capitola sunset - City of Capitola

capitola sunset - City of Capitola

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 f...

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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

dining tables.










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.

Monterey Bay.

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

Halloween spree.

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

Larry Smith

Patti Wakefield

Mark Wheeler

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 washhouse.

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: 

Marian Carlson

Bud Carney

Cal Cornwell

Emil Edgren

Ron and Diane Graves

Email: [email protected] Phone: 831.464.0322

Stephanie Harlan

Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m.

Darcy Horton

Museum Director: Carolyn Swift

Marvin Jensen

Horton (Vice President), Tom McGranahan

Kathleen King

Butch Mudgett

Emma Rock

Published by the Capitola Historical Museum 410 Capitola Ave., Capitola, CA 95010 Website: 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