Ah ha! How The Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society Got Its Name

This is how Pete Douglas explained it to me in 1979–

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“There was another spontaneous party going on. We were playing jazz and some of the people who visited were engineers from some of the electronic outfits down the Peninsula. And they got hold of this dynamite–and so like the boys they were, they have to try it out. I didn’t pay much attention to their interest in the dynamite. I was partying and dancing. So they disappeared on the beach. Fortunately they didn’t do it right in front of the house.

“And like I often do, after running the record player a little energetically, I wanted something a little laid back. I had classical records. I put on the Bach Brandenburg Concerto as a kind of relief from this jazz. We were feeling happy and continued to dance to Bach. Nothing is more powerful than Bach. Bach is very dramatic. When I heard the dynamite go off it sounded slightly muffled. But it reverberated very big down in Half Moon Bay–but the sheriff never go on to it….

“Bob Swift, the local science teacher, coined the phrase, Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society.”

The Fantasy: Interview with Pete Douglas (1979) Part III

(At this point, Pete had moved to Menlo Park with his wife, Pat, and their daughter, Linda).

June: And then you moved to the Coastside?

Pete: Well, to give you a little background on that, I was going nuts in Menlo Park; you know, isolated, we didn’t know anybody. You are socially in, or you are nowhere, you know Menlo Park. I like Palo Alto, but I wasn’t happy with the job, that was it.

It was the summer of 1957, a hot day in Menlo Park, and it was night, and I thought: I have to get out of here. So the light bulb flashed on and it was I’ve got to get back to the beach and everything will be all right—especially after a year-and-a-half of Vacaville; it was– I just had to get back to the beach.

That very next day I grabbed Linda (Pete’s daughter) and tore out to Half Moon Bay looking for something on the beach. Now, I had only been out there once or twice, and like most people, I had no idea what was around.

Then I drove to Miramar and saw this road, and I crossed the bridge and saw the old Miramar Hotel and kept driving and found this place (the Ebb Tide Café). It was for sale.

I wasn’t thinking of buying, just renting, and I pulled up in front. There wasn’t a fence. It was just a yellow stucco building sitting in a bunch of weeds. Pulled up and the windows were soaped up with something and I got out to peer into the windows.

There was the bar and the old fluorescent lights and the hamburger grill, and I looked in there, and obviously it was a commercial place. Beer joint, hamburger joint, something.

I was just going to get back in the car and keep driving—but then Linda jumped out—she was 3-years-old, barely, always moving fast. My back was turned and she was in the garage over there (he pointed across next door).

Over there was old Charlie Jacobs, he had retired and built a house with his wife Mary. They were retired except for speculating on land. I ran into the garage after Linda and started chatting with Charlie. He saw me looking at this building, and he said: :’Why don’t you buy it? You ought to buy that building”.

I said I’ve got to have a place to live but the idea of running a little joint appealed to me—because, after all, the fantasy of every former beatnik or beat type would be an espresso coffee shop.

Not that I had that directly in mind, but that was the fantasy…to drop out and run your own little joint. Including crafts, arts, anything.

Charlie Jacobs says, ‘You can live in it’– he says there’s a bedroom back there and a separate bathroom with a shower. I said, Ok, I’d like to see inside. He says Mrs. Hastings, who I incidentally work with right now (1979), I still have my real estate license. Mrs. Hastings, who owns Sandpiper Realty, had a real estate sign out there. We walked right over there and “Liz” said, ‘Yep, Grandma Treadwell wants $12,500.’

But it had been on the market for a year—nobody around here wanted the dump (ed. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Mirada Road!).

We offered $8,000 and Grandma Treadwell accepted $8,500. And she took the mortgage because no one would finance it. It was rough but that’s how we got the Ebb Tide Café.

Interview with Pete Douglas, Part II (1979)

juneatbeach.jpgLeft: Me, on the beach, at the time of the interview. Right: Pete DouglasDSCN0792.jpg

(Pete & I talked about the Miramar Beach Inn and how one owner closed the old bar and turned the building into an unsuccessful grocery store before it was again reincarnated as a bar/restaurant in the 1960s. From a tape transcribed by Linda Goetz, Coastside Secretarial).

Pete: Anyway, I’m drifting afar.

June: I just want to hear about it all. Feel free. No one seems to really know the chronological order of what happened on this street, Mirada Road. Where did you come from?

Pete: Los Angeles.

June: And what were you doing down there, before you came here?

Pete: I was brought to L.A. when I was 9-years-old, from Arizona, by my mother and stepfather. I went to part of elementary school and high school in California. As soon as I was old enough to get on a bike, I really called Hermosa Beach my “second home”. And, incidentally, that is where when I was old enough to sneak into a bar, at age 17, I went to hear jazz.

We ended the big band era in the late 1940s and started a movement of jazz again with small groups often taking over the back end of bars playing for nothing, if necessaqry, just to have a place to play…small groups, modern jazz in the back of bars–and there were always several Hermosa Beach bars, mainly the Lighthouse…

After the army, I went back to college, El Camino Junior College, in or near L.A., southwest L.A., near Inglewood.

