“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part V

…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…

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part IV


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…

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part III

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…

“Skyline” in the 1960s: Part II

(See my Part I, on the previous page)

After purchasing the Skyline acreage, John Wickett told me he did some “intense logging, which I since regret. It spoiled lots of beauty but opened up lots of views and many roads, and made it possible for us to get around the property not otherwise possible.”

He was already addicted to collecting “things”, large and small–and the Skyline property was littered with machinery and all kinds of equipment that he had purchased at the auctions he haunted. There were literally tons of building materials, steel and wire and wood. To protect the investment, he hired caretakers to watch the place.

John Wickett told me that one morning he woke up to what he called “a big surprise”. (Keep in mind that he said this in his usual gentle tone of voice–he wasn’t the type to get angry; life constantly amazed him with its twists and turns).

“Someone told me,” John said, “about all this wonderful equipment that was available up on Skyline. It was being sold off for all you could load in one hour for $100. A minute over and you paid another $100. My friend said, ‘John, you’ve got to get in on that. You’re just going to have a field day because you can get so much good stuff.’ So finally I find out where the terrific deal was. Guess what? It was my caretaker selling off my belongings!”

….To Be Continued….

On The Allure Of Fog

{Disclosure: I was born and raised in San Francisco’s “Sunset District”–a misnomer, if there ever was one–so my intimacy with Fog has been long established.}

Fog.jpg (photo by Maria Demarest).

Most people, whether they admit it or not, harbor deep prejudices against Fog.

Those who don’t live on the Coastside, for instance, will usually choose a sunny day for a trip to Half Moon Bay. They merely check to see if the blanket of Fog is looming over the mountains which form the barrier between the Coastside and the Peninsula.

Since Fog is considered undesireable by most people, few opt to actually live with Fog. It really does take a certain type of individual who can adapt psychologically to foggy weather–which sometimes endures for days on end.

But maybe Fog has been underrated for too long. After all, Fog does have some positive attributes–for example, as a gauzy mood changer and an enhancer of mystery.

Fog has played a major role in the history of the Coastside. In the 1970s a major land developer kicked off a campaign to attract new people to the Coastside. His goal was to dispell the myth about the number of foggy days in Half Moon Bay. One of his gimmicks included an impressive calendar showing all the sunny days during the year. His promotion failed.

J.F. Wienke, an early settler, who bought the town of Moss Beach in the 1880s, was a forerunner in attempting to change public opinion about Fog. Wienke strongly believed that Fog possessed health-giving qualities and he built a seaside resort overlooking the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. For a time he attracted prominent guests such as Stanford University President David Starr Jordan–but the resort mysteriously burned about 1912.

In the early 1900s, when the Ocean Shore Railroad planned to turn the Coastside into a Coney Island West, the intrepid developers must have come up with their brilliant concept on a bright sunny day. Surely un-resolveable engineering problems put the enterprise into the cold hands of bankruptcy but there may have been a lesser known cause: Fog.

A long streak of foggy weather probably accounted for the sharp drop in Ocean Shore passengers headed for Half Moon Bay. Coney Island West did not materialize.

Shortly after the Ocean Shore Railroad vanished from the landscape, Prohibition rolled in, and Fog suddenly proved to be a valuable asset. Rumrunners unloaded their illegal booze under cover of darkness on the isolated beaches enshrouded by the Fog that blurred their activities and provided safety. Needless to say, they made illicit millions.

To this day, Fog continues to be a key element that may determine the success or failure on the Coastside.