1970s: The Worm Farm, Skyline, Portola Institute & Where Is My 8 Foot Square Hollow Mahogany Pyramid?

Does anyone know what happened to Richard’s 8-Foot Square Hollow Mahogany Pyramid? Last seen at the famous “Worm Farm” in San Greogrio.

From far-off Chicago, Richard Ledford says:

Hi June,
You have assembled one of the more special websites that I have ever had the pleasure of stumbling upon by accident –halfmoonbaymemories.com

Thanks for putting such meticulous devotion into making something both beautiful and freely shared!

I e-mail you now to ask whether you know, or know of anyone who does know, anything about an 8-foot square hollow plywood pyramid appearing at the Worm Farm in San Gregorio around spring of 1975?

This exact proportional replica of the Great Pyramid was carefully built by me and left with the people living at the worm farm at that time. I am interested in learning what use this pyramid served, and what was its fate over the intervening years. If you, or someone to whom you can forward this message, could send me any information available on this subject, I would greatly appreciate the effort.

-All the best, thanks.


HI Richard:

I was happy to read such an upbeat email message first thing in the morning., I have a number of posts about the great magician Channing Pollock, owner of the unforgettable Worm Farm.

Did you draw the plans for the pyramid water tank? Because I have some architectural plans for it. Here is the link, click here

POST (peninsula open space trust) bought the Worm Ranch from the heirs of Channing and Corri Pollock, who originally purchased the land from Stanford.

Here is the link to POST, click here

George Cattermole and his wife own the Store in San Gregorio and they are certainly up-to-date on what is going on in their “front yard.” The water tank pyramid, if that is what you are referring to, stood just up the road from their store.

Here’s the link to the San Gregorio Store, click here

Was this helpful?


Hi June,

Good to hear from you so soon.

I have just one PIC of the pyramid from my days at the last avacado ranch in Yorba Linda, where I crafted it. As soon as I can scan it, I will send it to you.

The name Channing Pollock rings a bell. It was likely by his magic I was drawn to leaving my pyramid at the worm farm – for no particular or clear reason of having any prior relationship with anyone there -as if he pulled me straight there through the aether, straight to San Gregorio bearing my gift of a precision wooden pyramid.

I did not draw the plans for the water tank pyramid, but I did hear something of this project somehow. Perhaps at the Saturday morning Alan Chadwick organic gardening sessions held at UCSC back then. This may be why I considered the worm farm a good place to leave my pyramid as I left for Chicago. I had previously been living on Skyline Blvd. as the caretaker of the property know as Rancho Diablo, while it was still run by the Portola Institute (Whole Earth Catalog) to hold 20-25 people, 2&3-day educational seminars in the big mansion.

Richard Ledford (Armadillo)

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part XI (Conclusion)

Jim2.jpg (Photo: Jim Wickett, John’s son–posing on the Skyline property, about 1980).

John Wickett’s son, Jim, wasn’t kidding when he told his dad it was time for a change on the Skyline property. “Things have gone too far here,” he said.

It was time for a fresh start. John told me that “The “Flower Children” era was wilting. Jim organized a non-profit corporation called ‘Starr Hill Academy for Anything’. He converted a sawmill into his private residence.”

John proudly added that his son’s Starr Hill Academy “started to do some real good–there was less of the hippie element around and Jim had schoolchildren going up there. Students could see the remains of a sawmill and what the outdoor life was like.”

In the meantime, Jim, who was studying for a law degree–which his father believed would be useful when dealing with the county district attorney–was elected president of the Skyline Improvement Association. The deputy sheriff’s badly which he now carried “gave him a little more control over the outsiders,” explained John.

Jim became active with the Kings Mountain Fire District. A fire truck was parked on the property in return for maintaining it.

In his effort to clean up the property once and for all, Jim Wickett removed the structures that were eyesores. And as the buildings disappeared, so did the people. Jim plowed the land and planted new grass seed. “He got more into the ecology deal,” John said, “returning things to their natural state.”

When he looked back on the 1960s, John Wickett confessed: “We had so many people around for so long that my son gradually tired of the responsibility…I got so ‘relaxed’ I used to tell anybody, ‘Sure, go up there, have your company picnics, make yourselves at home….”

Eventually most of the land was sold off–and by 1979 the Wicketts owned about 500 of the original 4,400 acres.

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part IX


As the “illegal” handmade houses on John Wickett’s land attracted the attention of the local press, reporters made the difficult trek to the 4,400-acre Skyline property. Besides Kendall Whiting’s famous five-story- tall treehouse, reached by a rustic “outdoor elevator”, the men and women carrying reporter’s notebooks jotted down other activities they observed–silkscreening, glass blowing and pottery-making.

“There were lots of babies and children and cats. Lots of construction,” John Wickett told me. He said that the creative builders “ripped up parts of the old sawmill and used the wood to make little houses inside of bigger houses.”

Of course all building codes had been ignored. “Nothing had been done with building codes,” Wickett noted. This only caused the district attorney’s office to redouble their efforts to get the young free spirits off the property.

But time was still on John Wickett’s side.

