CAPITOLA SUNSET December 2008, Volume 2, Issue 4
Just Beachy—Capitola in the 1950s
People Who Made It All Possible
Themed to harmonize with plans for the upcoming
Judith Steen, who has designed our exhibits for
celebration of the City’s
birthday, the Capitola
fifteen years, once again brought together images
Museum’s new exhibit opened this fall with two
and objects to tell the story of Capitola’s history.
festive events. A public reception on December 6th
This one is both youthful and fun.
followed a volunteer welcome on November 8th. Star guest on both occasions was Frank Hill, the
former art student who crafted tikis in 1954 for the
generously given by Betsy’s Antiques, Bruce Arthur,
Saba and Caribbean Ballroom at the end of the
Jim Byberg, Nancy Campeau, Charles Canfield and
the Seaside Company, Eric Fingal and Covello and
Covello Photography, Frank Hill, Roy Johnson and Hill, who has yet to retire from his long career as
Johnson Art Studio, Niels Kisling, Joe Michalak,
an artist, recently updated one of his 1950s Saba
Linda and Larry Smith, Steve Swift, Nels and Susan
posters. Illustrated with tikis, the poster has been
Westman, Marybeth Varcados, and “Z Surfer.”
reproduced on t-shirts. The shirts had their debut at the reception and are currently the number one item offered for a donation in the Museum store.
Why the 1950s? Hundreds of once-upon-a-time children can still chirp out the answer to Buffalo Bob’s question, “Hey kids, what time is it?”(It’s Howdy Doody time!) Legions of former teenagers to this day can feel a stab of pain when they think of James Dean and his silver Porsche 550 Spyder. But how many 1950s youngsters can close their eyes and remember the taste and smell of Babe’s fries? The turn of a new decade in 1950 was one of Capitola’s defining moments. After struggling to keep up the requisite amenities of a popular resort—road and wharf repairs and clean water, for example—the
incorporate as a municipality. The election passed by a paper-thin edge, 297-243. The act was a radical move and one that worked, but just barely. In 1952, another election to “disincorporate” failed by an equally slender margin. Elected leaders believed it was worth it to keep the City going. The old Capitola resort was fading. Passenger trains no longer stopped at the depot. Our new tiki t-shirt by Frank Hill.
Instead, a broad, new highway carved through
familiar old neighborhoods. Young families came by the hundreds, and with their baby boomers came demands for school classrooms and places away from the beach where children could play. Without becoming sentimental or schmaltzy, “Just Beachy—Capitola in the 1950s” offers visitors of all ages just enough triggers to snap them back in time for a sweet, short tour of the past. From the paddleboats on the lagoon to the horses on the merry-go-round, it’s meant to be a cool little ride.
How the Tiki Came to Capitola It happened in 1954. The Saba was renovated and ready for its grand The “tikiana” bar craze—fermented in the years of
opening in 1954. Stretching the bounds of reality
with its fanciful décor, the restaurant presented
Angeles up to the Bay Area by the early Fifties.
carved tikis inside and out, with walls draped in
Victor Bergeron opened "Trader Vic's," a San
fishnets, bamboo, and thatched grass adorned with
Francisco restaurant decorated with tiki carvings,
the shells of man-eating clams. A huge swordfish
bamboo, and outrigger canoes.
centerpieces. Painted in day-glow colors, the Brad Macdonald, Capitola’s mayor and the founder
Behind the orchestra stage was the chimera of lava
something entrepreneur who was raised in Capitola
flowing down a papier-mâché volcano. Tikis, the
and had worked and lived in San Francisco. In
central icon, were etched even onto the tops of the
1953, he was young, confident, and brave enough
to speculate on a new venture. Brad and Jack both remembered the enormous Planning to sell Shadowbrook and start a new
popularity of Capitola’s nightclubs that had drawn
enterprise with his father, Jack Macdonald, Brad
large crowds throughout the 1920s and early
visited Bergeron at Trader Vic’s. Inspired, the two
1930s. The era of marathon dancing was a time,
however brief, when Capitola enjoyed ranking as a
Caribbean Ballroom” with a West Indies theme.
year-round visitor destination. They gambled on their ability to recapture this past fame by booking
in celebrated performers.
atmosphere with a profitable entertainment venue. The outmoded Capitola ballroom and skating rink
Times had changed, however. The Macdonalds’
at the end of the Esplanade seemed the perfect
attempt to put Capitola on the circuit of popular
site. The ballroom sat on the footprint of the
bands was a risk that worked, but not to the degree
landmark Hotel Capitola that burned in 1929.
that Brad had hoped. The great names appeared—
Although hastily constructed in the mid-1930s, the
Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel
dance pavilion had seating for up to 1,000 patrons.
