In honor of the Grateful Dead’s farewell concerts, a guide to Dead places in Menlo Park and Atherton
Editor’s note: In advance of their farewell tour appearance at Levi Stadium tonight and tomorrow night. We touched base with music chronicler — and Grateful Dead historian/expert — Corry Arnold to see if he had a list of places in Menlo Park that are part of Grateful Dead lore. And sure enough, he had that and more. You can read about more Peninsula/South Bay places related to the Dead on his blog. Here we excerpt those Corry identified as tied to Menlo Park and Atherton.
The Grateful Dead are rightly pegged as a Palo Alto band, but much of their critical early history took place in Menlo Park [and Atherton].
Veterans Administration Hospital, 795 Willow Road
Menlo Park got its start as an actual town when the United States joined World War One. Since pastoral Menlo Park was similar to rural France, a huge American training facility was created in Menlo Park. As a byproduct, a hospital was created nearby. Over time, though the military outpost left soon after the war, the hospital was turned over to the Veterans Administration.
It was at the Menlo Park VA where some of the earliest experiments on LSD were done, and where Ken Kesey and Robert Hunter were part of those experiments. The Menlo Park VA was also where Kesey was an intern, inspiring One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. The building is still a medical facility. I’m not aware of any ongoing experiments.
Peninsula School was a K-8 school founded in 1925, and, by all indications, is still going strong. It was always a place for forward looking, free-thinking people, and by the 1950s it was the private school of choice for the progressive, ban-the-bomb, anti-McCarthy type parents who were common in the South Bay and the Peninsula (if few other places). This isn’t speculation on my part; my Mother was offered a teaching job at Peninsula School in the early 1950s, thus escaping Long Island and allowing her to marry my Father, leading directly to (among other things) this blog.
In the 1960s, while Peninsula parents were somewhat older than the Beatniks and proto-hippies who would make up the Grateful Dead, they weren’t scared of them. Students who attended the school included John “Marmaduke” Dawson, writer Greil Marcus and me (albeit not at the same time). When the New Riders played Peninsula, Dawson alluded to the fact that Bob Weir had briefly attended the school as well (Weir apparently attended many schools briefly). Dawson would have completed 8th grade around 1961, and Weir’s timing would have had to have been similar. Given the tiny world of those of an open mind in the South Bay, its not surprising that there were many connections between the Grateful Dead and Peninsula school. Among the notable events:
- Sometime in 1961, Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter do their first paid performance, billed as “Jerry And Bob.” They are paid $5.
- In June 1969, members of the Grateful Dead try out a version of what will become the New Riders of The Purple Sage. Exactly who performed remains a mystery
- In the Fall of 1969, the New Riders Of The Purple Sage do an afternoon gig at Peninsula, with Phil Lesh on bass (recalled by then-Peninsula student Steve Marcus). They played outside the main campus building.
- On April 28, 1970, the New Riders played another afternoon show at Peninsula. There are tremendous photographs of this show, by Michael Parrish.
- On May 28, 1971, the New Riders were booked for yet another outdoor show, on the afternoon before a Grateful Dead Winterland show. However, Garcia was very sick that night. The Winterland show was rescheduled, and the New Riders played Peninsula as quartet, without Garcia, on the porch of the main building.
The story goes that Jerry Garcia’s daughter Heather was a student at Peninsula, and the concerts were for her tuition. By the next year, even assuming Heather was still in Peninsula, Garcia was no longer in the Riders, and in any case could finally afford it. I have written about the various Grateful Dead/Peninsula connections at length elsewhere.
Tom Wolfe immortalized Ken Kesey’s house on Perry Lane in his book The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. According to no less of an authority than the Archivist at the Palo Alto Historical Association, Kesey’s “Perry Lane” house was on the site of today’s current Perry Avenue, at Vine Street and near Sand Hill Avenue. The actual address was 9 Perry Avenue, but the Pranksters called it “Perry Lane” because it sounded better to them.
At the time, the area was in unincorporated San Mateo County, with a mailing address of Menlo Park. The houses that were associated with Kesey’s activities have long since been torn down and replaced by newer structures, but the current Perry Avenue is the site of Perry Lane in Kesey mythology. For the complete story of what it was like to live next to Kesey, see the blog post here.
The Chateau, 2100 Santa Cruz Avenue
In the early 60s, Jerry Garcia, David Nelson, Bob Hunter and many others lived in a rambling house near the Southern end of Santa Cruz Avenue called “The Chateau.” The Chateau was located at the end of Santa Cruz Avenue (2100 Santa Cruz at Campo Bello Lane). It was a true hangout, with a dozen rooms and a party in all of them. Most stories about hanging out with Jerry in the old days generally refer to The Chateau. The Chateau was within easy walking distance of Kesey’s pad, so the Chateua crowd regularly crashed their parties.
For various reasons, some people think that The Chateau was in Palo Alto, but it was definitely in Menlo Park. The Chateau house was purchased in 1964 and mostly used as a rental property. In 2002 it was sold again, torn down and an entirely new house was built on the site.
