Saturday, June 20, 2015

Scanning Photos on the Solstice & Father's Day


For the Solstice and for Father's Day I scanned and posted some photos on Facebook of my father. Some were photos that I had never seen before, as I had packed away his photo album soon after the funeral and never looked at it again (my mother died soon after, in 1994). I never really knew my absentee father so Father's Day is not something I've ever celebrated. Ever.

Photos forgotten until I decided to scan all my family photos. A momentous project I never meant to take on, but when my uncle began throwing out old photos when we cleaned out my grandmother's house, something needed to be done to preserve the past. So I collected and sorted and saved boxes of photos.

Back in March, during the Equinox, I began scanning my grandmother's photos, then I scanned my aunt's photos, then my mother's photos, and finally my father's photos on the Solstice.

I was surprised by the composite five-generational story that emerged from filing the separate photo albums of family members. The first album begins in the 1890s, with my great-grandparents; and the richest albums by far, are the old black & white photos up to the 1960s. My personal favorites are the photos from the 1940s and '50s. That's where I enter the picture, so to speak.

We are together again in family photos like we haven't been in decades, as the lynchpins (my grandmother and her siblings) have long since died, the massive family parties have all but fell away, save the odd funeral and fewer weddings.

But the next generation that followed mine doesn't have the perspective, nor the inclination, or the links to connect. The matriarch are all gone, and now there are few souls left from my parents' generation. The remaining aunts have cancer again. So I am racing the clock.

The photos that span California and Ireland, have been a link back in time, illuminating the past. Like the sun striking the lintel at Newgrange. A moment of divine illumination. Solstice. Longest day, shortest night. Memory.

I've been posting photo scans up in a Family Photos album in Dropbox, and I've made links to our Facebook Family name group pages where I occasionally highlight an event. Photos bring the family back together. Gathering us in, as we dissipate to the four winds. Second cousins forming new friendships from Manchester to Bantry to San Francisco and beyond. Will it hold? All that light and shadow, emulsion and silver on film resurrecting the past. And time present.

Joe at The Grove Dance Pavillion, Guerneville, 1945.

Hot August nights. My dad, Joe, at The Grove, in Guerneville 1945. He's only 18. I would love to know the backstory. Did they rent cabins along the river and party? Who were his cronies? Who had the car? I guess everybody looked the other way when it came to underage drinking It was the era of big bands and cocktails. In those days, everyone fled the city to spend summer nights on the Russian River, watch the stars and the firefalls on Fire Mountain.

Legendary bands played along the Russian River. Every town along the Russian River had its dance hall or pavillon. Big bands included Ozzie Nelson, Phil Harris, Harry James, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Les Brown, Horace Heidt, Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians, Phil Harris and Glenn Miller.


The Grove, the largest dance pavillion in the Redwood Empire, featuring a 14-piece orchestra nightly, and two cocktail lounges. Armstrong Woods, Guerneville, Ca. Post WWII era: big band, dancing, drinking. Mirabel Park and Rio Nido had a dance pavilion too. During "the ‘20s and ‘30s, that nearly every village and town along the River had a dance band all summer long. They were college bands from around the Bay Area. Reg Cole and his group were a fixture at Guernewood Village Bowl, and Larry Rapose with his band at The Grove in Guerneville.Rio Nido bands held sway at The Dance Hall. It was an open-air pavilion that spanned Fry’s Creek. Returning seasonal bands were Pete Horner, a professional musician in the late 1920s, next was Chuck Dutton for ’30 and ’31, followed by Lee Searight through the mid ‘30s. In 1938 the hall was roofed over by local contractor Jack Shatto. Interspersed with the summer-long bands were the one-night stands of The Big Bands of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. The names are legend: Ozzie Nelson, Phil Harris, Harry James, Woody Herman. The list goes on." —Rio Nido History
"During the 1930s and 1940s, some of the biggest summer nights swayed beneath the resort’s iconic winking moon sign as big bands led by Harry James, Buddy Rogers and Glenn Miller played as the Harris family’s Rio Nido dance hall. By age 18, Harris was helping run the ballroom, collecting 25-cent tickets every night."
Linda Burke (Burke's Canoes) "Before she was born, her parents ran the Mirabel dance hall that held 2,000 people — the largest ballroom north of San Francisco at the time — and booked top performers including Duke Ellington, Helen Forrest and the Dorsey Brothers." —Sonoma Magazine

