught my fancy just as much as Maymie Cowley had– the red-haired madam who operated out of the Miramar Beach Inn from the heady days of Prohibition to the more sedate 1950s.

I followed up on both McCracken and Maymie Cowley who did not know each other. How I hoped either or both were alive so they could regale me with never-before-heard tales of the Coastside I had grown to love so much. Not just love but I found the Coastside to be a mysterious place, with wonderful and terrible secrets hidden everywhere.

How I wanted to know what I didn’t know but I just knew was there………

With Maymie, the madam, I had nutured a deep hope that she was alive and living in Redwood City. Alas, when I knocked the door of her last known residence, I found out the trail was ice cold. I was a decade too late. Through mortuary documents, I tracked down some relatives in the Mid-West…they wrote back with a little history and a couple of photographs. It was the first time I’d seen what she looked like and, yes, I was a bit disappointed, having believed that if she were a madam, she would look more flamboyant. But in the photos she looked like somebody’s grandma.

Other trivia trickled in over time but none of the really good stuff I was looking for. I don’t mean the madam stuff but she was involved in Prohibition traffic…from her windows,she could see the rumrunners doing their business.

McCracken was something else. Much younger than Maymie, he really could be alive and I thought there was a good chance he was. What would he be like, I wondered. Where was he?

Nobody knew anything–dead ends everywhere– but McCracken was a beatnik and I knew that beatnik life had been preserved in North Beach at San Francisco’s famous City Lights Bookstore. I wrote the poet and owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti and I received a response in the form of a contact name and post office box address in the City.

Turned out that the contact was artist Michael Bowen–who had lived with McCracken at the Abalone Factory. Still, I knew nothing of the whereabouts of McCracken. Maybe when I met up with Bowen at his home in Bolinas he would tell me.

Once again I was too late….Michael McCracken had died young, in his mid-20’s, in London, England.

But if you’ve followed this story, you know that a baby was born in 1963 in the Abalone Factory, the son of Michael McCracken and his wife Carole. Because of my postings that baby, now a very grown-up man [Michael Rothenberg] contacted me–because he, too, has been on a parallel search for the threads of his past– which he learned about less than 10 years ago.

Drama on the Internet: My Search For The Beatniks of Princeton Part II

mmc11.jpg (Photo: The artist and beatnik Michael McCracken is as handsome as he was described by the famous San Francisco attorney Marvin Lewis. This is the first photo I’ve seen of McCracken).

Then a few days ago I get this mysterious sounding email from one Michael Rothenberg:

“Imagine my surprise when I did a casual Google search for Michael McCracken San Francisco and you had posted, not 45 days ago, a wonderful reminiscence of Marvin Lewis about my parents!

I was the baby, Michael McCracken Jr, that lived in that delapidated abalone factory, born February 11, 1963.”
June to Michael: I am equally stunned. Tell me more about yourself.
Michael Rothenberg to June: “Michael Bowen and Arthur Monroe are both my godfathers. I’ve spoken to Michael Bowen and actually came out to San Fran to spend time with Arthur Monroe. Not sure if you know him….he’s a curator at the Oakland Museum and was also an artist “back in the day”.

As for me, I live in Chicago, where my grandmother brought me after my mother died. We were traveling in Mexico in 1966 when my mother overdosed. They placed me with a family in Mexico until my grandmother was able to find me through the Consulate. She was a great person…troubled, but great. She was a wonderful singer that would frequently perform and hang out with the likes of Janis Joplin in the coffee galleries in North Beach.

As for my father, Michael, he died in June 1968 in a London hospital, officially determined a suicide based on the information found on his death certificate I was able to obtain. It’s been an interesting journey for me over the past 9 years, finding out all the information I have compiled.

The website of my search is at www.woodstocknation.org/mccracken.htm along with an article that was written about us that was published in the Miami Herald.


There’s a lot more to tell but it’ll have to wait until later. Meanwhile this is a great story and please read the links, including the one Michael Rothenberg, the baby born in the Abalone Factory in Princeton, sent me.