While searching for a solution, John invited his son, Jim–then a student at Menlo College–to spend a summer on the Skyline land. He told Jim, “You can be helpful and get things a little bit organized. We’ve got all these materials that people are building their houses with…Maybe you could supervise a bit.”

Young Jim Wickett was so successful at his task that he stayed on after the school summer break was over. He still had much to straighten out as publicity about the place had reached far and wide. Strangers continued to arrive in caravans of day-glo painted school buses. Others camped out on the property and what was once pristine was now being threatened.

“It started becoming too much,” John Wickett said.

…To Be Continued…

“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…

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part V

…And the members of the Floating Lotus Opera Company moved to John Wickett’s spectacular property on Skyline, on the mountain, close enough to kiss the sky with faraway views of the glittery Pacific Ocean. They lived in old huts that had belonged to a late 19th century sawmill or slept in the cool green meadows… and they wandered all over the place occasionally trespassing onto the neighbor’s land.

“Some of the neighbors were complaining a bit, that we didn’t have proper sanitary facilities and so on,” John Wickett told me. One neighbor even “appeared before the San Mateo County Planning Commission to complain that she’d seen men urinating on the trees.”

Wickett was prepared for this one. He told the commission that the complainant [the neighbor] must have trespassed half-a-mile onto his property to witness “the crime.” He laughed as he related that “She didn’t like that and she insisted the District Attorney’s office prosecute me anyway. Eventually they put me on the spot and gave me a six months’ suspended sentence for having people living there, in buildings that weren’t zoned for communal living. I continued to have the people there anyway.

“The D.A. and the sheriff–they were all problems. The sheriff used to say I was the only landowner in the county who wouldn’t let him hunt on my property. The county manager was also one of my closest friends and I wouldn’t permit hunting there because I like having the deer around. Every time they wanted to prosecute me, I said, ‘Sure, just send me to jail.’ Then the sheriff would say, ‘John, we can’t send you to jail. I’m on the Boy Scout Board with you. I’m on the YMCA Board with you. You’re about the most helpful citizen in the county. You’ve helped my elections–all my elections. What are the papers going to say? They’ll just make it a big joke.'”

So John Wickett’s guests stayed on.

…To Be Continued…

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part IV


Over time John Wickett got to know the individual members of the Floating Lotus Opera troupe and they got to know him. He told them he owned thousands of acres on Skyline “…in particular I had this 70-acre meadow surrounded by a big, virgin redwoods overlooking the ocean and I invited them to enjoy having a day, or a weekend, if they wanted–and to bring their sleeping bags. They were inspired.”

The opera folks responded with childllike glee: “We can dance,” they told John, “and play our instruments and parade all over, through the woods, and through the meadows, and yes, yes, yes.”

John told me they visited one weekend and “seemed to enjoy themselves and several asked if they could move there…And I said, ‘Sure. Everybody else seems to go there, so why don’t you?’ Just fine.”

In short order some 70 people lived on the Skyline property, bringing their sleeping bags and turning the deserted sawmill and shop buildings into their new “homes”.

And they wandered all over the place.

…To Be Continued…

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part III

John Wickett fired the caretakers but then he made– what would be for most people– a very unusual decision: He told people to go up to his Skyline property “and take whatever they wanted.”

They were just “things”–and their monetary value suddenly didn’t seem important.

The “caretaker incident” helped turn John Wickett’s lifestyle upside down. “That’s when my relaxed days started,” he explained to me. Until then he described himself as a “square,” placing a lot of weight on that status.

John inaugurated his new lifestyle by attending a performance of the Floating Lotus Opera in Berkeley in 1964. “It was a far-out group,” Wickett said, “perhaps Buddhist-Hindu, I don’t know what. They had bells and other Indian trappings and decorations; rather not too scientific or perfect but very relaxed. They had all kinds of musical instruments and Tibetan horns and lots of atmosphere.”

This musical and sensory experience made a deep impression on John Wickett. “…I was particularly interested because I had just acquired a 14-room pad above the Baghdad, a belly dancing nightclub, as I called it, in San Francisco, and I was wondering how to decorate it.” He thought about turning the Baghdad residence “into a kind of hippie pad with Indian trappings.”

…To Be Continued…

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part II

(See my Part I, on the previous page)

After purchasing the Skyline acreage, John Wickett told me he did some “intense logging, which I since regret. It spoiled lots of beauty but opened up lots of views and many roads, and made it possible for us to get around the property not otherwise possible.”

He was already addicted to collecting “things”, large and small–and the Skyline property was littered with machinery and all kinds of equipment that he had purchased at the auctions he haunted. There were literally tons of building materials, steel and wire and wood. To protect the investment, he hired caretakers to watch the place.

John Wickett told me that one morning he woke up to what he called “a big surprise”. (Keep in mind that he said this in his usual gentle tone of voice–he wasn’t the type to get angry; life constantly amazed him with its twists and turns).

“Someone told me,” John said, “about all this wonderful equipment that was available up on Skyline. It was being sold off for all you could load in one hour for $100. A minute over and you paid another $100. My friend said, ‘John, you’ve got to get in on that. You’re just going to have a field day because you can get so much good stuff.’ So finally I find out where the terrific deal was. Guess what? It was my caretaker selling off my belongings!”

….To Be Continued….