"I have wonderful memories of dancing to the music of Les Brown and his band renown at the Grove." (late 40s, early 50s) —Owlman
"By the turn of the century, the timber crop was exhausted and now railroad lines criss-crossed the area providing easy access. In the past, wives with children in tow had come to the area during the summer months to be with their hard working husbands. Now, since cabins, campsites, hotels and resorts were already in place, San Franciscans from all walks of life replaced the timber workers with tourists.
Guerneville and the surrounding area continued to thrive even through the Great Depression and both World Wars. During the Big Band Era of the 1930s and 40s, several local dance halls boasted the biggest performers of their time. A paddle-wheel boat named the "River Queen" could be seen running up and down the Russian River loaded with excited people visiting the area." —Guerneville

The Grove, named after Armstrong Grove, predates the Hexagon House (aka The Woods in the 1980s) complex, built in '47. The Hexagon house was supposedly designed by Walter Gropius (and built by Frog Pond owner, Gordon Herr). I remember walking across a wide expanses of pavilions, with tree in the middle of the dance floor.

But I've conflated two places, because a photo from the 20s, shows the entrance to The Grove on Main Street in Guerneville. (Both pavilions had a tree in the center, decorated with lights. The Grove tree was decorated with canoes! It was later closed in, no more dancing under starlight. 

The original Grove Dance Hall. "Dance palaces such as the Grove and Rio Nido Lodge attract vacationers to the Russian River. Well- known bands appear, including Horace Heidt, Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians, Harry James, Phil Harris and Glenn Miller." —Sonoma County History

"After the introduction of the railroad into the Russian River valley in the late 1800s, thousands of San Franciscans flocked to the region each summer. Soon, many of the famous big bands started to provide dance music at packed outdoor venues along the river even into the 1950s. Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey and other famous names were frequent performers during the Big Band era. Hollywood stars were also frequent visitors." —Wiki

An aside: Up the hill from The Grove was Pond Farm, an artists' colony founded by Gordon Herr and his wife. Famous Bauhaus artist Marguerite Wildenhain was resident potter. Marguerite may have been carrying on with Walter Gropius, but the backstories have such raveled edges. Never going to find them in the official guidebooks.

My first boyfriend of seven years, "Sweet Old Bob" (Robert Bruce Hamilton), a potter i met at College of Marin, was a huge fan of Marguerite, and we visited her at Pond Farm during the mid-1970s. 

She taught pottery classes until 1980. I used to see her in her puttering garden whenever Lee Perron and I went up to Austin Creek Park. I waved, but never stopped, as I was forever done with Sweet Old Bob after he got the seven-year-itch. I was done with scratching. 

The photographer who taught me darkroom technique (I was his apprentice at The Paper), also student of Ansel Adams, Phil Osborn, coincidentally worked for Marguerite, as a potter's assistant during the '60s and '70s. The state of California used eminent domain to force the owners out, but Marguerite Wildenhain lived there until here death in 1985.


I never knew my father played the piano.


Joe at the original Pop's Bar on 24th St. in the Mission, SF, 1950 (practicing his descent into the first of several glasses) In those days the Mission district was a real Irish enclave—especially Boston Irish.

Later, my father frequented the 3131 Club in The Mission, where he grew up. The few times that I ever saw him, when I was young, he took me to his bar hangouts to meet the bartenders. In those days, kids could go into bars. One of my earliest memories is making a sprint crawl down the length of Speck McAuliffe's mahogany bar, amid drinks, liar's dice, and ashtrays, my mother chasing after me. It was incredibly boring to watch my dad nurse a drink & suck in smoke.

In hindsight, my father probably had no idea what to do with me. Needless to say I only saw him a handful of times. I know so little about him other than he was a CHP motorcycle cop, worked for the Coast Guard, and was a street sweeper for the City of SF, armed with a sheaf of terminal DUIs.


Young Joe on a pony, probably in Oakland, CA, where he was born. 
Joe's mother, my grandmother, Viola Heaney Hurley as a baby (in Boston). I didn't know I had a photo of her, until I took it out of the album to scan, and I saw her writing on the back: a postcard never sent? No adult photos, she died young. My grandmother said, suicide. Joe was raised by a sadistic uncle in SF, No love lost. Probably explains the early drinking pattern.


My mother Maureen Reilly (l) with a gleam in her eye; my dad's got an arm around another dame. Pop's Bar on 24th in the Mission, 1951.

Pop's's Bar was a popular watering hole with my family. My uncle Bill knew the owner from the Navy. That's my uncle Myles standing. There's more to this photo. I may post it later.

People say I look like my mom. That's me in the  early 1980s. I never saw the resemblance, but then, I never saw these photos before either. They were in my grandmother's basement mouldering away.

My mom willowy in a daring 2-piece bathing suit, My dad at the crossroads, probably at Hoberg's Resort in Middletown, Lake County, ca. 1951, it was the Big Band era. 

