Introduction | Judge interview
Conducted as part of Tales from Kelly's Cove, by Western Neighborhoods Project, April 29, 2013.
LaBounty: You lived right near Kelly’s
Judge: Yeah, 43rd Avenue between Anza and Balboa [Streets].
LaBounty: So, it was sort of your backyard.
Judge: Yeah, our house was on the west side of the block so out the back of the house was this amazing view of the ocean. We didn’t see down to Kelly’s but saw the ocean from the foot of Cabrillo Street south all the way down to Pedro Point. Because of that view, maybe more than any books, films, and including the stories I heard from my parents and uncles with a maritime bent, I was just always keyed in to the ocean. We would – if there was a sunset or a good swell breaking on south shoal of the San Francisco Bar we’d stop whatever we were doing, homework, eating dinner, whatever and gather to watch from this small sun porch at the back of house. We’d even get in the car and go to Lands End to see it breaking large off Point Bonita at the Potato Patch. It was – our family was, you know – if it was free, we’d do it.
Judge: Yeah, you know it’s that working class Depression era thing, I mean – you asked Pat [Cunneen] earlier about going to the Cliff House. Growing up, my family rarely went to restaurants. Mom kept a tight household budget. I didn’t go to the Cliff House until I was in my twenties. Monterey Morrissey [His family was the last to live and work at the Marine Exchange octagon building at Lands End] tended bar there and served good Irish Coffees.
LaBounty: Well, let’s go back just a little bit, then. So, what did your dad do?
Judge: My dad, most of my life, was a longshoreman and then a ship clerk with the ILWU [International Longshore and Warehouse Union] on the waterfront and then over in Oakland. This was just before and during the beginning of “mechanization,” or as we know it, containerization, was being pioneered by Matson Navigation on the West Coast. My Uncle Eugene “Bud” Judge sailed before the mast as a kid in World War I and he made a career working with the Grace Line and Johnson Line as a passenger agent. During World War II he was a commissioned officer with Army transportation at Fort Mason and Pearl Harbor, shipping troops and material throughout the Pacific war zone. Uncle Charley or “Fat” as he was known — they all had nicknames, my dad was known as “Unk” — was a mechanic and transportation manager with Barrett Transportation: buses, charters, things like that. My oldest uncle, Elton Bernard Judge who I knew only as “Uncle Mike” — you’ve seen photographs from his collection — worked for Standard Oil of California all his life after serving in the army in WWI. He served “overseas” as he jokingly put it – he rode the ferry over to his post as quartermaster at Fort Baker in Marin [County]. They were all great men who influenced my young life.
Judge: I’m a third generation, Irish Catholic San Franciscan. Both sides of the family were from the Mission [District] or the Western Addition.
LaBounty: And when were you born?
Judge: 1950, at Children’s Hospital [California and Maple Streets]. At the time my folks rented a flat on 19th Avenue between Cabrillo and Fulton Streets. They moved there during the war and I’m curious – I wish they were alive to ask how they got that flat, considering how tight housing was back then. In the late 1930s they had taken a big gamble and moved from the city to Marin to own and operate a new Texaco service station at the intersection of the Miracle Mile and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in San Anselmo. It was a risk during the Depression because as my dad put it, “he couldn’t sell himself out of a wet paper bag.” He had to meet sales quotas he didn’t believe in. Between him and my mom they ran this business and depended upon traffic from the new Golden Gate Bridge as well as locals. Well, the war shut the business down because of rationing. They had to let the business go and they came back to town – to the city – and mom raised my three older sisters using those commodities ration stamps while dad went to work at Bethlehem Shipyards. He was a rigger on the masts and kingposts of ships being built or repaired. The irony being that he hated heights. He did his job though. He met and worked with lots of guys from the South and “Okies” and “Arkies” from the Dust Bowl and really respected their work ethic. The city, the Bay Area, California was invaded by folks coming here for the opportunity to work in the war industries. When I was a kid he and I would build plastic ship models and dad talked about his life and he’d instruct me about all kinds of maritime lore and history and geography. His high school education and experience shipping out on freighters was pretty sound.
In 1953 we moved to a house they bought for $14,000 on 43rd Avenue between Anza and Balboa Streets. There was an amazing view from the back of the house of the ocean that had a massive impact on me. We didn’t go Ocean Beach (it was too windy) or Playland very often but we could hear, smell and see it. We’d go to China or sometimes Baker’s Beach or to Rodeo Beach at Fort Cronkhite in the Marin Headlands, because the Army – the post was open to the public. So that’s where I started to learn and dabble at the ocean.
LaBounty: Were you like Pat Cunneen, running around with kids, or was it your family mostly?
