…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…
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…
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…