Drama On The Internet: My Search For the Beatniks of Princeton, Part II

mmc1.jpg(The artist Michael McCracken, courtesy Michael Rothenberg).

One of the most adventurous stories I pursued in the late 1970s was my search for the beatniks that lived in the old Abalone Factory in Princeton. I was especially searching for the artist Michael McCracken. Where was he? Who was he? What had happened to him?

It all began when Pete Douglas of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society told me about Michael McCracken “the beat leader out at Princeton” who suspected Pete because he was a probation officer who also owned the free wheeling Ebb Tide Cafe in Miramar.

Here are the links, 1-5: http://www.halfmoonbaymemories.com/2006/12/05/1959-when-the-beat-scene-hit-miramar-beach-part-i/

Michael McCracken’s name stuck with me. I had to find out more and turned to the San Francisco poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the owner of the famous City Lights Bookstore in North Beach. I wrote him a letter asking if he could direct me to someone who knew of McCracken’s whereabouts. One day I received a message back including the name of the exceptional artist Michael Bowen and a post office box address. That led to correspondence and a meeting with Bowen at his Bolinas residence. Quite an eccentric day.

Michael Bowen said that I should contact the famous San Francisco attorney Marvin Lewis, adding that Lewis had represented McCracken’s wife Carole in a legal case. I followed up and had the most unusual interview which I taped. Here are the links 1-9:

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

Attorney Marvin Lewis (ML): A couple of weeks after that I heard from McCracken.

Michael McCracken (MM): Next Sunday, your painting will be ready. Come and get it.

ML: How do I find you?

MM: Just go to a grocery store in Princeton and they’ll tell you how to get here.

Marvin Lewis (to June): That was a Sunday and I had my Chrysler. I remember, I had just bought it. It was pouring, just a real storm.

Mrs. Lewis to her husband: You’re nuts to go.

ML to his wife: “I can’t reach these people by phone. They’re expecting me. He painted this painting, whatever it is. So I better pick it up.

ML (to June): I drove from Hillsborough over the Half Moon Bay Road, came down to Princeton, went to the grocery store and asked for Carol and McCracken.

Storeowner: Oh, you mean where the beatniks live? He walked outside the store and pointed. You see that promintory that comes out into the water? Pillar Point. That way? Right out on the end is a building, you’ll see its wrecked and they’re living in that wrecked building.

ML (to June) I drove and followed the coastline and went out there. Just as I arrived these great big dogs came running at me. One had red hair and was barking and two guys ran out, including Michael, calling off the dogs.

Marvin Lewis (to June): As I approached the house, I heard loud music playing and chickens were flying all over the place, roosters and goats walking around. There was even a goat inside the “house”. Then when I came inside this large room there were couples copulating all over the floor. I had to step over them.

In the middle of the floor there was a fire going in a brick kiln which they had built for Carol’s baby. Carol married McCracken. He made it legal. There was some guy laying on his back–I think with some gal in his arms and with his bare feet he was rocking the cradle while the baby was crying over the noise of the music and all of the scenes of animals and birds that were flying about in the building.

Michael McCracken (MM): Would you like to see the painting?

ML (to June) I went to see this painting and it was a sexual painting. The two wings were sexual, genital organs. It was a white angel and the rest of the picture was just black, inky black. It wasn’t a picture. It was a mural. It took up the whole wall.

ML to MM: I’m most grateful. I know the work you put into this but I don’t know how to say this–but I just don’t have any office space.

MM: What about your home?

ML: No way. Mostly my house is glass. I don’t have any wall space for paintings. I couldn’t get it in.

MM: I’m terribly disappointed–if you knew the hours I put in on this painting. Would you accept a smaller dark angel?

ML: Yes.

ML (to June) He went and got me a duplicate that was smaller and framed. I got into the car and dogs were barking at me until I drove away. I said goodbye to them and left. That was the last time I ever saw them. I don’t know what happened to the Dark Angle. My wife saw it and she let out a howl.