Judge: My dad and I would go places together when we were not doing so as a family. In the years before my dad got his “union book” we’d go down together to the hiring hall at Pier 11/2 and if he didn’t pick up a job he and I’d go rove around exploring interesting places – old shipyards, Sausalito waterfront, rail yards, the Academy of Sciences and the museums, or walking on Mount Tamalpais or any stretches of shoreline. It was all stuff that didn’t cost anything. We’d pack our P.B. & J or baloney sandwiches for lunch. As I got older I’d do the same on foot or my bike exploring around the neighborhood, the Presidio, Golden Gate Park or go to playgrounds for pick up ball games with other kids. With my pals we’d take our bikes and head to China Beach, AKA Phelan Beach, or Baker’s Beach – not “Baker” like the NPS [National Park Service] posts it now – or check out waves crashing against the wall at Fort Point. The other thing I cherished is dad taking us kids to the library, the Morrison Planetarium or to neighborhood movie shows. I just realized that the movies were almost always sea stories, In Which We Serve, Moby Dick, Dam the Defiant, Old Man and the Sea, Run Silent - Run Deep, that stuff, great films to fill a kid’s head with. He’d read sea stories to me as well.
My dad learned to swim in the bay with my grandparents who loved hiking cross-town to swim at a cove near Hunter’s Point. He and my uncles would row skiffs over to Marin to camp and swim at Paradise Cove or take the ferry and the narrow gauge over Mount Tam to camp and fish at Big Lagoon. Around town he and his brothers swam at Mud/Pine Lake. They’d save carfare and hike from the Western Addition through the cemeteries out to Lands End to swim at Sutro Baths. They’d horse around a bit at the arcades spending that carfare they’d saved.
He was of the school of thought that ya had to eat a speck a dirt to live. We didn’t know or think about pollution back then. So I recall latching onto driftwood and riding at the mouth of Lobos Creek across Baker’s Beach or playing in Rodeo Lagoon and catching rides down the outfall across the beach at Fort Cronkhite in my skivvies.
Dad was loving and fair but he was also old-school strict. He kept us kids in line… I’m fourth of five. I have three older and one younger sister. So through him I felt a continuum of discipline from my grandfather who was a captain in the SFPD [San Francisco Police Department] and the starched training of the Christian Brothers coming through in our upbringing. Dad graduated from S. H. [Sacred Heart High School] class of ’27. We were sternly warned about staying away from the waves and undertow at Ocean Beach and the trails at Land’s End. “You don’t go to Land’s End. It’s dangerous.”
LaBounty: Physically, or people?
Judge: Well, they didn’t imply the people – but they warned it was crazy to climb there because of landslides and, what, in ’58 or ’59 when that brother and sister were swept out on a landslide. He had that newspaper article in front of us at dinnertime. You know, the same thing when Shirley O’Neill saved the…
LaBounty: Oh, the shark attack in 1959 at Baker’s Beach?
Judge: Yeah, one of those warm days in May. Hooo… And that scared the bejesus out of my older sisters because they’d go to China Beach, you know. Jimmy Gallagher went to school with my oldest sister, Claire, at St. Monica’s. But, anyway, my first recollection at Kelly’s is a walk at Sutro Heights looking from the parapets down and seeing guys in the water – seeing guys paddling those teardrop – kook boxes, but those guys paddling and seeing them stand on ‘em and thinking, ‘God, this is, like, postcards or I Search for Adventure, a 1950’s TV show where you see people in exotic places, i.e., Waikiki or Fiji, which was the other side of the world, and it made a vivid image, it drew me.
I didn’t start hanging around a little at Kelly’s Cove until junior high in ’64 and ’65 when friends from the neighborhood were drawn to surfing. Pete Conidi, Miner Lowe, Jim Shaw, Glenn ‘Glendale’ Carter, Eric Olsson, Wayne and Bobby ‘Blu’ Stewart, Rudy Funk, Steve Pfeiffer, … they had more balls than I had. I didn’t like the cold water nor was I a confident swimmer.
The progression to surfing began with skim boarding, then bodysurfing or mat surfing. Then borrowing a surfboard, working at paddling out into the mash of surf and then trying to stand up. And, as you’ve heard from Arne [Wong] and others, there weren’t enough boards to go around, so you borrowed. You waited your turn while warming up at the fire, standing in the smoke actually. Some guys might purchase hand-me-downs or spring for a new board. Some started making their own. You’d see a light on in a garage and a small knot of guys around sawhorses and the smell from the process of fiber-glassing just reeked. It’s amazing that furnace pilot lights didn’t ignite five or six of those houses in the neighborhood. While waiting for things to set up or taking a break from sanding down a finish guys would jam together in a garage band style of way. They’d also be out on the street busting moves on those early skateboards. Even with those funky wheels back then guys spent lots of time dashing around skateboarding on those steep city hills. They got really, really good at it. When the waves were shit there were always the asphalt slopes to ride on.
