Growing Up in the South Bay

 

The article below was recently printed in the San Francisco Chronicle. I passed it to our class email list. Reading the article brought back a lot of fond memories of growing up in the South Bay in the 50s and 60s for many of us. Several people emailed me some of their memories of that time. I decided to not only post the article, probably violating all kinds of copyright laws, but to also share our classmates' reflections. They appear at the bottom of the article. 

If you would like to share some of your own memories, please email them to me, and I will be happy to add them to this page. Enjoy your trip down memory lane.

Skip Right to Our Memories

Don Stouder

donstouder@ca.rr.com

For the Beach Boys, fun, fun, fun began in humble Hawthorne
- Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic
Tuesday, May 31, 2005

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Hawthorne ( Los Angeles County ) -- Hawthorne is a charmless, flat, blue-collar town where workers from the plants in the South Central industrial belt could buy tiny two-bedroom stucco-front boxes. In 1959, the same year the film "Gidget" first exposed the Southern California beach culture to the outside world, the Mattel Toy Co. in Hawthorne started producing a new doll named Barbie, which outsold even the Mickey Mouse ears the company also made.

Brian Wilson was a senior that year at Hawthorne High School (home of the proud Cougars, whose fight song he cribbed for the middle-eight to his "Be True to Your School"), hanging out on weeknights in the parking lot behind the Fosters Freeze on Hawthorne Boulevard in his two-tone '57 Ford Fairlane 500. On weekends, the guys would pick up a six-pack and head for the double-bills at Studio Drive-In on Slauson.

It was a long way from Hollywood, a town where things were still possible, but it was close enough to Disneyland that the Wilsons' father took his three boys to the recently opened amusement park at least twice a year.

Few traces remain of songwriter Brian Wilson's Los Angeles . He wrote of a world he knew growing up during the '50s in unremarkable Hawthorne , where he created mythic Southern California in songs such as "Surfer Girl," "Fun Fun Fun," "Little Deuce Coupe," "The Warmth of the Sun" and "California Girls."

If you're going to go looking for Brian Wilson's Southern California , it's not a bad idea to hook up with Beach Boys expert Domenic Priore and have him give you the tour. But first, to supply some context, we met for breakfast at a Hollywood coffeehouse with Wilson 's genial and erudite collaborator, Van Dyke Parks, who still has the slightest Southern accent after more than 40 years living in L.A. He is a small, compact man with a salt-and-pepper mustache, gracious manners and an impish grin. He likes to talk about the band and Brian Wilson in particular.

"His music had an animate quality," said Parks, the co-writer of Wilson 's iconic "Smile." "It was vigorous, an athletic kind of music. It looks in all directions. It takes everything in. It's anecdotal -- lots of little events. It was a reflection of the real rapture of the feel-good set that grew up in the Eisenhower era."

The Wilson home on 119th Street no longer exists. It was torn down to make way for a freeway 20 years ago, but its site was marked on May 20 with a large brick monument and named an official California State Historical Landmark. A few blocks away, the Fosters Freeze still stands, the hamburger stand where Wilson saw a girl with her daddy's T-Bird. Sometimes Wilson would cruise several miles north to the Wich Stand at Slauson and Overhill, where the parking lot would hold a hundred cars from all over the South Bay , which is what locals call the area between South Central and the bottom half of Santa Monica Bay . He might have immortalized the destination drive-in in a 1964 recording, "The Wich Stand," but the track went unreleased.

With a decorative spire poking through the slanted roof, buttressed by Swiss cheese struts, the Wich Stand looked like Southern California itself -- open, airy, offbeat and futuristic. Today the building is painted an unlikely forest green and houses a health food restaurant, Simply Wholesome, that caters to the large African American community in the neighborhood. The spacious parking lot in the rear, once packed with hot rods and surf wagons, stands nearly empty. More than the neighborhood has changed in South Central Los Angeles. over the past 45 years. But signs of the bygone era, the California of young Brian Wilson, are sprinkled all over the South Bay .

