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Catch as Catch Can

August 30, 2012

As a result of the sale of my book, Small Mountain Rambles and the recent inclusion of my blog posts in the Los Gatos Patch, lots of folks have been reading my tall tales of recent Los Gatos and Santa Cruz Mountain history. Just like I was warned, people are stopping me in the street and telling me their Loma Prieta Quake stories, which people they knew that I’ve written about and how I got this right and how I got that wrong.

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One topic has become a little more prevalent than I expected, though I can understand how it comes up. But I think this topic needs a little clarification, and the topic is “bars.”

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Several recent readers of my material have commented on how much of my discussion takes place in bars (as in “drinking establishments”), is about bars, is referenced to bars, so on and so forth. Reflecting, this observation is true, however, thinking back, I really don’t believe we were any the more a bunch of alcoholics than a college campus was in those days.

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There were two factors, I think, that give rise to the constant reference to these “houses of the grape and the grain,” one was our age and the second was our art. For instance, my book is a collection of nearly two dozen stories about a bunch of young people who, storefront by storefront and residence by residence, refurbished and dressed up the entire downtown of Los Gatos and its nearby neighborhoods. When this spontaneous effort began, I would have to estimate that 80% of this bunch was under about 27 years of age, and the remaining 20%, with a few obvious exceptions, weren’t yet over 35. There were no fraternities in Los Gatos during this time, but this bunch was no more rowdy or festive than the famous fraternities at San Jose State which, in those days, Playboy magazine deemed to be the biggest party school in the country. I honestly don’t think we were anymore obsessed with drink than were those frat boys and girls, and even, maybe, we were a little less radical than them about the booze.

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And then, there was our art. By way of example, I met Tony Lynott when I was about 23 or 24 and he was still in high school. He started a stained glass business before he graduated from Los Gatos High. That same business is still in operation today, though today it is a world class operation. Tony has hundreds of pieces installed all over Los Gatos: stained glass, etched glass, neon glass work and a variety of sculptures. If you have lived in town for any length of time, you have probably encountered dozens of examples of Tony’s work without even knowing it, you simply accept such work as part of the charm of our fair town. Well, that charm wasn’t there before Tony was asked to put it there by the resident or shop keeper who had him to do the work.

Two jobs, two styles

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However, doing a pane of stained glass for someone’s front door, or etching a glass panel for somebody’s remodeled bathroom brings the artist little exposure and usually, only a modest annual income. It takes a lot of front doors and very many shower enclosures to make a living when everything you do is painstakingly hand made and meant to be a unique work of art. Now go and visit Steamer’s Grill House in the Old Town Annex and look at Tony’s work throughout the establishment. You find here long lengths of 3/4 inch plate glass panels, hardly any the two exactly the same, with highly polished and shaped edges, some panels curved to an exact arch and etched features gilded with gold and silver leaf. Forget simply the artistic considerations in these thick panels, a whole lot of specialized engineering went into them as well.

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Now consider, which of the households in Almond Grove or even up on GlenRidge or over on Shannon Road, which household could afford such a massive glass work? And, surely, none of them could provide the artist with such long and sustained exposure to the public eye. In the big cities like San Francisco, Chicago or New York, you have huge hotels, large opera houses and massive churches to patronize the arts. In towns with twenty or thirty thousand residents, there are no such large, well financed institutions to patronize the local artists and artisans. Most of the time, even the local business establishments are not inclined to invest in such fine and serious artistic endeavors.

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Here in Los Gatos, we are very lucky that several of the older establishments did, at one time, invest in the signature works of such people as Tony Lynott, Jim Bacigalupi, who built the bar in Mountain Charley’s and, along with Joch McCoy and Mike Grabil, the entire room at Number One Broadway. Number One is a sorely forgotten treasure here in town of fine woodwork and grand and excellent stained glass. The prodigious graphic designer, Rick Tharp got his start and made his reputation collaborating with so many bars and restaurants here in town, as well as other retail store fronts here, then in the Bay Area, and later, throughout the world. Tony, Jim and Rick are all good personal friends of mine and everyone knows it. I don’t want to get into the game of “if I mention this guy I’ll have to mention that guy, on and on,” ending up embarrassing myself and being put at big risk with those I forget to mention.
We were lucky to have these popular and successful bars and restaurants give these fine artists a place to really stretch out their talents, to reach out far and long and really show off. All novices in the 1960s and 70s, many are world class experts now. And it all came to blossom in the bars and the restaurants around town, the places that had used these guys talents, not in the small town churches who couldn’t afford such extravagances. The big irony here is that now-a-days, if you look on Bachigalupi’s web site (http://www.bacigalupistudios.com/flash/toc.htm), there are more pictures of his eccelisastical work (church stuff) than the few pictures of bar and restaurant work. Strange how things can get turned around.

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Number One’s stained glass tree   (courtesy of Peter Carter)

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We all sat in Number One Broadway, drinking beer, one evening, long ago, and listened to Jim’s plans to build a chair that would carry the Pope through several small towns in the mountains near the coast. The “Papcy” had heard about Jim’s furniture and Number One Broadway, they checked it out and they liked what they saw. Jim has been doing work for Papacy in Rome ever since. I guess building bars wasn’t all bad.

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