I hung out a bit at the fire or at the sea wall. I was like a kelp fly. You know those kelp flies that come off Seal Rocks and they land on you. If you blow on ‘em, they stand still and then you swat ‘em. I hung out and lightly associated with these guys I’d grown up with in the neighborhood or through school. And what attracted me was that it was a very different kind of fraternity, also it was nature along with an air of adventure… it was the edge of the world socially and geographically. You know, the freshest wind, the harshest waves, raw cold elements. You got the first of the storms to hit the coast. Everything was there and it was vibrant and it – it connected me to the planet. Socially these were folks that I didn’t hang with closely with but I was drawn to it. It was the first tribe I elected to be associated with, as opposed to just being tossed into things at school or, you know, a sports team.
LaBounty: Who were these guys? I assume they were mostly guys.
Judge: Mostly guys, later some women too. You know, like Pat, I was a repressed Irish Catholic lad and, you know, girls were another planet. I had my silent crushes but I didn’t know the first thing about having a girlfriend. Decades later I attend a high school reunion and late in the evening sitting around a large table with a bunch of others, a couple of the women chimed up about the crushes they had on me back then and I was like, - stunned that that could have been the case. I was so cluelessly dense.
No. Later on, you know, in the late ‘60’s - early ‘70’s, there’d come to be more young women out there. And of course they were mighty attractive too. Recently I looked again at the DVDs from some of the Kelly’s Cove Reunions. The 2008 Reunion was titled, “Surfer Girls Rule” and it honored Dottie [Reesink?] who was one of the first in the 1950’s along with Carol Schuldt to body surf and then have her own board. Later came some pretty remarkable water-women who I was aware of from afar.
LaBounty: But, they weren’t all people you knew from school. They were different people from different places?
Judge: Yeah, for a Richmond District kid Golden Gate Park was kind of like a boundary, so I – even though I had cousins and a few friends over in the Sunset [District], family friends – before Kelly’s I didn’t associate with folks from south of the Park. So you’d meet around the fire or at the wall. You’d meet folks from across town too. The common thing was fitting into the scene at Kelly’s.
The surfers, the people who truly got wet, well they went where the waves were happening to be it at, Fulton [Street] or Noriega, or Sloat [Boulevard]. When the swells were big and break was right guys pioneered surfing at Fort Point, Eagles, and Dead Man’s. Or they’d cruise miles north and south along the coast. They’d have to negotiate with the locals of Santa Cruz, Bolinas, etc. Eventually road trips to find surf elsewhere resulted. Some jumped on airliners to tropic places or even jury rigged boats to sail to Mexico. I know of flagpoles around the neighborhood that went missing. They were cut down to make masts on a few of those boats.
LaBounty: And, you were mostly drawn, you were saying, for the nature and the athleticism.
Judge: Yeah, I’d say and the free spirit nature of people realizing things in their own way through this really physical and emerging social setting. Some were into yoga and meditation practice and eating healthfully. Though too, alcohol and drugs did damage to many. Again, I considered myself influenced by the social scene in those days at Kelly’s Cove - of it - but not really completely fitting in as part of it. It was greatly important to me as a touchstone.
LaBounty: Maybe a little bit of the socializing, I guess.
Judge: Yeah, right. Just to be able to throw in and be around and hear some great stories. Parallel to that in my teens and early twenties I’m reading and absorbing ideas from Steinbeck, Jack London, Edward Abbey. I resonated with Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez and the characters in Cannery Row and Doc Ricketts [Edward Ricketts], I’m thinking, these are some – there’s this, this vitality of life being expressed outside on the margins and it was thriving. I was drawn to it and I romanticized it. But, again, the guys that I connected with, whom I had known for a long time or got to know, we connected on the patterns of nature and that was an emotional and social draw. I was influenced reading wilderness writers, the poet Gary Snyder, and the influences of the counter culture. When I left town in ’72 to come up here to go to finish college, I didn’t know that I was leaving town for good and, you know, pulling away physically from my hometown roots. But, it was always the crucible, my first chosen social experience and it stayed with me leaving a very important sense of who/what I am.
And, just – going to some of the reunions has been mind-blowing to me because of reconnecting and connecting to people acknowledging appreciation for what that scene at Kelly’s meant. Now, we’re talking early ‘60’s through mid ‘70’s and that’s a whole generational thing that reflected cultural changes going on nationally and in the Bay Area in particular.