Priore knows where to find them. Author of a book about Wilson 's long- lost masterpiece, "Smile," as well as another book about the Sunset Strip in the '60s, Priore dresses like the pop scholar he is: Mod burgundy corduroy shirt and chocolate suede Cuban boots. As part of the weekend-long activities surrounding the recent landmark unveiling, which drew fans from all over the world, he led a bus tour of the Beach Boys' old neighborhood. A few days before, he did a test run, checking out some of the locations he'd never visited before, like the boyhood home of Beach Boys rhythm guitarist Al Jardine, a classmate of Brian Wilson's at nearby El Camino Community College who likes to take credit for suggesting Wilson start the group.

"I didn't know Al Jardine lived in an apartment building," Priore said, pulling up to a Hawthorne address of matching duplexes built in that unique Southern California '50s mode of frenzied modernism. Futurism was more than an architecture style in Los Angeles during the '50s -- it was a way of life.

Dennis Wilson used to go down to the Redondo Beach breakwater and watch the hotshots ride the big ones. He brought home the tales to his older brother Brian, who rarely set foot on a beach. But those Waimea-style titans don't break at Redondo anymore, not since a 1981 wave wiped out the breakwater and did $13 million worth of damage to the beachfront hotel. City fathers moved the breakwater farther out and knocked the historic South Bay surfing spot off the maps.

Much has changed since the Beach Boys lived in Hawthorne , but time stands still on Manhattan Beach , where Dennis Wilson and Mike Love used to fish from the pier. This white sand jewel sits in the middle of the Strand, the string of South Bay beaches that runs from El Segundo to Palos Verdes.

Surfers catch waves alongside the pier where Dennis Wilson would ride the breakers. Girls in bikinis lie basking in the sand. People still fish from the pier. Away from the hectic beach scenes farther north at Venice or Santa Monica , Manhattan Beach remains what Priore called "a neighborhood beach." At Manhattan and nearby Hermosa Beach , the first few lonely surf shops opened in the late '50s, as the Hawaiian sport was just starting to take hold on the mainland.

Priore points to a social convergence coming together over the Southern California beaches in those few innocent years -- "Gidget," Surfer magazine, Bruce Brown surfing documentary films, the emergence of surf guitar king Dick Dale and the Del-Tones at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Huntington Beach and subsequent surf music instrumental hit singles by South Bay combos such as the Frogmen ("Underwater") and the Belairs ("Mr. Moto"). Into this yawning vortex stepped Brian Wilson, his two younger brothers, their cousin Mike Love and Brian's El Camino classmate Jardine.

Over Labor Day weekend 1961, with the Wilson parents on a Mexican vacation, the group took over the 119th Street house, stocked it with rented equipment and worked up the Brian Wilson composition, "Surfin' " which he cobbled together from information supplied by his younger brother Dennis, the only surfer in the group, and cousin Love, who knew some of the lingo.

Wilson 's father, an amateur songwriter, took their homemade Wollensak tape to a music publisher he knew, who arranged the have the boys record the song professionally and get the results released on a small label in early December. It was the label's promotion man who named the group the Beach Boys.

The leading Los Angeles Top 40 radio station, KFWB, already broadcasting daily surf reports and quite aware that something was going on with the region's youth out on the beaches, jumped on the record. A minute later, the Beach Boys were signed to Capitol Records -- home to Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, with its instant '50s landmark Hollywood headquarters designed to look like a stack of records, a red beacon on top blinking all night long in Morse code H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D, a long way from Hawthorne.

In a matter of months, the Studio Drive-In was showing nothing but insipid beach party films that were little more than cheap movie-length musicals based on imitation Brian Wilson music (he actually did write the songs for one of the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello clinkers, "Muscle Beach Party"). An entire school of pop music emerged in his wake -- Jan and Dean, Bruce and Terry, Ronny and the Daytonas, the Hondells and others.

He painted California as the land of youth, tanned surfers with fast cars and blond-haired, beach bunny girlfriends ("some honeys will be coming along"). He threw in local references, details that fixed his songs firmly in the Southern California coastline.

"That's part of his olio," said his collaborator Parks, "his real ability to osmote and to become a part of what he observes, to drink what he loves and let it kill him -- the comic and the tragic, the sacred and the profane."

