Friday, May 11, 2012

The Pickle Family Circus at San Lorenzo Park

Cirque du Soleil Hippy-Style

It was always an adventure in a hippy fairy tale land when The Pickle Family Circus set-up camp in the San Lorenzo Park near downtown Santa Cruz.  I was too young to really know that they did anything other than visit Santa Cruz from time to time, as they seemed like a gang of merry pranksters to me.  I have since learned that they were a local San Francisco bay area circus that was founded in 1974, who later influenced the creation of none other than Montreal's Cirque du Soleil -- now quite famous for the many venues in Las Vegas!

To us children, it really wasn't a circus. It was an exciting adventure that revolved around jugglers, clowns, music, and many many people. The park was full of people, dancing around, shopping at the various stalls of beaded necklaces, and that familiar smokey smell of 1970s Santa Cruz herb. 

The circus didn't have lions, tigers, and other animals parading around. It was very people-centric, with the jugglers working out in the crowd, passing things like flaming torches to each other as we all sat around their feet. The close confines and personal danger all were part of the intimate closeness we felt to the performers, and how we felt part of all the fun and gayety.  It makes sense that Juggling is what I remember best, as in the late 1970s, that was their roots.  The Pickle Family Jugglers were originally part of the San Francisco Mime Troupe before splitting off to start a circus. 

The circus also had some clowns that worked the crowd, making special interuptions during the shows, and otherwise bothering everyone to the great delight of all the children!  Originally there were three clowns: Larry Pisoni, Bill Irwin, and Geoff Hoyle. Bill Irwin left in 1979, and after that Pisoni and Hoyle worked as a duo.
In the 1980 movie, Popeye, starring Robin Williams, members of the Pickle Family Circus appeared. Bill Irwin played "Ham Gravy", Larry Pisoni was "Chico", Geoff Hoyle portrayed "Scoop", and Peggy Snider ended up playing "Pickelina". Members of the troupe also were in the James Bond move, Octopussy, which had a sub-plot that involved a circus and juggling.

The Pickle Family Circus is now a part of San Francisco's Circus Center, and you can see The New Pickle Circus every December in San Francisco, and also in other special events at other  times.

Accompanying Commotion

As the official Pickle Family Circus itself only occupied one book-end of the park with its stage and set-up, the rest of the park was filled with vendors, crafts, food, paint, and musicians.  The one my sister and I remember best was a rag-time banjo player who played about three different songs. We sat there and watched him, filling in a wide circle of children sitting on the grass at his feet. He kept strumming, and we kept listening. The songs filled out memories, and I can still sing them to this day:

Hello My Baby, Hello My Honey 

"Hello! Ma Baby" is from 1899, written by Joseph E. Howard and Ida Emerson
Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal.
Send me a kiss by wire. Baby my heart's on fire.
If you refuse me, honey you'll loose me, then you'll be left alone.
Oh baby, telephone and tell me I'm your own!

You Can Roll a Silver Dollar

"Silver Dollar" was originally written by Alfred Williams around 1907 as "A Man Without A Woman"
Well you can roll a silver dollar, down upon the ground,
and it will roll, because it's round..
a woman never knows what a good man she's got,
until she turns him down...
listen my honey, now listen to me,
I hope you understand, that while a silver dollar travels, from hand to hand,
a pretty woman goes from man to man
(I tell you baby)
a woman goes from man to man...

Put Another Nickel In The Nickelodeon

"Music! Music! Music!" was written in 1949 by Stephen Weiss and Bernie Baum. It was a #1 hit song in 1950 as sung by Teresa Brewer.
Put another nickle in, 
In the Nickelodeon.   
All I want is love and you and music... music..

I'll do anything for you,
anything you want me to,
all I want is love and you and music...

my dear, come closer,
my dear, it's like that old time memory,
when you're dancing close to me,

Put another nickel in, in the Nickelodeon,
All I was is loving you and music, music, money, music...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Memories of Harvey West Park in Santa Cruz, California

Growing up in Santa Cruz, California, we spent a lot of time at Harvey West Park. It was where the summer day camp was held, where we learned our swimming lessons, there was a steam train to climb on, junk food to eat at the snack shack, a kiddie railroad to ride on, an old cemetery to hide in, and little league baseball games to watch. As a child, you take it all in and don't really understand the history completely. The steam engine had always been there, and that was that. As I look back, I realize there was a lot more history, memories, and details standing right in front of me the entire time.

Harvey E. West, Sr (1894-1979)

To us kids, Harvey West Park was really Harveywestpark -- one word that meant fun, sun, and running around! The fact that it was actually a person's name -- a man named "Harvey West" -- didn't really connect with us.