When I finished college, I knew I had to get out of L.A. The smog and everything. This was the early 1950s. So I looked for any way to transfer to college up north. I made the first step to Santa Barbara. I transferred as junior to Santa Barbara in 1953 and graduated two years later in ’55.

June: And your major?

Pete: Sociology.

June: That’s my major, too.

Pete; What do sociology majors do?

June: They get lost.

Pete: That’s a crazy breed. Well, of course I didn’t find work in Santa Barbara. But then I had Linda (his first daughter) on the way. I had to get a job and on the bulletin board there was a job as an Assistant Field Director for the American Red Cross up in northern California. They ended up putting me at Travis Air Force Base, Vacaville. That’s how I moved down here.

Well, anyway, in the simmer of 1955 I graduated, went directly to Vacaville, lived there for a year-and-a-half, I think, and thought I was going to get a job in Marin. I had my eye on Marin County. I didn’t give a s— about the job; I was just trying to find the area I cared to live in.

And, you know, in Sausalito, you could have had a store front for a song. In the 1950s people were looking for interesting places. There was the Bridgeway and the vacant storefronts and I didn’t know what I was going to do with one of them.

I figured if I could get a job in Marin County then I would start working in Sausalito. Drum up something, i didn’t know what. But it didn’t pan out. The job didn’t materialize and I had moved to San Rafael.

Then I got a letter, word must have gotten out in the industry, and as usual the government was expanding and I got a letter from an administrator: ‘come and help us, saying he wanted to talk to me about a job.

I badly needed a job. The Red Cross was going to send me to Alaska, or quit. So that’s how I came to San Mateo County in early ’57. Came to this county, took the job as a probation officer.

1979 Interview with Pete Douglas/Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society

I always enjoyed interviewing Miramar Beach’s impresario, Pete Douglas, because he’s a one-of-a-kind, accessible, and always more than honest. You WOULD NOT believe the big names that have played at Douglas’s Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society.

Some of you will read Pete’s words and “hear” exactly what he sounded like, talking with the ubiquitious pipe in his mouth, then pausing to laugh at what he said, then perhaps musing on some other internal revelation causing him to laugh again and conclude, “so that’s what that was all about”. Maybe he was solving the puzzles of his life while he talked. And Pete, who came from southern to northern California, loves to talk.

We were upstairs in Pete’s office at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Miramar. His office, a desk and chair, was located in the big, spacious upstairs next door to the room where the jazz and classical concerts take place.

Here’s the beginning of the 1979 interview.

Pete: I was a bohemian of the 1950s, in college and after, anti-establishment, yetthere was the other straight side of me. I had a family and I had to get a job and I took a job in this county as an adult probation officer….It’s not like a regular job but it’s an official police sort of job which me very suspect with the hardcore beats that used to come through here.

June: What did being beatnik mean in the 50s?

Pete: A lot of good stuff out on that. The beatniks were a real extension of the American bohemia right on from the turn of the century, the 20s, the 30s, 40s and 50s. It was just another twist or continuation –however, the style it took was anti-establishment, anti-materialistic America. They had intellectual leaders like Sarte, the French writer, and the San Francisco poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

We are interrupted as the phone rings.

Pete: Douglas speaking. Yeah. Every Sunday. This Sunday is the guitarist Charlie Byrd. And then following that is Coke Escovido 13-piece Latin Jazz Orchestra. Yeah, we’re hardcore jazz, although we do a greater variety of it, like traditional, swing, bop, mainstream, progressive, spacey, funk, Latin. Yeah, I’ll mail you something right now, and if you want ot remain on the mailing list it’s $3.00 a year. What’s your name? Carder? Oakland? Tremendous this fall. We’ve got a blues thing, Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Clean Head Vincent on the 9th, David Fathead Newman on the 16th, Zoots Sims….We’ve been doing this for 14 years. Every Sunday. That’s the only time we do it. Right on the beach. Beautiful small roomm for jazz. Bring your own juice. Okay.

Pete hangs up the phone and he’s back into the interview with me.

June: Would you say the Bach has some of the finest jazz music in the world?

Pete: Now I could say yes. We have the best instrumentalists in non-classical music, which tends to be jazz oriented but not all of it is hardcore jazz.

June: Is it the only jazz house of its kind in northern California?

Pete: Kummbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz –they incorporated as a non-profit music organization and they do primarily jazz once or twice a week. And they followed our pattern. That’s the only other non-profit I know of.

June: And you’ve always had a fascination with the beach ever since you were down at Hermosa and the Lighthouse? Where does that fascination come from?

Pete: Some people like the beach, the whole space. Beach communities are liberal, live and let live, more tolerant, and, of course in Southern California there’s a lot of action on the beach whether it be jazz or other things. Going back to the 20s and 30s big dance halls were all on the beach, amusement parks, that kind of thing. That’s the only place I felt a sense of freedom, on the beach as opposed to the conventional residental setting.