The Wilsons all still lived at home in Hawthorne . Love dropped out of Los Angeles City College after his girlfriend got pregnant and her parents insisted they get married. Love's mother threw his clothes out of the upstairs window of the three-story Love family home in the upscale Baldwin Hills neighborhood. Shortly thereafter, his father experienced severe financial setbacks in his sheet metal business and the family moved to a smaller house directly under the path to the Los Angeles Airport runway. Love and his new wife were living in a tiny studio apartment and he was working at his father's business during the day and pumping gas at night for Standard Oil at the busy intersection of Washington and La Brea.

Given his natural talent -- his voice was once famously described in a Beach Boys "joke" album track as "Mickey Mouse with a cold" -- only a family member like Brian Wilson would have ever thought of Love as a candidate for lead vocalist of his rock 'n' roll group. His job at the gas station was probably the last position Love was truly qualified to hold.

The station, which still sits like a fort at the hectic crossroads, has been remodeled, expanded and rebuilt a number of times since he worked there. But Love would probably recognize it in a heartbeat.

E-mail Joel Selvin at jselvin@sfchronicle.com.

The Class of '63 Remembers

 

What follows are the emails I received so far from several our classmates in response to the  Beach Boys article. If you have some of your own memories you would like to share, please email them to me and I will be glad to add them. Any and all of your  reflections and recollections of growing up are more than welcome. If you have any old snap shots, send them along. 

Richard Faith

Thanks for the article. You might not know this, but in about 1965 I was the keyboard player in Band Without a Name. We played for Casey Kasem's teen dances at the Conejo Valley Recreation Center in Thousand Oaks and at Hawthorne Recreation Center on alternate Saturday nights. During part of my stint with that band, David Marks (who had been an original member of the Beach Boys prior to that time) was our lead guitarist. Through him, I met Murray, Dennis, Carl and Brian Wilson. At the time, Murray Wilson lived diagonally across the street from David Marks and his parents. David's dad had an antique car: a Packard. Although I don't remember many LHS students or alums at the Hawthorne dances, I do remember that Terry Collier's sister was often there.

Thanks again,
Richard Faith

Don Stouder

Hi Richard,

It’s a small world indeed. I worked at the Hawthorne Memorial Center dances with Casey Kasem. Steve Cirillo also worked there. If I remember right, The Band Without a Name was one of the regular bands and a favorite of the kids. Casey also brought in the Midnighters and The Association a few times. We used to get 1100-1200 kids at those dances. Wasn't one of the songs you guys played Dylan's "She Belongs to Me"?

 

Rita Roney Mundis

Hi Don,

So glad that you saw the article! I take the Chronicle and was so surprised to see our old Foster's Freeze on the front page. Of course I read through the entire article.

This Beach Boy memorabilia brought to mind a party I attended and danced the "Surfer Stomp" all night long. I wore a brand new pair of Holly Bovitz's shoes and wore a hole in the soles!!!! I have no idea how I talked Holly into letting me wear a pair of shoes that she hadn't even worn yet.

Michael England

Thanks for that blast of nostalgia, Don!

Matter of fact, just yesterday I was watching a PBS program reviewing '50s music which included the now-aged Four Preps singing "26 Miles Across the Sea." That put me in mind of Senior Ditch Day and the steamship to Catalina. I remember especially that awful little combo playing music on the boat (an electric violin?!) because they sang "26 miles" over and over during the trip. (Mercifully, they didn't sing on the way back, when I was feeling green with seasickness.)

All the best,
Michael

Sindy Froman (Cindy Hilton)

Yes, the Beach Boys article did bring back fond memories. I'm so glad you sent it. I remember eating at the Wich Stand as a kid when we visited our grandparents ~ a nice finish to a good day.

Better yet, I remember cruisin' the drag between A&W Root Beer and the Wich Stand. The favored drink at the Wich Stand was Cherry Lime Rickey. I was driving the '63 Chevy 409 ~ a real beauty in black with red interior, baby moon hubcaps, chrome valve covers and air cleaner cover, raised front end (with a few spacers between the coils in the springs), and extra washers in the headers so the machine sounded mean even at an idle. It actually was pretty mean ~ I took first place in the Super Stock class at San Fernando Drag Strip. Does the strip still exist? I have the trophy somewhere ~ just couldn't let it go. That's the time in my life when I morphed into an extrovert instead of the painfully shy introvert.