Mrs. Lewis to Mr. Lewis: My God, what are yoiu going to do with that?

ML (to June) We put it in the basement. Maybe it’s still there. I can’t remember if I gave it to my son or not–but it was something I was sure could have no value. I thought it had absolutely no appeal but I didn’t understand modern painting and I still don’t.

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

Marvin Lewis (ML) (to June): This puts one way back with a half-hour for the other case. So I got my investigators, four of them.

ML (to investigators): Scour North Beach. Find her wherever she is.

ML (to June) In the meantime Carol’s mother told me that McCracken came home from Princeton and said she wasn’t going to live in any goddamn capitalist hotel any longer. He had taken her to some place in North Beach.

I decided to lock myself in the john…

ML (to his investigators): If you find her you come and get me and I’ll come out.

ML (to June): So at about 9:30 a.m. the judge wanted to know where I was and they couldn’t find me and I heard through the paging system my name being called and I didnt’ come out of the john–so I figured they were going to hold me in contempt.

About ten minutes to ten the investigators came and said they found Carol. She was outside. Carol and Michael had misunderstood. They thought it was ten. McCracken had come and he was with Carol and said not for me to get excited. Everything was all right.

To make a long story short, Carol was acquitted. Then after she was acquitted, the judge did not put her in jail for contempt.

…To Be Continued…

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

Marvin Lewis (ML): I argued the case to the jury and I felt that I had it won. I was very pleased and I explained that to the family.

ML (to the family): You keep her here at the St.Francis, whatever happens.

ML (to me): And the judge said, Tomorrow morning, Ladies and gentleman of the jury, we’re going to instruct the jury at 9 o’clock. I don’t mean two minutes past 9. I mean 9. The reason for that, is while the jury is deliberating, I have another case coming in to start.

Everybody understood.

June: The next day Marvin Lewis received a call about 8:30 a.m.

ML (to June): There was no Carol. I figured there was still some period of time but I was still worried. At 5 minutes to 9, the judge called me into chambers.

Judge: ‘Is your client here? Are you ready to proceed?’

ML: No, she isn’t here, your Honor.

Judge: I’m going to tell you, Marvin, what I’m going to do then. If she’s not here in five mintues, I’m going to dismiss this jury and when she shows up, I’m going to put her in jail for contempt.

ML (to June): The case had taken about 3 weeks. I had it won. It was a marvelous jury and I thought I had done a marvelous job on argument.

Ml (to the judge): Judge, will you let me stipulate that she can be excused during the reading of the instructions?

Judge: Marvin, you know better than that. It’s a criminal case and you cannot stipulate that for her absence.

ML (to judge): You’re right.

Judge: I’ll give you one half-hour–but that’s it.

…To Be Continued…

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

Marvin Lewis (ML) And this girl stood up, as if she was a slave to her master, and she was actually going to come around and give herself to me.

ML: In front of you?

Michael McCracken (MM): Of course. What’s wrong with that?

ML: First of all I don’t perform like that, and secondly, it’s very embarassing for this girl.

MM: Oh, no. Not at all. It’d be a great experience for her, too.

ML (to June) She (“the girl”) said, Oh yes, I understand.

Marvin Lewis (to me): I told Carol, I paid for you to stay with your mother at the St. Francis so I know where I can find you. Don’t go down to Princeton because you’ve got to go to court everyday. I don’t want Michael around and I don’t want the rest of the group around. I’ve got a tough enough case because I’m going to try the police here [which was my way of winning this particular case]

Still some of the people came down into courtroom. Michael never came down.

…To Be Continued…

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


Marvin Lewis (ML): “I said, Don’t worry about my personal life. Don’t concern yourself with it.

Michael McCracken (MM): “Oh, I can make you life a paradise. You’ll have a different woman every day. I have beautiful women. Do you want a blonde? Do you want a redhead?