Harvey West was born in 1894 near Santa Cruz, just down the road in Soquel, California. He was a lumberman by trade, starting the Placerville Lumber Company in 1936. Later in life, his fortune made, he became a wonderful philanthropist. Harvey donated 27 of the 50 acres that make up the park, which was dedicated on May 30, 1959. Harvey West passed away in 1979.

The Great Big Steam Locomotive

The Southern Pacific engine #1298 was built in September 1917 as one of the last of the S-10 class 0-6-0 engines by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. There were 27 S-10s built in total during the 1913 and 1917 production runs, and only six survive to this date: Engine #1215 is in San Jose, CA; 1221 is in Deming, NM; 1233 is in Woodland, CA; 1237 is in Salinas, CA; 1238 is in Fresno, CA; and 1298 is still in Santa Cruz, CA.
Back in the 1970s, you could run around and play on both the locomotive and the oil tender. The tender was sold around 1987 to Rick Hamman as a spare for the SP C-8 2706, which are all now owned by John Manley, so the SP S-10 1298 at Harvey West Park is much less imposing than it was at one time. Sadly, it kind of looks cute now -- not the super powerful monster of steam that it once was to a child's eyes. The tender looks like a C-9 style, and carried oil to power the locomotive.

In September and October of 1987, the Santa Cruz City Council voted to sell the entire train engine and tender at the recommendation of the Parks & Rec department. There were lots of letters to the editor, and eventually only the tender was sold, but the train is no longer a playground structure -- it now has signs that stay keep off.

The S-10 was a switcher engine, doing the hard work of shuffling short cuts of cars into their places, while making up trains in the yard. These switch engines moved from rail yard to rail yard, making up freight trains, or doing short shuttling jobs of moving customer cars directly to their on-rail drop-offs. Larger facilities, such as the San Jose passenger terminal, had their own depot switchers dressed up with chrome and a more glamorous livery paint job.

Arizona Eastern Railroad #39
According to HL Broadbelt Collection, as listed in the Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History, SP steam engine 1298 began its life as the Arizona Eastern Railroad Company's number 39, and was Baldwin number 46313 built in September, 1917. Arizona Eastern merged into the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. in 1924, and #39 was re-numbered as Southern Pacific 1298. It's unknown where locomotive 1298 did the bulk of its work -- it could have been nearby at San Jose or Watsonville, or even the small switch yard in Felton, as perhaps the yard downtown at the Santa Cruz depot. Since it was originally in the Arizona Eastern fleet, it was most probably used as terminal switcher in and around San Diego, including San Diego's Santa Fe Union Depot for passenger train switching -- there were a couple 0-6-0 switchers used by the Arizona Eastern in this capacity, including ones leased back from the Southern Pacific during WW II. As of 1956, the 1298 is listed as being assigned to "Southern Pacific W" as stated in a September 30, 1956 bulletin -- where "W" could just mean West.

The engine arrived in Santa Cruz in 1961, as reported by Railroad Magazine in 1961's Volume 73-74: "The Southern Pacific's final retired steam engine, a switcher, No. 1298, has just gone to a park in Santa Cruz, California."

  • Wheels: 0-6-0
  • Builder: Baldwin Locomotive Works
  • Build Date: 09/1917
  • Construction No.: 46313
  • Empty Weight: 154,600
  • Weight on Drivers: 154,600
  • Driver Diameter: 51
  • Tractive Effort: 29,720
  • Boiler Pressure: 190
  • Cylinders: 19x26
  • Fuel: Oil
  • Gauge: Standard

The Swimming Pool

The swimming pool was built in 1959, and featured a high dive that scared every Santa Cruz child silly. The long climb up the stairs seemed to take forever, and at the top you could literally touch the clouds on a foggy day. Looking down from the high dive, you could barely make out a small blotch of blue where you assumed the pool should be. Jumping to your death was a daunting task, made all the worse by the stories that your friends told you about the kid who was split in half when his legs flew apart. It was a rite of passage to close your eyes, step off the board, and keep your legs pressed as tightly as possible together to avoid a horrible death. The water hurt your feet as you hit it, and if you managed to hold your breath through the impact, you ended up at the bottom of a 12' deep-end looking up at a surface impossibly far away. Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation held swimming lessons at the Harvey West Park swimming pool, and that's where we all learned to swim. There were two pools: an L-shaped one with the deep-end roped off, and a kiddie pool that was always very warm. Again the rumor was that it was warm because of all the little children doing unspeakable things, but I'm now pretty sure that it was the fact that the Sun can warm up a shallow of 2' of water pretty easily! 