Becoming outgoing helped me dive, literally, into life: some surfing with the Dewey Weber 9'1" surfboard; scuba diving with the last dive at Catalina (incredibly beautiful and exciting to grab the tail of a baby hammerhead); becoming a pilot with some amazingly fun times doing loops and other aerobatics; motorcycle riding in 29 Palms (got my first broken bone, right wrist, jumping a gully but didn't fall off the bike ~ go figure); learning to slide the dunebuggy into square corners; camping all over Baja (what incredible people the locals were); ice skating (second broken bone, left wrist, from doing ~ more like trying to do ~ the squatting duck with my daughter); and skydiving (on a scale of 1-10, it was a 14).

All of this came to an abrupt halt with the brain surgery, but I was so fortunate to have had so many wonderful opportunities. Life is great ~ even with two more broken bones. The third break, right leg, was from sliding down a banister in my early 50s. We had an interesting time at the hospital getting bumped ahead in the Emergency admitting line (about five ahead of me) because my son and I were laughing so hard concocting a story about how I broke the leg that the attendant felt we were disturbing other waiting patients).

The last broken bone, left leg, was from hiking on a little-known Lewis and Clark trail with a group of people from the Historical Museum where I worked. I remember again laughing so hard at the Emergency entrance that the nurse thought the wrong person was in the wheelchair. The wheelchair pusher was a co-hiker who was explaining how he had to delouse me before going into the hospital ~ seems I had at least four ticks in my head from going down with the fall in an infested, though beautiful, area.

The "Worker's Compensation" break has given me the most trouble: three surgeries with a fourth coming up this fall for an artificial ankle. It's best that I slow down since I'll be 60 next year anyway. No more dirt biking, ice skating, banister rides, or hikes on nasty trails just because it's the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark going through Montana. I can still teach canoeing, go cross-country skiing (but no more downhill), and do some scenic bike rides (though I'm not up to doing the moonlight ride on Going to the Sun Highway ~ lauded as the 50 most beautiful miles in the world at Glacier Park near the Canadian border).

I just can't imagine retiring into a rockin' chair unless it's turbo-charged. Maybe it's time I grow up ~ or maybe not! If there's no "third childhood," then I plan to stay in this one. Not much can keep me from laughing and enjoying life to its fullest.

"Thanks for the Memories" and please thank your sister for sending you the article!

Take care and please keep 'em comin' ~ I love getting the E-mails!

Harry Nieves

He forgot to mention the A&W on Hawthorne Blvd. We used to cruise from there to the Wich Stand which seemed so far away. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. OOPS I am confusing 1963 with the Sith. It happens as we approach 60.


Vicky Sechrist Boydd

Thanks for the walk down memory lane......It surely made me smile. I remember Dennis Wilson most of all...he was my boyfriend's good buddy (Mike Gibson). After I got married (not to Mike) I lived on 120th street....in November of 1963...right behind the Beach Boys... I could hear them play and often times ran into them at the neighborhood store. Little did I know that the Beach Boys would eventually become the icon's that they are today. My kids didn't believe me when I told them I knew the Beach Boys and went to Jr. High with Dennis...until I showed them the little year book that we had.

I just spent the past weekend in Hawthorne visiting my mom, who still lives there after all these years. If I look real close.....I can see the Hawthorne that used to be....Bud's Drug store, Food Giant, Thrifty, A&W, Plaza, to name a few. We sat down at the beach in Manhattan, it was nice and clean and reminded me of a long ago time. Sadly, Redondo & Hermosa has lost all the charm of a beach city...especially the pier where you could buy hotdogs, smoked fish, cotton candy, candy apples, etc....a real beach feel to it. Now it is a modern cement "place"....oh to go back in time. Remember the Green Store? I could go on and on but I guess I better stop here!!!

