Sausalito, 1960s: Writers, bars, Bohemians

*I have updated a commentary from 2015 with a couple of more anecdotes at the end about Sausalito and Santa Fe. Also please note there are links to the original pieces by other writers cited here. 

I can’t resist chipping in about a Bay Area scene of the 1960s after reading an engaging New York Times piece by Mark Oppenheimer, headlined “Searching for Evan S. Connell’s Bohemian Sausalito.”

Bill King

I can’t resist partly because my late father and stepmother, Bob and Pat Robertson, were friends with most of those mentioned in the Times’ piece, were regulars at the No Name bar, intimate with the Glad Hand restaurant and lived in then-cheap Bridgeway and Caledonia street apartments from about 1961-1966.

I’m also piling on because the Times story triggered my recollection of a profile written in 1975 by Sports Illustrated writer and former San Francisco Chronicle reporter Ron Fimrite about someone who still seems to me the quintessential, or ultimately cool, Sausalito Bohemian character. That would be the late opera-and-sailboat loving Golden State Warriors and Oakland Raiders radio announcer Bill King.

To make my unsolicited story shorter, here is the recent New York Times piece focusing on the writer Evan S. Connell, whose “Son of the Morning Star” is one of my favorite books, and who died in Santa Fe a couple of years ago after his late migration from the Bay Area.

And here is the Sports Illustrated piece by Ron Fimrite that so well characterized King, Sausalito and the era.

And here also are a few personal notes.

Connell was so taciturn that he was referred to at the No Name by my parents as “The Great Stone Face.” Who really knew him, though? It was a surprising contrast with his silent, loner image when he showed up at a party at our place one night in the company of “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” Gale Garnett.

Evan S. Connell

Connell, like Don Carpenter, seemed to be thought of as a serious, private, hard-working writer rather than a bar fly. The novelist Calvin Kentfield, a friend of my father’s while Dad worked on his MFA at the Writer’s Workshop at Iowa in the early 1950s, and who had a propensity for showing up at our door at odd hours — once in a maroon tuxedo, I recall — had a more colorful reputation.

Sausalito was boozy, then druggy, too, as pot and acid flooded the scene. I do not know what my one-time classmates Martha Wax and Mark Chapin — both of whom have been chronicled in reports on the era, and both also offspring of Chronicle newsmen — think of it in retrospect, but my father joined the Peace Corps as an administrator in 1966 and got me and my brothers the hell out of there before Sausalito took us under.

Finally, another coincidence and an excuse to post another photograph of my father. Oppenheimer’s piece mentioning the No Name bar reminded me of a mid-1960s photo of Dad, then a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, sitting at what I believe is the bar at the No Name with a Chronicle photographer, making notes or signing a tab, near-empty beer mug at his right, sack lunch or something at his left.

Sorry, I can’t come up with the photographers name, and I’m thinking it is, in fact, a photographer because that looks likes old flash equipment on the bar. And I’m guessing these guys were on assignment, or finishing one up,  because of the camera equipment, jackets and ties.

Even though we lived in Sausalito, both men worked out of the 7th and Mission offices in the city. Maybe it was a story about a male Sausalito boat owner sailing to Hawaii with an all-women crew — popular fare for the Chronicle in those days and about the only kind of news that Sausalito seemed to generate.

Ron Fimrite wrote in his SI piece, “Sausalitans talk mainly about boats and sex, in roughly that order….”

And I am pretty sure the bar in the photograph is, in fact, the No Name. I think I recognize the bartender and spot both a window and a fern at the back of the room, neither of which, I think, existed at Hanno’s, the dark watering hole in the alley behind the Chronicle building in the city.Scan 2

I enjoyed Oppenheimer’s Sausalito story, which employed an interesting approach to a travel piece, although a couple of the Glad Hand dates look off to me. Its wonderful owners for many years, Albert Engel and Bob Hanlon, employed two members of our household. And while he and I were batching it on Bridgeway, it’s where my father took me to dinner to ask me what I would think if he proposed marriage to Pat — who apparently was threatening an affiliation with a Sausalito scuba instructor and had gone to Puerto Vallarta to let my father stew.

My Vassar-educated stepmother waited tables at the Glad Hand and I washed dishes in its tiny kitchen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, going out on the deck on breaks to watch the Sausalito world pass by.Glad HandThe Glad Hand was a longtime hub of local life, but another center of the Bridgeway universe was just across the street — the tiny grocery run by Chinese-Americans Willie and Jack, who owned several rundown apartment buildings on Bridgeway and became landlords to legions of Sausalito passers-through.

These included my mother, who had arrived with three sons in tow after an abrupt departure from a defunct ranch, I think later owned by Jane Fonda, outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Our first residence in Sausalito was an apartment over the Lido Cafe, almost directly across from the park and fountain, which we initially shared with my father and the woman who would become my stepmother, but Dad soon got us into one of the two rundown, gingerbread Victorians across from the Glad Hand, which I think were among those owned by Willie and Jack.

Another passer-through was the late Carl Harper, a wandering cowboy who arrived  in his open buckboard sort of thing attached to a Ford chassis and an uncovered engine, a saddle and pair of turquoise-topped boots under a tarp in the bed.  I think it is fact that he hocked the saddle to Willie and Jack for an apartment on Bridgeway, got a job on a San Francisco Bay dredge, met my mother and soon drove off into the sunset with her in the “old red Ford.”

This was all before I read Evan Connell. And I wish I had known him, despite the difference in age, after our paths led from Sausalito to Santa Fe, where I became a bartender and then a newspaper man and he became an even more famous, but always quiet, literary man and lived out his final days. But he was probably busy writing.

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