In May I picked up a pristine copy of Long Beach-born Michelle Phillips' memoir, California Dreamin': the True Story of the Mamas and the Papas (1986) for a buck at the Friends of Whittier Public Library Bookstore. By coincidence, I began reading it on and off, and when I got to the pages where Michelle described the Monterey International Pop Festival (June 16-18, 1967), I realized it was now the actual 50th anniversary of the festival.
Hollywood, 1965 - 1968
The lazy summer days in the 1960s often found me relaxing in the rear patio of our Hollywood family business, Tan Shing Chinese Hand Laundry, with a hand-held, silver Jade transistor radio pressed up to an ear. Fontella Bass' "Rescue Me" (1965) and the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" (1966) received a lot of air play, and the songs offered me, a 10-year old, some early, subconscious advice on relationships.
My father must have bought the laundry business at 7555 W. Sunset Boulevard from Ling Lee in 1965, because by fall I was attending fourth grade at Gardner Street Elementary School a few blocks from the laundry. (I transferred from Micheltorena Elementary School near Silverlake, a school that Michelle Phillips also attended.)
The Save Our Way Market was at the corner at 7551 Sunset. My parents toiled twelve hours a day except for Sundays, so they were always around when I returned from school. A sheltered family life - the laundry had amenities of a kitchen, eating area and two beds for our long hours staying there until we could return home each night to Silverlake.
We were located near Sierra Bonita Avenue, about six blocks east of Fairfax Avenue. Occasionally my siblings and I walked to the Thrifty's Drugs at Fairfax to buy comic books. We did not venture further west towards Sunset Strip.
Us kids on several occasions got to stuff envelopes for one dollar at the photography business next door. Around the corner on Sierra Bonita we befriended the people who rented a space to assemble movie studio lights.
Some of the laundry customers were character actors. Once I encountered Alan Hale (the Skipper on Gilligan's Island, the TV show that ended in 1967) at the library on Gardner Street below Sunset. Actress Stephanie Powers' brother lived nearby, too. Actress Barbara Eden (star of I Dream of Jeannie) shopped at the Ralph's Market further east on Sunset.
It must have been 1967 when all the hippies started hanging out along the boulevard near our laundry. In a day the neighborhood was completely transformed. Never before was there this buzz of street activity, but all of the sudden long-haired young men loitered about, often sitting cross-legged on the sidewalks, flashing the "peace" sign to each other with their fingers. Most noticeable were the young women because they wore extremely short, micro mini-skirts and dresses as they congregated on Sunset.
In Michelle Phillips' book, she describes the scene at the Sunset Strip after the festival ended at Monterey in mid-June of 1967: "Now and again we would leave the Bel Air house for a drive through the greatest show on earth: the hippie dream trail of Sunset Strip, where, on weekends, all the folks from the San Fernando Valley and other 'out of towners' would drive through, slowly, at cruising pace, curb-crawling, bumper to bumper, to see 'the freaks', the young and not so young with funny hair, long dresses, cowboy boots, jeans, all sorts of hats, and all sorts of heads under them."
What I saw near our laundry must have been a spillover of this circus less than half a mile away. At some point in time a colorful bus began rolling along heading west on Sunset, with its speakers blasting the song "Magic Bus" by The Who. The bus came by often. Was it a marketing or a tourist gimmick after the song was released in 1968?
I observed some of the commercialism of the psychedelic 60s: the storefront next door at 7557 Sunset Boulevard was vacated by photographer Jacques De Langre and took on a new life as a short-lived retail store selling hippie paraphernalia. The business did not last too long, and maybe it was when they were clearing out their inventory that I scored for free some "mod" 78 rpm record inner-sleeves and maybe even the Lucite ring shown below.
California Dreaming, 1510 - 1770
Scholars attribute a Spanish tale for having inflamed a curiosity among the men who first explored the Pacific Coast - the novel Las Sergas de Esplandián by Spanish writer Garci Rodrigues Ordoñez de Montalvo from around the year 1510. Passages in the book describe an island called California ruled by Queen Calafia, a spirited, beautiful ruler statuesque in proportion.
|Las Sergas de Esplandián - probably a later edition at one time on exhibit in the Lando Hall of California History|
at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
(Image courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research)
A Paradise at Monterey
A Basque explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno charted the upper California coast in 1602, naming along the way place-names familiar today - including San Diego, Santa Barbara, Point Concepcion, and Monterey. He described Monterey as the most desirable port, with the same latitude and climate as Seville, with springs of good water, beautiful lakes covered with ducks and other birds, fertile pastures and meadows for cattle and crops.
His over-the-top description sparked the imagination of men like Captain Gaspar de Portolá, who in 1769 brought Father Junipero Serra to found the first Spanish mission at San Diego. No sooner that they arrived that Portolá took off to search for Monterey - arriving there unknowingly, expecting the mythical place portrayed by Vizcaíno.
Disappointed, Portolá ordered Sergeant José Ortega to take another look - Ortega actually discovered the San Francisco bay instead. Portolá, unimpressed, wrote in his journal that the scouts "found nothing". He did, however, return to the Monterey vicinity on December 9, 1769, and he erected a wooden cross. He and his starving men returned to San Diego by January, 1770. A Spanish ship came in with new provisions and Portolá headed back up to Monterey (meeting Father Serra up there who traveled by ship), where the padre would establish a new headquarter for the Catholic missions, while Portolá set up a presidio to protect the mission.
Monterey was the original capital of California, as well as the religious seat, and it was the destination for the early Spanish settlers in the late 1700s.
After I finished sixth grade at Gardner Street Elementary School, a new, pint-size singing sensation, Michael Jackson, came into the school as a sixth grader in 1969.
A new school to attend for me in 1968 was Joseph Le Conte Junior High School on Bronson Avenue. Notable students were Manuel Padilla, Jr. who portrayed Jai in the Tarzan television show while attending the school, and future actress Rita Wilson. It is funny that the memory reaching back 50 years can recall those who made names for themselves as celebrity.
Actor and comedian Redd Fox opened an opulent Hollywood beauty salon in July, 1975 called Celebrity Beauty Salon and later re-named Redd Foxx Hairstyling Salon. The storefront he took over was our former laundry. The salon closed in 1979.
John Denver, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1964 to be a part of the soon-to-be-diminishing folk music scene. He would go on to become the biggest recording star of the following decade. He broke millions of hearts when he, the avid aviator, died upon plunging his experimental plane into the Monterey bay in October of 1997.