Some may look down their nose at a scene that draws folks to San Francisco from elsewhere. There’s a whole spectrum of attitude about that. But people have always sought to make a life for themselves here on the coast. Here at the edge of the Pacific, at the end of the continent the natural beauty and social possibilities, well, history and an impressive body of literature reveals it. This is a region where one can acquire a “sense of self” in relation to others and the land. If, of course, one can afford it and knows how to make it work to their benefit.
LaBounty: Well, I have two questions about that. So, the first one is, you’re a little later than Pat Cunneen when you’re going there and there is this whole influx of people from around the nation coming to San Francisco, did you feel that influx at the beach?
Judge: Sure. Looking through photographs of Ocean Beach taken by Dennis O’Rorke, Fred Windisch, or Jim Shaw from back in those days they documented a lot of people who gathered there. Totally apart from the scene at Kelly’s Cave were the conga drum players who’d assemble and add music to the blend. Think about how many Muni bus lines ended at or passed by Playland. From all over the city and the Bay Area people came to enjoy Playland and also crossed the Great Highway to be at the beach. People came from everywhere, there were moms with kids, black kids from the Fillmore, hipsters, bikers, Latinos over from the Mission, guys who just got off from a day’s work, G.I.s and sailors try’n to look civilian, young kids on their Stingray bikes… all gathering, being curious, checking things out, and grooving to a beat. It might not always have been cool and peaceful, but actually it usually was.
LaBounty: Were there a bunch of people coming from other parts of the country in the late ‘60’s and hanging out at the beach, or was it still mostly locals?
Judge: I’d say it was mostly locals with some transients flooding through. You know, they’d park at the foot of Golden Gate Park, as they still do today and, you know, the equalizer, so to speak, would be that – those awesome Indian summer days where it’s 75-85 degrees, glassy. You know, folks are going to be out there that are always out there, but then a bazillion more folks and there’s even resentment to folks coming from the other side of town – the east side of town.
LaBounty: [Laughs] Outlanders!
Judge: Outlanders! Yeah, you know, because – what? They’re - they don’t know how to dress, because THEY ARE DRESSED! While the folks at Kelly’s tried bein’ anything other than dressed. Anyone and everyone could come to Ocean Beach but when it came to the waves and standing around the fire, well that was the domain and discretion of the regulars of Kelly’s.
Judge: But of course that brings a cultural mix too, you know, and we’re talking folks that might just be kind of amateurs in a setting they’re unfamiliar with. You know St. Patrick’s Day amateurs or New Year’s Eve amateurs. Folks would overdo it, get sunburned, get drunk. Get in the ocean with their clothes on, get caught in the rips and sometimes drowned. So, most of the time, and I bet you if you went through police records or fire call records, most of the folks who had to be rescued weren’t familiar with the power of the ocean. I mean, I can only think of maybe two individuals – Jason Lee for one – a local surfer, Jeff’s Lee’s brother who, who drowned off of Land’s End at Dead Man’s about 1970 or ‘71. And that was a big shock. Everybody else who ran into trouble was from other parts of town or elsewhere and mistakenly suffered from thinking this was a forgiving warm Southern California ocean.
LaBounty: Were there older people when you were there?
Judge: Yeah, yeah.
LaBounty: There was a diversity of ages, at least.
Judge: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, Dennis and I didn’t know each other until connecting through the stories board of the Western Neighborhoods Project. The same for meeting Jim Gallagher who I didn’t know though I knew his younger brothers and a bunch of people just outside my small sphere.
I, like everybody, I walked the gauntlet along the Esplanade by the wall. Dennis and a bunch of friends who were mostly older planted themselves there, or the Great Highway parking lot in front of Skate Land and the Family Dog and out of the wind on Balboa [Street] by the Bull Pup. Dennis grew up with some and others he worked with in the park and so on and so forth BUT to me as a cherry young high school kid they seemed rough around the edges and a little scary!
Judge: I’m still a weenie, you know.
LaBounty: You were talking about when you went there and it was like you went, “oh, nature, this is my thing” – right? I mean, that was part of a spiritual connection. Because Arne talks a lot about that, you know, like surfing became his religion, right? He went to all these different churches as a kid, but then when he started surfing it was like nature and surfing and the ocean and the mix between the sand and the sea and the wind and the sun all together, just kind of became his spiritual thing. Did you feel that way?