The Snack Shack and Kiddie Train

After swimming lessons, you would run over to the snack shack and get a dixie cup of soda pop and some pink popcorn. They also had hot dogs and other classic candies from the 1970s. At the snack shack, you could buy tickets for the little kiddie train that ran down the side of the park and back. The snack shack also was the locomotive barn for this miniature train.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

EST Children's Training

In the 1970s, Werner Erhard's est Training was the hip thing to do to find enlightenment and lead a better life. It was all about "getting it" and dealing with your own stuff without playing the victim. Instead of complaining about the traffic jam, or fighting the traffic jam, or being the victim of a traffic jam, the trick was to "make space" for the traffic jam and let it just be a traffic jam and avoid it. Then you could go a step further, and take responsibility for that traffic jam and fix it.

My parents took the est training, and then signed my sister and I up for the children's training, which was a special new est training for children. I think it was in San Jose or Palo Alto, and we were all video taped as it was one of the first.

We learned how to get rid of a headache by asking questions about the headache, alternated an occasional "do you still have a headache" in there. Questions like, "if it could hold water, how much water could it hold?" and "what color is it?"

There were some roll-reversal songs, where the girls all sang a song about being a big tough cowboy, and the boys all sang a song about having pretty little fingers and ten little toes.
"Hey there broken nose, why don't you play me a song on that there pian'er. I don't have a broken nose. Pow! Now you do!"

I'm pretty sure none of the kids really wanted to be there, and the trainers definitely had to overcome that with a lighter version of the hard-core est of lore. I remember them asking if anyone wanted to leave, and at least one little boy raised his hand and was escorted out -- the rest of us shut up after that.

I suppose the children's training was supposed to get us to take more responsibility for our own lives, and not play the victim. I don't remember anything in particular about that sort of messaging, and I'm pretty sure that I wasn't "Getting It" while doing the training. However! I am fairly enlightened, so perhaps some if it did sink in somehow in an unconscious manner?

I am surprised to find that the est training has survived the 1970s, and is still alive and well renamed as Landmark Forum.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Warmth Band and Mural at The Cooper House in Santa Cruz

The Cooper House in downtown Santa Cruz used to house shops and restaurants. In this picture, you can clearly see the Cooper House Sidewalk Cafe, with their house-band, "Warmth" playing with their mural in the background. The Mural of Warmth in the background was done by James McFarlin, which was unfortunately torn down and destroyed by later owners of the Cooper House and carted away to the dump.

The long-time leader of the iconic Santa Cruz jazz Band was Don McCaslin, always at the keyboards, and his son, Donny McCaslin sometimes sitting in as a young sax player. Donny McCaslin has continued in his career, and now has a number of Jazz music CD albums out!

The Cooper House was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and torn down shortly thereafter.

The classic 1970s summer afternoon was spent hanging out at The Cooper House, or nearby on a bench under a tree, listening to the jazz music of Warmth drifting through the air. Band Members of Warmth included Jim Baum, Don McCaslin, Wayne Goodwin, Franco, Wesley Braxton, and many others that came and went in a hang-loose style. Don McCaslin started playing at the Cooper House on a daily basis, starting in 1972. His legendary upbeat, Latin-tinged jazz vibes filled the air of the Cooper House sidewalk café all the way up to 1989, when the Cooper House was torn down.

Warmth was the heartbeat of downtown Santa Cruz from 1972 to 1989.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hocus Pocus, The Santa Cruz Clown

Santa Cruz was home to the famous clown, Hocus Pocus, played by Denmark native Carl Hansen. Carl also played Santa Claus at Santa's Village park in Scotts Valley for five years before leaving for television to become the clown Hocus Pocus.

My memories of Hocus Pocus are from two separate events: the first was being in the studio audience of the Hocus Pocus show at the Group W building on Soquel Drive. Hocus Pocus asked people what they wanted to be when the grew up, and when he came to me, I said, "I want to be a captain" -- meaning a miltary officer (I guess), but he took it to mean the captain of a ship and I went along with it and nodded.

The second event was the annual Santa Cruz Halloween Parade from Branciforte Elementary school to Gault School. I was in the Branciforte Jr. High School marching band, and Hocus Pocus was one of the local Santa Cruz celebrities featured in the parade. He sat in a cool old car from the 1950s, and waved to the crowd as we marched in front of him.

Carl's wife, Florene Hansen, crafted all of his clown costumes that he used on the Hocus Pocus children's TV show, which aired on KNTV Channel 11 in Santa Cruz, from 1961 through 1971. Carl was a magician clown, with a number of magic tricks in his repertoire. He was born in 1904, and passed away in 1998 -- his obituary was published in The San Jose Mercury News.