Friday, September 12, 2014

Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia South Bay Landmark Guide (So Many Roads I)

On Halloween, 1969, The Grateful Dead and The New Riders Of The Purple Sage played the newly-opened Loma Prieta Room at the Student Union at San Jose State University. In 2014, San Jose State University is co-hosting the So Many Roads Conference on the Grateful Dead with the University of California at Santa Cruz.
So Many Roads
San Jose and South Bay Landmark Guide
The So Many Roads Grateful Dead Conference on November 5-8, 2014 will be a celebration of the history and legacy of the Grateful Dead. The Conference is jointly hosted by San Jose State University and the University of California at Santa Cruz. Although the two universities are separated by the Santa Cruz Mountains, they are less than 25 miles apart. While the Grateful Dead are rightly recognized worldwide as a San Francisco band, the counties south of San Francisco played a huge part in Dead history as well.

Grateful Dead fans who visit the Bay Area don't always realize how near they often are to various sites where the Grateful Dead or its members performed, or at least plotted world domination. In honor of the So Many Roads conference, I am going to rectify this by writing posts that identify important sites in Grateful Dead history in geographic areas, starting with San Jose and the South Bay.

The "South Bay" Versus "The Peninsula"
The county just south of San Francisco is San Mateo County, running along San Francisco Bay from South San Francisco to Menlo Park. Just South of the Menlo Park line, Santa Clara County runs from Palo Alto to San Jose to Gilroy and beyond. Back in the 60s and 70s, and perhaps still, residents of most of the towns in San Mateo County along the Bay refer to their region as "The Peninsula." San Jose and some of its nearby suburban towns, like Santa Clara and Cupertino, were referred to as "The South Bay." Palo Alto residents, however, despite being part of Santa Clara County, generally thought of themselves as part of "The Peninsula." Palo Alto does have an outlet on San Francisco Bay, but the primary reason that Palo Alto assigned itself to the Peninsula and not the South Bay was snobbery towards San Jose.

San Jose had a long and prosperous history by 1965. However, its initial growth was primarily as an agricultural center, providing transport and markets for the many orchards and farms that surrounded it. Although the San Jose area had an increasing industrial base after World War 2, to the South Bay the city would always be the country cousin of sophisticated San Francisco. Thus a town like Palo Alto, invented in the shadow of Stanford University, looked North towards San Francisco and dismissed San Jose. As a result, Palo Altans insisted they were part of The Peninsula rather than the South Bay. Perhaps because of that, the South Bay had a pleasant and unpretentious air that remained intact until Silicon Valley moved in and changed the tenor and finances of the entire Santa Clara Valley.

The San Jose State University campus is a pretty old campus in the middle of a thriving downtown city
San Jose State University
What is now San Jose State University was founded in San Francisco in 1857, making it the first college in California. The school moved to San Jose in 1871. It was called the California State Normal School until 1935, when it adopted the name San Jose State College. In 1972 the school became San Jose State University. The school remains rooted at the same site it moved to in 1871, at Fourth and San Carlos Streets, right near downtown San Jose. San Jose State has always been central to professional and cultural life in the South Bay, and it remains so today. Downtown San Jose played a critical role in the early history of the Grateful Dead, so it is an appropriate place to start a survey of landmarks.

South Bay Landmarks In Grateful Dead History
All of the links direct to a Google map of the site, but readers should be warned that in many cases no trace may remain of the original edifice. A landmark map of Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Stanford will follow this one. I have already completed a post for Santa Cruz County. The sites are arranged more or less geographically, but I would be surprised if anyone could or should try to cover all of them in a day.

Do you think the 1969 Grateful Dead would have sounded good here? The Loma Prieta Ballroom in the San Jose State University Student Union.
Loma Prieta Room, Student Union, San Jose State University, 211 S 9th St San Jose, CA 95112
For anyone visiting a Grateful Dead scholarship conference held at the Student Union of San Jose State University, a good place to start visiting historical sites would be the Loma Prieta Room in the Student Union itself. On Halloween, 1969, the Grateful Dead played the Loma Prieta Room (see the poster up top). In its current configuration, the Loma Prieta Room has a capacity of 588. In a slightly larger configuration (known currently as the Ron Barrett Ballroom), it has a capacity of 728. In the early days, the names "Student Union Ballroom" and "Loma Prieta Room" seem to have been used interchangeably. Regardless: seeing the 1969 Grateful Dead in a 500-700 capacity room on Halloween would pretty well have melted your brain.

This hard-to-read clip from Ralph Gleason's SF Chronicle column of October 17, 1969 lists Jerry Garcia and the New Riders of the Purple Sage at the San Jose State Student Union ballroom that night (as well as the intriguing Venus Flytrap and Albino Blood double bill at the College Of San Mateo)
That isn't all. The Student Union Ballroom had only opened on October 13, 1969. On the very first Friday that the ballroom was open October 17, 1969, the new, unknown New Riders Of The Purple Sage played there and broke in the room. Whether the Student Union Ballroom was the larger (Ron Barrett) or smaller (Loma Prieta) is moot, at this point. The raw New Riders, with the cutting-edge fusion band Fourth Way on the bill as well, would have been memorable indeed.

