Fred Karger makes my blood boil. The Coast Inn is a lot more than just a gay Mecca, and his exaggerations about the history of the place make me crazy.
So, thank you Cindy Frazier for your column about the Coast Inn ("Canyon to Cove: Finding history in a bar," July 9). It was such fun to read the recollections from people other than the gay community.
The Coast Inn and I have quite a history together. I could write reams, but I'll try to be brief and add my family story the history. I'll call it Ode to Ruthe.
In the 1950s, Laguna was the playground of the Marines. El Toro was an active base with a steady flow of soldiers on leave or coming back from Korea. The base did not have enough housing, and many Marines were given a subsidy to help cover rent. Many of them moved to Laguna, and my dad was among them.
My mom came on the scene in the early 1950s with a carload of girlfriends, all from Kansas and looking for fun. They quickly found an apartment and secretarial jobs. They all hung out at Mountain Road Beach. The Coast Inn and the South Seas was the preferred night spot.
One night my mother did a favor for a friend and took her shift as cocktail waitress at the South Seas. She made so much in tips that she quickly left the office job and became a cocktail waitress. Working nights, days spent at the beach, my mom was officially a beach bum. A tradition that continues to this day with many people in town.
So my mom worked at the South Seas all through the early '50s. It was a popular spot with Marines and the town's young people. I can't be the only one in town who remembers Phil Interlandi's great comics based on Easter Week and the beach/party scene at the time. I have some great glamour girl type photos of my mother and her friends at the beach and draped over the bumpers of their cars parked in front of the Coast Inn. Pictures taken to send to troops who were far away.
And yes, Rock Hudson did go into the South Seas in the '50s. My mother carded him! Her friends said, "Ruthe, don't you know who that is?" My mother replied that she didn't care who he was, that she needed to see some ID! But at the time Hudson was so deep in the closet and it was so dark, I wonder if he even knew where he was.
If a closeted gay man goes into a bar, does that bar now become a gay bar? I think not.
My parents met at the Coast Inn. I came along in 1956. When they got divorced in the mid-60s, my mother again went to work at the Coast Inn. At that time the Coast Inn had the classic Coffee Shop, and next to it on street level was the Tap Room. It was a long narrow bar with tables and was a popular lunch spot where you could get a mid-day drink. I'll never forget the beautiful copper-topped tables they had at the time. My mom worked lunches at the Tap Room. When I was older, she started working Friday and Saturday night at the South Seas and managed the bar for Carl Smith, her boss.
When I was coming of age in Laguna in the late '60s and early '70s, the big gay zone in town was Main Beach and Dante's Bar. I think if you were to ask any junior lifeguard of that era, they could confirm this. Rooky guards worked Main Beach, and the tower at Dante's was not a popular spot to be assigned to. When Laguna decided to redo Main Beach, many businesses were closed down. It would be interesting to know the date Dante's closed because that has a lot to do with the big shift south of the gay scene.
Jack Morse is exactly right. It was a phone call that changed forever the future of the South Seas. That was really the day the Boom Boom Room came into being. The Little Shrimp called Carl Smith and asked if it was OK to start sending their overflow customers over. At that point the South Seas, with its tiki décor and goldfish bar, was a little tired looking. There was a small but faithful group of regular customers.
My mom let all the regulars know what was up. The next night the regular customers all took up their regular stools and tried to stake their claim to the South Seas. It only took a few nights for them to give up and never return.
The South Seas was now a fully gay bar, and it was packed every night. I remember my mother bringing home a huge jar full of tips and we would sit on the floor and count the coins. To know when it all started, you would have to know the date that phone call was made.
So if our city is going to force the new owners of the Coast Inn to have a wine bar, and if they are going to force the new owners to honor and acknowledge the building's past, then I think it is important to include, honor and acknowledge all the history. The Coast Inn is bigger than just the gay community.
LYNN MITCHELL HAINES lives in Laguna Beach.