Hampton—but they had to compete with the juke
An adjoining lounge offered sweeping views of
box when it came to attracting younger audiences.
Nonetheless, from 1954 until the Saba burned in
of a vintage show (I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners,
The Lone Ranger…), leaf through a Life Magazine,
entertainment that added sophistication to Capitola
and feel “Just Beachy.” All you need to imagine is
at a time when it was a struggling new municipality
the scent of coconut oil.
with an uncertain economic future. The Saba’s tikis burned in the fire, but their connection to the whimsical nature of Capitola has made them a suitable icon for revival. This year— fifty years after their disappearance from Capitola’s Esplanade, the tiki has returned.
Artist Frank Hill Remember Walter Cronkite and You Are There?, the 1950s television series?
Frank Hill has lent a
similar perspective to the Capitola
exhibit on the same era.
Today’s community supports its heritage while it shapes contemporary life. Capitola’s personality is that of a successful city stitched on the historic fabric of an easy-going tourist resort. Within its character is an unconventional spirit that surfaces every so often to add a new dimension. Surprising as it may seem, a tiki is part of that characteristic pattern.
President’s Corner By Linda Smith A new exhibit opening is always a pleasure, and “Just Beachy—Capitola in the 1950s” is one that exceeds expectations. Intended to give meaning “between the lines” to the time when Capitola became a municipality, this show is also as satisfying as a thick milk shake on a hot day. Complimenting the exhibit is the release of a new
Hill grew up in Capitola, living with his family near
Museum t-shirt. Darcy Horton, Museum board
today’s Shadowbrook. He even remembers the
vice-president and newsletter editor, assisted by
chalet cabin in its pre-restaurant days, when a
our volunteer coordinator, Niels Kisling, worked
realtor once let Hill and his friends go inside for a
together on the design and production of a shirt
depicting an updated version of artist Frank Hill’s 1954 Saba poster. The results are cool, attractive,
He was in high school in 1947 when Brad
and available for a reasonable donation.
Macdonald and Ed Philippet founded their dining establishment. Hill became Shadowbrook’s first
As the New Year arrives, the Capitola Museum
dishwasher and was soon designing menus on
plans to be involved with the celebration of the
wooden shingles, or painting oak dining tables a
City’s birthday, and has several more ideas on the
bright pink. These were Macdonald’s ideas, he
drawing board for community events, fundraising,
remembers, and although they seemed a bit
and visitor-pleasing activities. But for now, please
outlandish, they worked.
“come on down” to see the exhibit, watch a video
While Hill was attending the Academy of Art in San Francisco in 1954, he did artwork for Macdonald when home for the weekend. The artist carved tikis from telephone poles, designed menus, painted
tabletops, and trimmed the interior décor of the Saba and Caribbean Ballroom.
Awash in a Sea of Red Hats
Hill later continued his art career, working for
There were red hats everywhere on November 15th
Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip;
when the Museum was visited by women from the
Frank O’Neal and Short Ribs; and Hank Ketcham’s
local Red Hat Society. Known for their red hats,
Dennis the Menace. Hill spent thirty years working
purple dresses, camaraderie, and sense of fun, they
with Ketcham’s syndicated strip and still writes
consider themselves members of a “disorgan-
captions for the Sunday pages.
ization” that wants nothing to do with rules and bylaws. Their only mission is to gain greater
Washhouse Doors Open
visibility for women over 50 in order to reshape how they are viewed by today’s culture. What a
Steve Swift has nearly completed the painting touch
pleasure to have them share their style and joy with
ups and put up Plexiglas to cover the openings to
The project, representing more
than a year of volunteer work by many hands, is finally done. Volunteers will now open the doors as part of their regular shift duties and passersby can get a better view of what summer life was like in Capitola, c1935.
Acknowledgments Funds received in response to our last newsletter will be used to restore historically significant artifacts in the Museum collection. Many thanks to the following generous people:
Ron and Diane Graves
Email: [email protected]
Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m.
Museum Director: Carolyn Swift
Horton (Vice President), Tom McGranahan
Published by the Capitola Historical Museum 410 Capitola Ave., Capitola, CA 95010 Website: www.capitolamuseum.org Museum Hours: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and
Board of Trustees: Linda Smith (President), Darcy (Treasurer), Topsy Smalley (Secretary), Gordon van Zuiden, Bob Anderson, and Niels Kisling