June: You say you lived like a beatnik. What does that mean?

Pete: Well, the beatnik style of dress was merely any odd collection of clothing that you pick up for very little money. …In other words to exist without the conventional jobs, to exist without the 9-5 jobs–the freedom to deal with your interest in arts and crafts….Jazz has always been associated with and still is the minority music, a protest music, an unconventional music as opposed to our European musical traditions.

June: I’ve noticed that you’ve changed your attire from what you used to wear.

Pete: The only thing that’s changed is that I used to wear sneakers, ratty old sneakers….I’ve been wearing Levis since I was 11-years-old. And in Los Angeles on the beach it was Levis and Levis have only changed to the extent that they’re slightly flared with a belt. Prior to the Mod scene of the 60s, it was not cool to wear a belt. In my case I’ve had these old captain’s hats and I also wear a turtleneck because they’re comfortable when it’s cool.

June: Didn’t you want to run your own espresso house?

Pete: Oh, yeah. Even in Santa Barbara, before I got out of college. Oh, by the way, being a graduate of college was not exactly in the beat tradition. They were drop-outs. But I was a dual person coming from–and this was not unlike the freaks of the 60’s–a lot of ’em were upper middle class kids who revolted against everything, and a lot of the beats were upper middle class kids. Some of em were just bums. Took on the appearances because it was fashionable. The beats had to survive with some kind of economic ‘mom and pop’ store. If they could figure out how to do it, live off the crumbs of society….

June: This little building downstairs–was it originally built in the 1940s?

Pete: I think it was built around 1947.

June: So before that there was nothing here?

Pete: No.

June: (Regarding the ‘little building’ downstairs) I remember you looked through the Police ‘blue sheets’. What did you find?

Pete: Felonious assault, burglary. See, it was run by Gladys Klingenberger and her husband, Carroll.

June: Do you think they’re still alive?

Pete: I think Carroll died and I just don’t think Gladys is around. I last saw her over ten years ago at the Miramar Hotel, (burned in the 1960s) at the bar, juiced, bad mouthing everybody as usual.

….To Be Continued

On Flagpoles: The Bach’s Pete Douglas Tells Me What’s Waving Over the Jazz House

More than 20 years ago I sought out the very opinionated Pete Douglas, the man behind the world class jazz house Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society in Miramar. The BD&DS overlooks the Pacific Ocean and it’s a wonderful place to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Pete, I said, tell me about flagpoles. He had one in front of the BD&DS; he liked to display the flag that most represented the musical artist he was showcasing at the jazz house on Sunday afternoons.

Classic Pete Douglas, in attire and pose, his usual laid-back self, talking to me about flags (and in an upcoming post, about wrinkles on women).

June: What do you think about flagpoles?

Pete: I think peopole should really get into flagpoles. Mine is a simple, common flagpole but I intend to buy one with cross bows so I can fly one flag up and two flags across.

June: When do you raise the flag? Is there a ritual involved?

Pete: No ritual. But sometime before a Sunday afternoon jazza concert or a Friday evening classical concert, I raise the appropriate flag. For instance, when the Woody Shaw Quintet played, the Kenya flag waved in the breeze and when the Israel Piano trio appeared, the musicians were happy to see the Israeli flag.

Once, he told me, when he was feuding with a lady friend, he raised the Uganda flag, although he claims he didn’t do so “consciously”.

The history of the BD&DS flagpiole goes back to 1962. Douglas was sitting in front of his place in Miramar Beach when he saw ‘Bob the Woodcutter’ drive by with a long eucalyptus tree trunk in his pick-up truck. There were lots of aptly named characters living on the Coastside then. Pete saw the tree and in his mind he saw the perfect flagpole.

Pete called to Bob. Pointing at the ecucalyptus, he said, “What are doing with that?” Before Bob could answer, Pete said, ” I’ll buy it.”

Douglas was so anxious to put something on the flagpole thaqt he raised a red curtain. For a moment he had forgotten that he’d been a “curiosity” in Half Moon Bay since arriving in the late 1950’s, as that man with a reputation for being “a liberal beatnik”.

When certain neighbors saw the red curtain hanging on the new flagpole Pete said, “I was reported to the American Legion for suspicion of flying a Communist flag,”

The red curtain was the beginning of the Douglas Flag Collection which grew to include flags from 32 countries as well as the Revolutionary flag and some state flags.

Pete: My flag collection stems from my attitude of a cooperative world and mutual respect for each other’s culture. Politics and national attitudes asisde I pick a flag on the basis of interest and beauty.

June: What’s your favorite flag?

Pete: Arizona. It’s one of the most symbolic looking flags. Sandy yellow with a sunburst…and Indian sunburst design. Another favorite is the Turkish flag. It’s solid red with a half moon and a star, and the Kenya flag, a shield with spears.

June: Are you going to get more flags?

Pete: I can’t wait to get more flags. I want to get thaat pole so I can fly three plags. Then we really can get things going.