In reading the Anderson Valley Advertiser, I am amazed by the wealth of entertainment and dining one finds in the valley today. Concerts at Lauren’s. Concerts at the Navarro Store. The Anderson Valley Film Festival. Variety shows and theatre at the Grange Hall. The Sierra Nevada World Music Festival. Fine dining at the Boonville Hotel, Lauren’s, Libby’s, Buckhorn Tavern, Mosswood Market Café, Boonville General Store and occasionally at the AV Senior & Community Center. Even an ice cream parlor and a chocolate shop.
A wayback machine journey to the Anderson Valley of my youth, from the late 1950s to the late 1980s, shows a very different scene. I probably sound like the father who says he walked five miles to and from school in the snow, but entertainment and dining options in Anderson Valley were very different back then.
I cannot remember one concert during those years in Anderson Valley. I am pretty sure there was a Saturday night dance with live music at the fairgrounds during the Mendocino County Fair in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but I was too young to attend. I also was too young for high school dances during those years and just as I entered high school, we moved from full-time to part-time (primarily summer) valley residents.
During those early years, there was a concert series in Ukiah to which my parents subscribed. I recall seeing the Harry Belafonte Singers at one such concert and being disappointed that Harry Belafonte himself wasn’t with them. (The program said he would not be appearing, but it still seemed wrong.) My disappointment was mitigated by a trip to Rones ice cream parlor for a skyscraper, a vertical banana split of heavenly — i.e., massive — proportions.
Local dining was a bit better. In my youth, the Philo Café was located where Libby’s is now and the interior was much the same as it is today, except I seem to recall booths along the northern wall. Fine dining would have been a bit of a misnomer for the place, but it served good hamburgers and really good milkshakes. Navarro was home to the Navarro Inn. Located across the alley from the Navarro Store, the Navarro Inn served fine Italian food and was the site of many civic dinner meetings. It changed hands in the early 1970s and burned to the ground a couple of years later. The final place for fine dining in valley — technically — in those days was Navarro-by-the-Sea Inn, located at the mouth of the Navarro River in the Captain Fletcher house. The bar probably did better business than the restaurant, but I remember the seafood being good and the fried oysters being terrific.
The Valley gained a few new dining options in the 1980s, but only a few. The New Boonville Hotel opened and closed under the tumultuous stewardship of Vernon and Charlene Rollins, but I somehow never ate there. The Horn of Zeese opened; I had lunch there once but it made no lasting impression. Our family favorite during that era was the Floodgate Café near Navarro, which served Mexican food. We also journeyed up Manchester Road once or twice to Bear Wallow, where they grilled steaks on a barbecue just outside the door.
As an antidote to our winter isolation (we had no television and could only get to our property on foot from November until May), my parents took us to Ukiah or Fort Bragg once a month to see a movie. In Ukiah, we went to the Ukiah Theatre, an art moderne building which back then had a single screen. It didn’t take many trips to realize the roundtrip drive “over the hill” was long and stressful. Last year I drove Highway 253 from Boonville to Ukiah for the first time in more than two decades. Memory can play tricks, but not on this occasion — it was as long and stressful as I remembered.
So we changed directions on later trips and went north to Fort Bragg, where the State Theatre was still in business on Main Street. (It was replaced by the Coast Cinema a few years later.) Among the movies we saw there were To Kill a Mockingbird and Operation Petticoat. We also went north for an occasional dinner, either at Little River Inn or at the Music Box in Mendocino.
Back then, the main road risk on Highways 128 and 1 — aside from the roads themselves — was logging trucks (the hordes of tourists driving the region’s curvy roads at four-lane freeway speeds came later). There also was the occasional drunk driver; one evening, we followed one going north on Highway 1 who — after driving 25 miles-per-hour and intermittently occupying both lanes of Highway 1 — arrived at the hairpin turn below Heritage House and put on his turn signal before negotiating it! We were probably lucky he didn’t stop before making that left.
In short, the “good old days” of Anderson Valley entertainment and food were none too good when compared to the riches available today. Even the lack of a movie theatre mostly has been mitigated by DVDs. If not seeing a movie in the theatre is the price one pays to live in a paradise like Anderson Valley, locals are getting a heck of deal.