Bohemia by the Bay

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society
 PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  Allen Ginsberg (white t-shirt), Even Connell (suit and tie, near mast), Sally Stanford (jaunty hat) and Jean Varda (at tiller) are among the Bohemians aboard Varda’s boat.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Allen Ginsberg (white t-shirt), Even Connell (suit and tie, near mast), Sally Stanford (jaunty hat) and Jean Varda (at tiller) are among the Bohemians aboard Varda’s boat.

The postwar Beatniks discovered Southern Marin early on. In Jack Kerouac’s movement-shaping novel On the Road, based on a road trip he made in 1947, the Kerouac avatar Sal Paradise drives across the Golden Gate Bridge to visit a pal in Mill Valley. On the way, he notes "I had just come through the little fishing village of Sausalito, and the first thing I said was, 'There must be a lot of Italians in Sausalito’.”

Sausalito’s bohemian roots were tapped in an early-60s Cosmopolitan Travel Report by playwright, author and sometimes travel writer Richard Harrity. Here are some excerpts:

Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, a lovely stretch of land resembling the French Riviera, is an artists' colony that can best be described as Barge Bohemia. It's a pleasant place that looks a little like Monte Carlo, with gaily painted houses hanging on the hillside and a harbor crammed with the strangest flotilla I've ever seen: ferry boats, broken-down barges, houseboats and, here and there, a sleek yacht or two. On the top deck of one old ferry boat anchored near the center of Sausalito were, until October, the offices of Contact Magazine, a literary journal established in 1958.

The favorite saloon of the art set in Sausalito is the no name liar (which has no name) where all the bartenders have college degrees and can hold their own with the customers in heated discussions about everything from neo-Dadaism to the sudden exit of existentialism. Among other things, this bar serves as the mailing address           for the A.D.D.L... or Anti Digit Dialing League,and was the headquarters for the Save Chessman Committee. Sterling Hayden, the actor, who maintained an office on a boat at Sausalito, and is now working on his first novel, is a frequent visitor, and recently Brendan Behan, the young quiet Irishman, invaded the joint for a week and drank champagne, no less, while he was in San Francisco for the performance of his play, The Hostage.

Every year at the no name there is a Christmas party at which Spike Africa, who was Sterling Hayden’s first mate on the Wanderer and is known as “the president of the Pacific Ocean,” serves split pea soup and tells Christmas stories  The no name is quite a spot and Neil Davis, the owner, welcomes all artists, even the misguided who mistake desire for talent.

Some of the finest artists in America are now at work in the San Francisco area, including Jean Varda, the golden Greek, a great colorist, who paints with the vision of van Gogh.

Varda who recently celebrated his seventieth birthday, with  a fabulous party aboard his boat and studio which, in company with the most gifted men and women of San Francisco, I had the privilege of attending, still has the unpsoiled eyes of a boy, an eager interest in everything, an endless lust for life. When art critics damn his dazzling palette by declaring his colors aren’t true to life, Varda roars with Homeric laughter and replies, “I paint with the colors of paradise.”

Varda is the master of the grand gesture, and when I told him that I was writing about Bohemia on the Bay he arranged a sailing party aboard his little Mediterranean ship. Varda’s crew on the day I sailed with him represented in my opinion, a fine cross section of San Francisco’s art world. Manning Varda’s boat and talking of sealing wax and sailing ships that day were: Evan S. Connell, Jr.; Allen Ginsberg, the Walt Whitman of the New Wasteland; Bill Ryan, the crusading communicator; Henri Lenoir, the poor painter’s art patron; and Sally Stanford, the last of the Red Hot Madames, who now runs a chic supper club in Sausalito, called the Valhalla.

This motley but merry crew belted a big jug of wine during the voyage while arguing about art and laughing at life as Varda steered toward San Francisco, and at the end of our rainbow we found another pot of golden brew at the Vesuvio.

To honor some of Sausalito’s postwar bohemians, The Historical Society has created an  exhibit: "The Sausalito Renaissance and the birth of Mid Century Modern in Sausalito.” On display at the Bay Model Tuesday-Saturday, 9 am - 4 pm until January 18, the

exhibit includes art and information from and about artists, poets and impresarios of the late 1940’s.  And to celebrate that exhibit, the Society is also sponsoring an evening of jazz,

libations, food, and poetry on Friday, December 14. From 6 - 9 p.m. Firehouse Coffee & Tea

at 317 Johnson Street will turn into a beatnik coffee house for the evening.

Admission is $40, and seating is limited. Tickets and information are available at www.SausalitoHistoricalSociety.org or at www.eventbrite.com.