Kepler’s Books, 935 El Camino Real
Roy Kepler founded his famous bookstore at 935 El Camino Real in 1955, and it was the first bookstore in the South Bay that allowed patrons to sit and read, drink coffee, hang out or play music, perfect for the budding bohemians who would become San Francisco’s psychedelic rockers. All sorts of key events took place at Kepler’s, such as David Nelson and Peter Albin (later in Big Brother) meeting Jerry Garcia for the first time, when Jerry was holding court in the back of Kepler’s with a guitar. Jerry Garcia probably met his first wife (Sara Ruppenthal) here as well, though she was also from Palo Alto. Everybody in Palo Alto hung out at Kepler’s, and did so well into the 70s.
Kepler’s Books has since moved across the street (to 1010 El Camino Real). The site of the original store is currently a Leather Furniture Store.
Magoos Pizza, 639 Santa Cruz Avenue
In 1965, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Pigpen and many others had a jug band, but the band had almost no gigs other than poorly paying ones at Palo Alto’s only folk club, The Tangent. Pigpen urged Garcia to form an electric blues band, and the Warlocks were born. However, there were no gigs to be had in Palo Alto. Thus the first Warlocks gig was in Menlo Park at a pizza parlor. After a lot of research, I have determined that Magoo’s Pizza was at 639 Santa Cruz (at Doyle). It is currently a furniture store called Harvest.
The Warlocks first played Magoo’s on Wednesday May 5, 1965, and they played every Wednesday in May. The club was packed with students from Menlo-Atherton High School, along with some boys from the nearby Menlo School, thanks to shrewd campaigning by the group’s first fans. However, despite the promising start to the young band, bassist Dana Morgan was not cutting it. Garcia’s friend Phil Lesh saw the last Wednesday night gig (on May 26), and Garcia invited him to replace Morgan. (Various residents of The Gilman Street House helped teach Phil Lesh to play electric bass).
Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso Avenue
In the Fall of 1965, The Warlocks played a dance at the Menlo School. The Menlo School was an all-boy prep school (running from 9th grade to the first two years of college) that was designed as a feeder school for Stanford. I have recently learned that Bob Weir briefly attended Menlo School.
Many of the kids who went to Magoo’s would have been Menlo Students, and the Menlo dance was probably a “Mixer” held in the Student Union building. The Mixer was primarily a chance for Menlo boys to meet actual girls, so memories of the bands that played may be sparse. I wrote about what we do know about this show elsewhere.
Guitars Unlimited, 1035 El Camino Real
Since Dana Morgan Jr had been fired from the Warlocks, the band was not welcome to use equipment from the store, nor were Garcia and Weir wanted as guitar instructors. Both Garcia and Weir got jobs at a music store called Guitars Unlimited on 1035 El Camino Real, right near Santa Cruz Avenue. Both of them brought their own guitar students with them, an attactive proposition even though Garcia in particular had what was perceived as a “menacing” demeanor. Of course, the band promptly borrowed equipment from Guitars Unlimited.
Throughout the balance of 1965, The Warlocks struggled with trying to make it like a normal South Bay band, mostly playing up and down the El Camino Real. Things started to change at the end of the year, however, as they began to play Kesey’s Acid Tests. While the band played at the infamous Big Beat Acid Test in South Palo Alto, they still had not yet had a paying gig in Palo Alto.
By 1966, things were developing at a rapid pace, and in February the newly-named Grateful Dead took off to Los Angeles with their patron Owsley Stanley, to help put on Acid Tests in Southern California. Of course, the band took all their equipment from Guitars Unlimited. Whether the band eventually paid for them is not clear. Still, it appears that Garcia had work on his equipment done at Guitars Unlimited as least as late as 1969. The site of Guitars Unlimited is currently the [now-shuttered] Su Hong restaurant.
The Underground, 1029 El Camino Real
The story of Jerry Garcia and Menlo Park was not quite over, however. In April 1969, while on tour in Colorado, Garcia bought a pedal steel guitar. Looking for an opportunity to play the instrument, he discovered that old Los Altos pal John Dawson was performing his own songs at a Hofbrau in Menlo Park called The Underground, somewhere on El Camino Real in Menlo Park. Another old South Bay friend, David Nelson, without a band at the time, joined in playing electric guitar.
Dawson, Nelson and Garcia would go on to found the New Riders of The Purple Sage, although they would not be known by that name until August. The trio played most Wednesday nights at The Underground, however starting May 7 (probably May 14, May 21 and June 4 also, and possibly June 18). Their last gig at The Underground was probably June 25. It is a little-remarked fact that the first gigs of both the future Grateful Dead and the future New Riders took place within walking distance of each other in downtown Menlo Park.
Thanks to someone who commenter on a post, I know the approximate location of The Underground, but not precisely. It appears that 1029 El Camino Real would be the approximate location of The Underground. That is currently the [now-closed] Menlo Hub restaurant, but I do not know for a fact whether the buildings have been remodeled or if The Underground was at the same place.