ML: What is this? Are they for a price? Are they prostitutes?

MM: Heavens no. These are all gals with good backgrounds and come from fine families.

ML: Well, what goes?

MM: Oh, that’s the trouble. I thought you were really with it, but you’re really not. In a way you are, but you’re not completely. The Marvin Lewis that I think I see should have the same mentality as I have and you should have what I’m offering you in every way. You’d have a much fuller life and a much happier and enjoyable life.

Marvin Lewis to June: To me, the idea of him just expecting to sit there and watch me copulate was unbelievable.

So the next week my receptionist said that McCracken was in the outer office and had a gift for me. So I said, ‘Have him come in.’ So he came in with another girl. She sat over there [pointing at a chair] and he said, ‘I want you to meet this girl and I want you [the girl] to meet Marvin Lewis’.

He said, ‘I’ve told everybody over at the beach [Princeton-by-the-Sea] what a fabulous person I find you to be’. And he said, ‘I thought you should have this type of woman in your life.’ So he said, whatever her name was, ‘Go around the desk and ball him’.

You gotta be kidding, I said.

…To Be Continued…

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


Marvin Lewis (ML): I called [my client] Carol and I said, ‘Carol, please, this young man–I don’t want to tell tales out of school’ — but, she said, ‘Why didn’t you accept this girl? He gives her to you graciously.

ML: Carol, this isn’t my world

ML (to June): Two weeks later McCracken came in with another little girl–same thing. Same–and this time I made it more forceful than ever. Several days later he said he had to see me so he came in to my office.

Michael McCracken (MM): I must have been nuts. I know why you didn’t want these women……You want me!!!!

ML: I don’t want you.

MM: I don’t understand what you do want.

ML: Just don’t worry about it.

ML (to June): Anyway, we went along preparing for the trial. Then they sprung the news on me that he [McCracken] had gotten her [Carol] pregnant. I figured I couldn’t very well bring her in front of the jury. She was starting to show and we got the trial ppostponed until the baby could be born. The baby was born down in Princeton where they moved from North Beach.

Carol said it was hard for them to come into the City. They had to hitch rides in. They’d walk for miles to get to my office. She said it was most difficult to get to where the grocery store was. They had no car and they’d walk along the coast until they got to these little stores in Princeton to buy their food.

They were living with others from their group who had gone with them. They had taken over this deserted building.

Finally the day of the trial arrived and I warned them: Don’t have any of the beatniks come into the courtroom. But no matter what I said, they kept coming in.

So the mother came up with two of the daughters-and at my direction got Carol into a beauty parlor where she was coiffured, made-up and they bought her some clothes. She looked like a different person. I hardly recognized her. [McCracken] was very unhappy about this.

…To Be Continued…

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


Marvin Lewis (ML) : So–in the interim a very peculiar thing that I wlll never forget as long as I live occurred. He came up to me one day and said, ‘You know, you’re a very interesting man.’ He said, ‘I find an empathy with you that I never have had with a capitalist world person and the establishment.’ He said, ‘You have made a good reputation for yourself and in your profession. You have money. You dress establishment, and yet,’ he said, ‘you see to fit in with my type of people, and I can have an understanding of you and I like you.’ He said, “I think you must have a rare faculty. You have the ability of living on both sides of the street’. But, he said, ‘I think to make your life fuller, you should have LSD and you should sniff glue’.

I said, Really. I have been doing very well without. In those days I’d never even heard of LSD–never heard of sniffing glue–and I said, I’m not really interested.

‘But’, he said, ‘I know you’re a great lawyer, but you’d be that much greater if you…And he said, ‘Another thing you should have some of our women in your life.’ He said, ‘I think you’re probably just making love to your wife and you need a lot more to broaden yourself’.

Marvin Lewis (ML): I don’t–I really thank you–and I really appreciate it all–but please, thanks, but no thanks.

ML (to June): I finally got them both out, and I went, Oh, my God, I don’t believe this just happened.

…To Be Continued…