Walking Through The Doors Of Coastside History

maymiemiramar_2.jpg(Photo: Maymie, the madam, poses in front of her longtime domain) mmc11.jpg (Photo: Michael McCracken, the “beat leader” who lived at the Abalone Factory in Princeton).

In the late 1970s I first heard of the beatniks who lived in the Abalone Factory out at Princeton….the whole idea of that wild, crazy scene, and Michael McCracken, “the beat leader” caught my fancy just as much as Maymie Cowley had– the red-haired madam who operated out of the Miramar Beach Inn from the heady days of Prohibition to the more sedate 1950s.

I followed up on both McCracken and Maymie Cowley who did not know each other. How I hoped either or both were alive so they could regale me with never-before-heard tales of the Coastside I had grown to love so much. Not just love but I found the Coastside to be a mysterious place, with wonderful and terrible secrets hidden everywhere.

How I wanted to know what I didn’t know but I just knew was there………

With Maymie, the madam, I had nutured a deep hope that she was alive and living in Redwood City. Alas, when I knocked the door of her last known residence, I found out the trail was ice cold. I was a decade too late. Through mortuary documents, I tracked down some relatives in the Mid-West…they wrote back with a little history and a couple of photographs. It was the first time I’d seen what she looked like and, yes, I was a bit disappointed, having believed that if she were a madam, she would look more flamboyant. But in the photos she looked like somebody’s grandma.

Other trivia trickled in over time but none of the really good stuff I was looking for. I don’t mean the madam stuff but she was involved in Prohibition traffic…from her windows,she could see the rumrunners doing their business.

McCracken was something else. Much younger than Maymie, he really could be alive and I thought there was a good chance he was. What would he be like, I wondered. Where was he?

Nobody knew anything–dead ends everywhere– but McCracken was a beatnik and I knew that beatnik life had been preserved in North Beach at San Francisco’s famous City Lights Bookstore. I wrote the poet and owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti and I received a response in the form of a contact name and post office box address in the City.

Turned out that the contact was artist Michael Bowen–who had lived with McCracken at the Abalone Factory. Still, I knew nothing of the whereabouts of McCracken. Maybe when I met up with Bowen at his home in Bolinas he would tell me.

Once again I was too late….Michael McCracken had died young, in his mid-20’s, in London, England.

But if you’ve followed this story, you know that a baby was born in 1963 in the Abalone Factory, the son of Michael McCracken and his wife Carole. Because of my postings that baby, now a very grown-up man [Michael Rothenberg] contacted me–because he, too, has been on a parallel search for the threads of his past– which he learned about less than 10 years ago.

Back to the Miramar & Maymie

A few posts back I told you how I first got into Coastside history.

I was obsessed with it and had to have everything I could get my hands on. Every time I collected a new photo, fact or anecdote, I felt so proud. I really did.

When I heard the Miramar Beach Inn had originally been built as a prohibition roadhouse– and even more tantalizing–that a madam named Maymie Cowley ran the place, I set out on a search for her. I figured there was a slight chance Maymie was still alive; she would have been in her 90s at the time.

Alas, I was too late. She had died some ten years before I started my search for her. I did get information at the funeral home and found relatives and her last place of residence in Redwood City (After a robbery at the Miramar in 1955, her home since about 1916, she moved over the hill). I wrote the relatives and they sent me photographs of Maymie–nobody had these photos.

I knocked on the door of Maymie’s last known home–a place she shared with another woman but couldn’t get anywhere. The lady did admit Maymie had lived there but I think she thought I was some sort of nosey official, what with my legal sized notebook and pen in hand. (I was so serious about my research).

By the way, that’s Maymie in the photo, one of the pix her relatives from the Midwest sent me. (And what’s great is that the Miramar–that’s what locals call it–an historic roadhouse, still stands.

Miramar Beach Inn


Earlier I wrote that it was the old Coastside buildings, lucky to still be standing and dying to talk, that got my attention. The first one that tested my curiosity was the Miramar Beach Inn and that was because it was getting a new look.

The “Miramar” was a very funky place when I first saw it. A dark but cozy bar with Joe the bartender who sang opera while he poured bountiful pitchers of beer. Very picturesque. But soon a young guy with money and very high energy bought the place and moved upstairs with his cute blonde wife. Up there they enjoyed a fantastic view of the Pacific. And there were other little rooms on the same floor. These were rented out to people who worked in the restaurant.

It wasn’t long before I learned the Miramar had once been home to a red-haired madam called Maymie (a local hairdresser, the second wife of a county supervisor, told me she dyed the madam’s hair red). Maymie lived upstairs and the hookers she hired were girls just passing through looking for a little work.

Maymie was a long time resident, living at the Miramar between about 1918 and 1955.

Downstairs was where the party was… in the restaurant and bar. And if someone wanted to take the party upstairs there was a dumb waiter that could be activated from the rooms, bringing drinks and food.

The Miramar’s heyday was in the 1920s during Prohibition and its location overlooking the Pacific was perfect. Just imagine Maymie could look out the window and see the rumrunners sailing in fishing boats and the like withillegal liquor, booze that was unloaded along the secluded beaches, probably right in front of the Miramar and certainly to the north at Princeton Harbor where there were several piers. Maymie, herself, was probably working with the bootleggers and rumrunners.

It has been said that the Half Moon Bay Coastside was the biggest supplier of illegal booze in…well, at least in Northern California area, maybe all of California. All you have to do is look at the stretches of beaches and coves and remember how isolated they were in the 1920s and how difficult it was for officials to patrol an area difficult to get to…

But when poring over old newspapers there is evidence that Maymie’s Miramar was busted by prohibition agents. They probably didn’t recover every illegal bottle of booze though, because the resourceful madam ordered her contractor to design revolving cabinets and movable floorboards to confound the authorities.