Life on the Mendocino Coast was a different affair as the year 1962 began. Montgomery Ward had a store on the corner of 200 East Redwood in Fort Bragg. One could walk almost effortlessly north from there to the corner of Laurel and Franklin for groceries. How many people remember the Golden Rule Market at that location? You could purchase a T-Bone steak then, cut to suit you, for 98 cents per pound. To call ahead to that business a phone had to be dialed. The prefix of that number was not listed as 964, but Yorktown -4. At that Montgomery Ward store a clothes washer and dryer set could be had for under $400 and they'd throw in a beauty salon style hair dryer for free. The major financial institution in Fort Bragg, the Coast National Bank, resided north of the Company Store.
My parents had an account there. In 1962, my family's day to day lives were split. My father worked in the woods falling trees in good weather. My mother had returned to the University of California at Berkeley to work toward a masters degree in psychiatric social work. On weekends we all returned to the family ranch along the Albion River.
A year and a half later, my mother would take up employment at the state hospital in Talmage, back in those halcyon days when the state of California possessed a goodly number of such institutions, and said mental hospitals were coming out of the dark ages of psychiatric care.
Much of this is preface to a letter, dated February, 1962, I found a few weeks ago while sorting through things to straighten out the area around the desktop where these manuscripts are produced. Mostly I discovered dust. Perhaps I should say it discovered me to the extent that for awhile I wondered if I'd contracted Covid-19. Dry cough and so on was diminished to nothing once the vacuuming and dusting subsided.
Hidden amid the dust was a letter my mother had tucked away more than a dozen years ago. It was addressed to a person she would work with at Mendocino State Hospital, a fellow psychiatric social worker. The letter was postmarked February 27, 1962, approximately a year and a half before the two social workers met.
It may be disappointing to know that the letter does not unearth any dastardly crimes from six decades ago. The correspondence was authored by Don Burleson, then the postmaster for the town of Mendocino. He had served in that position since 1956, presiding over the opening of the community's new post office on Main Street in 1958. The previous post office had been in place since 1889. Only a baker's dozen postmasters served in Mendocino in the seventy-eight years that office existed before Don Burleson took over. Previous to his postal duties, Mr. Burleson and his wife owned and operated the Remedy Store.
Postmaster Burleson's letter to the young social worker in Talmage made it clear that he responded because the social worker had written to the Chamber of Commerce, Mendocino, California (no zip codes at that time and the state name was written out in full on envelopes). Apparently, the original communication requested information about overnight accommodations in Mendocino. Mr. Burleson's reply indicated Valentine's Motel, “about a mile north of town, which is new and has a nice view. Morning coffee is provided.”
The social worker had asked about places to eat. Burleson replied, “The hotel has a coffee shop. Grace West's Music Box serves lunch, dinner and snacks in between— no breakfast, closed on Wednesdays and on 2nd and 4th Mondays when they have a service club's dinner they close at 6 P.M. Casa Mendocino will doubtless be operating in the near future. They have been closed for the winter and for alterations. At the moment that is our entire list of eating places.”
If there had been a Covid outbreak in 1962, locals would have had almost no worries about tourists bringing the virus to town. Burleson's letter did point to places beyond the town limits of Mendocino. He mentioned the “Cabrillo Cottages” near the lighthouse. “The buildings are older, but have been nicely refurnished with very comfortable beds.”
Mendocino's postmaster did not leave out the Littleriver landmarks, Heritage House and the Little River Inn. Readers may find interest in the economics of the time. “[H]eritage House (American Plan, starts about $16, serves no lunches, reservation very necessary), Little River Inn (about $8 bottom, very good food served all hours, bar, only golf course on the coast, reservations also advisable)....”
The one thing that hasn't changed from that time. The Little River Inn's golf course remains the only one on the Mendocino County coast.
Though Burleson credits the former high school teacher, Bill Zacha, with sparking an artist's movement, the postmaster also notes that he himself inaugurated art galleries in Mendocino with his “Little Gallery” in the lobby of the post office.
The letter points to the Packard-Randall Gallery across from the Presbyterian Church on Main Street as the most exciting of art venues in Mendocino. “Emmy Lou Packard and her husband, Byron Randall, are hard working professionals in every sense of the word and their works are vivid, varied and stimulating.”
In 1962, according to Burleson, The Art Center on Little Lake Street contained “no gallery as far as steady exhibit goes. In time it will have, but the present buildings are not suitable for leaving pictures on display for any length of time.”
Another thing that hasn't changed much since 1962: Postmaster Burleson cites Racines store in Fort Bragg as a connection to the art world. Other than there being a few handfuls of people left who can remember these details first hand, so much has gone by the wayside on the Mendocino Coast.
Mr. Burleson died in 1993 at the age of eighty-eight. The social worker he wrote to in 1962 is still among us, somewhere in Northern California.
(Other communiques from past centuries at malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com)