 Hoberg's Resort, Middletown, Lake County, CA, 1951. 
Mom & Dad at Hoberg's in Lake County, 1951. She looks like she swallowed the canary and he knows something's up. A former Apple employee is one of the new investors of the historic resortMy mother's cousin, Patricia D/Arcy reminisced: a good friend, Diane Eggers at St. Peter School, whose aunt Pauline married one of the Hobergs. He had been a paratrooper and sent a silk parachute so she could have a bridal garment made from it. We thought that was so romantic.  

Social life revolved around smoking cigarettes on the couch...
...followed by some serious snogging (it must have been a case of those Lake County "diamonds" working their magic—and it looks like I'm well on my way...) Ugh. ashtray kisses.


And there they are, chillin' in a SF bar circa 1953. Yes, the easy smile, a little harder to paste on. Already they're leaning a little bit away from each other. He's married to the bottle. He just doesn't know it yet. They moved to Lagunitas when my grannie's house was sold on Third Avenue. I remember we lived next door to (Frank) Speck McAuliffe's daughter, Pat Decker. The bar was within walking distance. They must've split soon after, because I was living with my grannie full time in Forest Knolls by the time I was five. Before that, we all lived in my grannie's house in SF. Aunt & uncle in the downstairs apartment, My mother & Joe, and my aunt Canice upstairs. I had plenty of babysitters so I hardly noticed my parents comings and goings.

Me at four months, Forest Knolls.

And there I am, little miss fattycakes in an itchy dress with a kelly green sash and little red cherrios. I'm so fat, I can barely sit up. The doctor will need to put me on a diet. Why I'm fat is a mystery, as I'm allergic to most food, I'm covered in hives but I can eat oatmeal. and apparently, plenty of it. I'll be shipped off to my grandmother's in a few years. She will fix oatmeal for breakfast too. This photo was incredibly damaged, I cloned out most of the stains and tears.

I tried to take this itchy dress off at the studio. So it was mostly up over my head. Probably a funnier photo. My mother loved dressing me up like a little doll. I had nice, if uncomfortable threads. I also had a ready smile, with fists at the ready. I was born a redhead. I just found a swath of my baby hair. At the age of three or four I gave myself a haircut, my left braid cut off at the ear. My mom flipped out. Gave me a pixie that went south, and then a trip to the beauty parlor for a perm that went poodle (my hair melted) I wouldn't step into a beauty salon ever again. But it turned dark when I was 16.

Tucking into my first birthday cake with gusto. Four-point face-plant to follow. My mother is charmed, my dad is looking dubious. 1953.

My dad holding Towser the boxer pup in SF, ca. '53, or '54.

My dad at Shafter's swimming hole above the Inkwell, Lagunitas. I'm on the shore learning to walk. 

Too bad I never really knew my dad, so I'm not so enthusiastic over Father's Day. TMI? Cogito ergo sum.


My mom was a wanderer. All over SF. She charmed the famous to her feet, with her brilliance, and talent, she was a freethinker, way ahead of her time, so through her, I met a lot of cool folks: Tommy Smnothers, LLoyd Bridges, Sterling Hayden, Lew Welch, Bob Kaufman, Bobby Darin. She'd drag them home to meet my grannie, who served them Irish soda bread and tea. Oh the stories I heard...I didn't know it at the time, but they did profoundly impact my way of thinking.

During the 60s, thanks to Timothy Leary, my mom was groovy, but then it paled. Turned sinister. My mom was crazy. went all the way to electro-shock therapy. Stelazine, thorazine, you name it. I remember visiting her in the SF Psych ward, scared out of my gourd. I kept silent, the usual children of AA, NA is the code of silence, etc. I live the life of fear that I would become my mother, so I was afraid to do anything.

My mom also survived breast cancer for 17 years, but it came back behind the implants...she was part of that lawsuit for leaking silicone implants, but died before she was able to win the class-action lawsuit. 


My incredible Irish grannie was both mother and father to me. So I honor her this day as well as the father I never knew. He died in the dark of the year, on his birthday, Sagges, we. Like my Grandpa Reilly, whose birthday I was born on. My mother followed my father, nine months later, right after her own birthday on the Autumn Equinox. Guess they had to work something out after all that time. In the past I always kept mum about all this family history. The children of AA  practice silence. Now I no longer care to hold the facade up. Too much work.

It was fascinating to lay out all these newly scanned photos only to find they told a rich backstory I never knew... This is a homage to my parents and those who raised me. 

Happy Solstice.


See #ValleyFire Alas, Hoberg's is no more.

1 comment:

Martha Ward said...

I found your story fascinating, discovered it when looking for photos of Hobergs (where I spent childhood summers). I was expecting a photo, perhaps - and fell into your writing. Thank you.