As of this writing, the Loma Prieta Room is being remodeled, so the new configuration may have no relation to what came before.

Acid Test House, 43 S. Fifth Street, San Jose, CA 95112
The Grateful Dead's first known performance as The Grateful Dead was at an Acid Test at a house on 5th Street in San Jose, on December 4, 1965. The house was a short walk from the San Jose Civic Auditorium, where the Rolling Stones were playing, and flyers were passed out after the show. Supposedly Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts dropped by (per Wyman's diary update: apparently wishful thinking. Wyman went to a party, but not likely this one).

The house was on S. Fifth Street, near San Fernando Street. It is now the site of City Hall. The San Jose 60s hippie rock band Throckmorton lived in the house for a time.However, the actual house itself was moved, and can be seen here on Google Street View.  The current address is 635 E St. James St., San Jose, 95112. 

The San Jose Civic Auditorium, at 135 W. San Carlos Street, as it appeared in 2011. The Rolling Stones played there on Dec 4, 1965, and afterwards an Acid Test was held within walking distance. Jerry Garcia and then the Grateful Dead played the Civic in the Summer of '72.
San Jose Civic Auditorium, 135 W. San Carlos, San Jose, CA 95113
The San Jose Civic Auditorium, built in 1934, was the largest auditorium in the South Bay for many years, with a capacity of 3000. Besides the historic Rolling Stones concert (and Bob Dylan and The Hawks a few days later), the Dead themselves played the San Jose Civic on August 20, 1972. Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders checked out the venue by playing a concert there on July 1, 1972.

The Offstage, 970 S. First St, San Jose, CA 95110
In the early 60s, there were little enclaves of rebellious long haired folk singers in every college town and big city, and they all had a little coffee shop hangout. All of the hangouts in all of the towns made up the "folk circuit." In San Jose, the folkies congregated at a place called The Offstage, at 970 South First Street. The club was run and sponsored by an engineer named Paul Foster. Jorma Kaukonen was one of the regulars at The Offstage, along with Peter Grant, Paul Kantner, David Freiberg and other fellow travelers. Jerry Garcia was booked there on occasion, too, but Foster thought he was snide to the audience. The Offstage folded when Foster went off to hook up with Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters. Today the site is Vinh Hing Bakery.

Spartan Stadium, near the San Jose State University campus. Besides being the home of the San Jose State Spartan football team, the field has a long history with American professional soccer. For many years it was the home of the San Jose Earthquakes (Georgie Best even played at Spartan for the Earthquakes in 1981).
Spartan Stadium, 1251 S 10th St, San Jose, CA 95112
San Jose State has a pretty good sports tradition for a non-D1 school. Although the football team (The Spartans) are FCS (formerly Division 1AA), they have historically been relatively good, and they have had several players drafted into the NFL. The most famous Spartan football player was SJSU alumnus and TE/DE Bill Walsh, who played for the team in the 60s. The team plays at Spartan Stadium, which is not right on campus. It is a few blocks away in a big park, bounded by E. 10th and Alma Streets. The Grateful Dead only played the 30,000 seat Spartan Stadium one time, when Brent Mydland debuted with the band on April 22, 1979.

The Grateful Dead played on the first day (Saturday, May 18, 1968) of the first Northern California Folk Rock Festival at the Santa Clara County Fairgounds, at 344 Tully Road.
Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, 344 Tully Road, San Jose, CA 95111
The Santa Clara County Fairgrounds had a hugely important role in San Jose rock history, which I have discussed elsewhere. However, the Grateful Dead only played there once, on the first day of the 1968 Northern California Folk Rock Festival.

A flyer for The Grateful Dead's first performance at the Continental Ballroom, at 1600 Martin Avenue in Santa Clara, on December 21, 1966. Since December 21 was a Wednesday, the Dead seem to have played without a support act.
Continental Ballroom, 1600 Martin Ave, Santa Clara, CA 95050
The Continental Ballroom, under various names, was the principal rock venue for San Jose and the South Bay in the 60s. Apparently, it was a former rollerskating rink, but I don't know it's exact history. Because the Continental was generally not under the control of a single promoter, it doesn't have the storied history of places like the Fillmore. Don't doubt, however--many a great band played there back in the day, and memorable times were had. The Continental is actually in the town of Santa Clara, which though a separate municipality from San Jose, is an economic part of San Jose.

The Dead first played the Continental on December 21, 1966, and then 4 times in 1967. Among other things, in the summer of '67, Quicksilver Messenger Service manager Ron Polte hired the hall for 8 weekends, and booked every San Francisco band, including the Dead on July 21 and 22, 1967. Not only did all the great San Francisco bands play the Continental,  the Continental was also the primary home for great 60s San Jose bands like The Chocolate Watch Band, so it played an important part in South Bay rock history. Yet since no single promoter embellished the legend, the Continental is just a fond, fuzzy memory for fans and musicians of the era (80s peeps take note: The club One Step Beyond was in the same complex, but at 1400 Martin Avenue).