Dave Simpson

WOW!!! Reading this brought back many memories…I lived ¼ mile from Fosters but NEVER went in there. I did, however, go into EVERY OTHER burger joint in Hawthorne/Lawndale…

 Just an update to the “memory lane” stories. Back then, I owned a 1963 Corvette (split back window) silver body with red interior, which has an all fiberglass body. I was, and am still, a “gimmick” person. I remember having a small Sony TV, which fit perfectly on the front speaker grill.  I could extend the one “rabbit ear” antenna, and watch TV while cruising Hawthorne Blvd from the A & W in the south, to the Witch Stand in the North. You can imagine what the “kids” thought at the “A” when that TV was playing.  To say the least, that was a “babe” magnet. I have worked since I was 13, and money was never much of a problem. However, that vehicle cost me over $425.00 per month (that was when $425 was serious cash) BEFORE I drove it out of the driveway each month. I just saw a documentary about Corvettes and that vehicle is now worth $250K+. I traded my Corvette in for a VW bug and a baby (the “babe” magnet must have worked), and as a down payment on my first house. WOW, what memories…  

Joanne Thomas 

 

Don,

Thanks for the email that brought back wonderful memories. I also remember cruising Hawthorne Blvd. from the A&W to the Witchstand and the big hair do's us girls wore. One of my wildest memories had to do with just that. My folks let me spend the night with a girlfriend because we told my folks that her family was taking us to Disneyland the next day but instead we went cruising in her car up and down Hawthorne Blvd. A couple of guys in another car (I'll call the bad guys) kept following us and making obscene jesters to us, so we tried to ignore them. We pulled into the Witchstand and ordered some food and a couple of guys that knew my friend came over and talked to us. The bad guys came over and started a semi fight and asked the other two guys to meet them on a street a couple blocks away. We finished our food and left to go to that street. When we got there the street was crowded with lots of people and the two bad guys walked up to our car with a rifle and aimed it at us. The police got there and snuck up on the two guys and cuffed them. It was just like a scene in the movies.  A couple of weeks later a cop came to my house with a subpoena so I had to tell my folks.  Maybe someone remembers the incident.

Anyone remember Pacific Ocean Park(POP) and the Wink Martindale show? I met many many famous people in our area, Righteous Brothers, Beach Boys, Richie Valens, Johnny Otis (Willie and the Hand Jive) and many more. A couple of years after high school I used to shoot pool at the Hermosa Inn with Jewel Akins. (The Birds and the Bees) Dance on the dance floor at the Tip Top club in Inglewood with Gladys Night and the Pips, Ike and Tina Turner, and many others who preformed there. At another club I got to know Richard Berry (Louie Louie) Not to mention all the famous Jazz musicians at the Light House in Hermosa Beach. I am so grateful for growing up in the 50's-60's in Lawndale. Those days will never happen again.
I loved Leuzinger and hated to move to another school for my senior year. I still brag to my closest friends how beautiful Leuzinger’s alma mater was compared to any other high schools. I often wonder if they still sing it.
I think I still remember it:
  Between the mountains and the Sea
  There stands a school most fair
  each room each hall and bench and tree
  be speaks the love we bare
  To Leuzinger we pledge a new
  a faith which cannot fail
  May the echoes reach the skies so blue
  All Hail all hail all hail

Well, anyways, thanks again for striking up the memories.
                                               Jo

 

Carol Creighton Williams

I just looked at the "South Bay Memories" section of our website - good job.  I had seen the article on the Beach Boys and thoroughly enjoyed reading the messages from class members.  So I thought I would add a few of my own.


I worked for the City of Hawthorne in the mid '60s, for the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department.  Quite a few of our classmates worked for the City in the parks, including Don, Steve, and others whose names I can't recall at the moment.  I did NOT know that Richard Faith was there playing in a band on Saturday nights.  If I was there on a Saturday, I might have been working.  I do remember being at Hawthorne Memorial Park one evening when there was a big campout with kids.  Don, Steve and I were there, with others, making sure the kids had fun and behaved (can you do both???).

Re the Beach Boys - my very small claim to fame was that my Dad's cousin and his family lived next door to the Wilson's.  I don't know that I ever saw the boys there while we were visiting, but I've always told everyone my "connection."

I didn't do much hanging around the A&W stand growing up - no car.  But did know it was there and how popular it was as a hangout.  My hubby Bill used to go in there a lot, I think.  I used to walk a lot - many Saturdays found me and my sister (and a cousin or two) walking from our home on 132nd & Yukon to "uptown" for shopping - we'd go down as far as 120th St. and then back the other direction and home.  Now, I drive!  And, now that I'm (we're) 60, it is that much sweeter to remember how it "used to be."  And thanks to all who send the email reminders of our pleasant youth.

 

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