Judge: Absolutely, yeah, I mean – and, you know – I couldn’t articulate it at the time and certainly couldn’t equate it to my Catholic upbringing, it didn’t have a dogma to it. It was, it was free form, you know. It fit Bohemian culture, which certainly had a tradition in San Francisco, so the cultural revolution or counterculture thing going on, you know, it was just an extension of that. I will say, I mean, yeah, I scoped out where red tailed hawks nested at Sutro Heights or the grey whales on their annual migration. We didn’t have the number of porpoise and dolphin or even the humpback whales that are routinely seen just offshore like we do today. That’s just remarkable. Though since the early ‘90’s sea lions that hauled out on Seal Rocks don’t do that anymore. You’ve heard Arne speaking about – you’d watch – you’d stay until sunset if there was a sunset to be seen and it wasn’t foggy-cold, blowin’ like snot. Um, it was just powerful and considering my orbit was getting larger - I was going to City College – I was going over to Mount Tamalpais, Point Reyes, hiking, backpacking, and developing career skills in wilderness programs through Park Presidio YMCA on 18th [Avenue] and Geary Boulevard. I was spending summers in the mountains, as both a river and backpacking guide.
LaBounty: Yeah, you’ve done that your whole life, that kind of stuff.
Judge: Exactly, then on to conservation and habitat restoration work, youth advocacy with impacted communities, and becoming a educator in alternative school programs. But this, the city, the ocean and my association with people at Kelly’s Cove was the launch point. I was reflecting on many of the people we mentioned earlier, and the Tavasief brothers, Tambi and Eddie – these guys were icons which much more could be said about.
You know, Woody, don’t you pick up, though, just from talking, there’s a transitional period of culture and – I’m not articulating this very well at the moment, but – there’s a just – taking Kelly’s and the scene at Ocean Beach, what drew people originally, you know, and then what built on that and who was drawn to it and then a reflection of times going on in the bigger – in the city that reflected changes over the decades too.
LaBounty: Yeah, well you know, I’m kind of curious about it. I always think of all the people coming out to the Haight and Golden Gate Park back in the late ‘60’s – all the hippies and all that – and I was always wondering if there was a sort of…
Judge: Animosity or…
LaBounty: Well, no, more of, like, was there a similar thing happening that was beach-centered, right? Rather than just music-centered, but, you know, more about nature that might have been going on out there.
Judge: There’s still a parallel…
LaBounty: I was going to ask you about the Family Dog and how that kind of, like… I mean, the building was right across the road from Kelly’s.
Judge: I saw the concerts at the Family Dog as part of a continuum of – of the free spirit nature of what happened a few years earlier in the Haight and sprang up almost spontaneously elsewhere. I went to an early concert [Chet] Helms put on at the beach with Quicksilver Messenger Service and The Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead also. Hard to believe that for a few bucks you’d see all three headline groups in the same show. I went to school with Abraham Chichinsky who lived on 46th Avenue and Balboa Street. His mom was Bill Graham’s sister. At Washington High School Abe would come in on Mondays tellin’ stories about handing apples out to patrons at his uncle’s dance hall and being able hearing all these amazing bands. At first kids didn’t believe him. Then he’d hand around those cool psychedelic art designed handbills advertising Fillmore concerts. Then of course everyone wanted Abe to get them into the Fillmore on the sly. His uncle wouldn’t have it but a few could ‘work off’ their ticket.
LaBounty: And the slot cars.
Judge: The Slot Car operation – that was in 1965 - ’66 – I raced my scratch slot car there plenty. Then Chet Helms and the Family Dog comes in about ’69. Then Stephen Gaskin’s Monday Night Class meetings were held there. I went to some of those and had my mind blown by that guy. A thousand or more people crowded into the old Topsy’s Roost building and aside from a few whimpers from infants in their parent’s arms you could almost hear a pin drop. Stephen didn’t even need a microphone to be heard clearly throughout the hall. I’d never experienced anything like that, an entire crowd’s full attention given to one person who articulated ideas about self-responsibility and collective effort and living right. It was a full menu of the ideas and philosophy of being a good Hippie or “smart monkey” as Stephen called it. And here’s a kicker about him. A few years earlier he’d been a rhetoric protégé of S.I. Hayakawa at SF State [San Francisco State University].
I also attended some of those Sunday morning gatherings that Gaskin and his followers held up at Sutro Heights. The day they left San Francisco I got on one of those buses and took a ride over to Mill Valley because I was meeting friends to hike on Tamalpais. I was strongly tempted to stay on that bus, run off and join ‘em on their new quest. But, yeah, and it’s funny that 30-40 years later I met a whole bunch of those folks who left town then to settle and develop The Farm in Tennessee, made it happen, and eventually returned to California. Some teach in local schools or work around Sebastopol and I’ve taught some of their children and grandkids.[End Interview]
Introduction | Judge interview
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