A contemporary photo of the pool at the Chateau Liberte, and its infamous tiled portrait of The Zig Zag Man.
Chateau Liberte, 22700 Old Santa Cruz Highway, Los Gatos, CA 95033
The Chateau Liberte was a former resort hotel that was turned into a hip entertainment enclave in the early 70s. Calling the Chateau Liberte "notorious" doesn't tell the half of it. Although the Liberte is in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and on the Old Santa Cruz Highway, it is actually in Santa Clara County, so it belongs on this list. In the early 70s, the Santa Cruz Mountains had plenty of cheap, inaccessible housing, so they were full of bikers, pot growers, entrepreneurs and layabouts. Many Mountain residents fit more than one of these categories, and all of them hung out at Chateau Liberte on weekends.

"The Chateau" had originally been a Wells Fargo stagecoach stop. From 1920 to 1945, it was a resort called Chateau Boussy, a French restaurant and resort, noted as a hideaway for important political figures to stash their mistresses. When it got taken over by hippies in the early 70s, it became infamous for its swimming pool, which had a tiled "Zig Zag Man." The Chateau had a deserved reputation for being a hangout for the Hell's Angels, but many people who went there claim that it was mostly a mellow scene.

In 1970, when The Chateau first got rolling, one of the regular bands was Mountain Current, led by Matthew Kelly and John Tomasi (John Tomasi was the former lead singer of The New Delhi River Band). Mountain Current often shared the stage with either The Doobie Brothers or Hot Tuna, who tended to alternate weekends. The cover of the first Doobie Brothers album was taken at the Chateau Liberte bar, and the second Hot Tuna album (First Pull Up, Then Pull Down) was recorded there in 1971 (for more on the story, see the great Metroactive article here).

An ad from the Santa Cruz Times for Kingfish and Jerry Garcia shows at the Chateau Liberte in 1974, This was the first known time that Bob Weir was publicly advertised with Kingfish. Note that there is no area code on the phone number, as 408 was simply presumed.
In late 1974 and early 1975, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir each played a few shows at The Chateau. In Garcia's case, I think he was just filling in the date book for an empty weekend, as the venue was tiny even by his standards. Kingfish, on the other hand, seemed to have used the gigs to give Bob Weir a chance to get his sea legs with the band. According to various accounts, the sound man at The Chateau was quite willing to let tapers plug in, so even though the gigs were obscure, tapes from the venue circulated relatively widely.

One other unique piece of Grateful Dead history took place at the Chateau Liberte: a very rare showing of the Sunshine Daydream movie, way back in 1974. I know it was shown once at Stanford University around that time as well, as I recall not going because "how could it be any good if I hadn't heard of it?" Today, the Chateau Liberte is owned by a real estate agent, and the house is a private residence. It is hard to get to, and can't be seen from the road anyway. But the pool is still intact, apparently, so rock and roll history does live on.

The Naval Airship USS Macon above Moffett NAS in Sunnyvale, CA ca. 1934. If you look closely enough, and really want to see them, Shoreline Amphitheatre, Google Headquarters, Apple Headquarters and Highway 101 are all visible. Non-residents probably just see empty fields.
Shoreline Amphitheater, 1 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Mountain View, CA 94043
Although hardly the stuff of legends, the Grateful Dead played the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View 39 times. The first Dead show at the venue was October 2, 1987. Bill Graham Presents built the venue in order to not only have their own large concert venue, but to have one in Silicon Valley, where all the money was. The venue opened on July 29, 1986 (with Julio Iglesias and Roseanne Barr), with a maximum capacity of 22,500, and it has thrived ever since that day.

Shoreline is to the East of Highway 101 (nearer the Bay) between San Jose and Palo Alto. Heading north from San Jose, the unmistakeable Airship Hangar One of Moffett Field, the largest unsupported structure in the world, marks the spot. The hangar, the former home of the USS Macon, now houses the private planes for Google, Inc. The Google campus takes up the entire area leading towards Shoreline Amphitheatre.

A subsequent post will locate the Grateful Dead historical landmarks of Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Stanford University. For the landmarks of Santa Cruz, see my post on the history of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead in Santa Cruz County.


  1. The correct address of Big Nig's house is 635 St. James St. in San Jose. Thank you.

  2. "The Student Union Ballroom had only opened on October 13, 1969. On the very first Friday that the ballroom was open October 17, 1969, the new, unknown New Riders Of The Purple Sage played there and broke in the room. Whether the Student Union Ballroom was the larger (Ron Barrett) or smaller (Loma Prieta) is moot, at this point. The raw New Riders, with the cutting-edge fusion band Fourth Way on the bill as well, would have been memorable indeed."

    You'd think, but are there many memories of this? Are there any? Has anyone looked in the SJSU Archives around 10/17/69? Pretty fascinating little Garcia-SJSU confluence.

    1. CryptDev did a little checking. It seem that in the early days, the Ron Barrett and Loma Prieta rooms were somewhat interchangeable. I'm not aware of a review, however. It seems to me that this was the first instance of using the Riders to check out a potential Dead venue.

  3. A friend of mine has that Halloween Loma Prieta poster. I wonder if SJSU would be interested in buying it?

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