The Summer 2013 issue of the Frisco Cricket features the collection of Earthquake McGoon's memorabilia amassed by John Herrell.
THE DOORS FROM EARTHQUAKE McGOON’S
As told by John Herrell (with an assist from Connie)
This story has its roots on Clay Street, and on The Embarcadero near the “Y”, and on Pier 39. It goes back to the 60s and the 70s and the 80s. But we’ll skip forward a few years and pick up the tale in 1998.
Connie and I had just moved from our home in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District up to Jackson, in The Gold Country of Amador County. We had acquired the mine superintendent’s house of the Zeila Mine, a farm-style house circa 1895, and were facing a massive renovation (reconstruction) project to turn this old shack into a home with modern conveniences. It had single-wall construction, no foundation, no insulation, entirely inadequate heating and no A/C (quite a necessity up here!), to mention a few of the shortcomings. Wiser people would have bulldozed the place, but wisdom is overrated.
We had neither the skills nor the fortitude to face this massive job alone, and employed many of the finest construction craft workers in the area as we worked on the place for fully a year. Among the “steadies” on the job were two highly skilled carpenters, Rick Hussong and Ray Henningsen, who were here fulltime for the duration.
I was out there working with the others and just getting to know Rick and Ray. In one of our very first lunch breaks, Rick, by way of making conversation, mentioned that in the past he had done some work down in San Francisco, “a demolition job out on Pier 39.” I replied jokingly, “Well, you shouldn’t have quit until you were DONE!”
He went on to say he had torn out a Night Club. Now that DID get my attention. I inquired, “Earthquake McGoon’s?”
Said Rick: “Yup. You know the place?” (Most certainly, we did!) Rick continued, “There was one thing I did not put into the dumpster, the doors.” (I struggled to understand his meaning.) Rick explained that he had taken the doors, and was using them in his house.
The conversation continued through lunch. I mentioned how we had wiled away many, many an evening at the various McGoon’s venues, including that last one, and that frankly McGoon’s was far and away our favorite evening out.
By the end of that lunch break, my new friend, Rick, observed, “It’s clear these doors mean way more to you than they do to me. Do you want ‘em?”
I was fairly (but fortunately not totally) speechless. Of course, Rick had already told me he was using them. But he was offering me the doors from our favorite club. I replied, “If you’re serious, here’s my deal. You go out and buy yourself any two doors. I don’t care what they cost; I don’t need a receipt. I will buy you your two replacement doors if I can have those McGoon’s doors.” The deal was done. Rick had rescued those doors for us and stashed them for nearly 15 years, until we were ready find them.
Connie was down in The City at the time and knew nothing of this conversation or the transaction. It would be Rick’s and my little secret for quite a while.
Due to the massive reconstruction, the house was uninhabitable for the better part of a year. There was a small 12’ x 20’ shack at the back of the property. No utilities except electricity. We lived in that shack for eight months. (And our marriage even survived it.) I had known from the day we bought the property that the shack out back was to become my Saloon. But little had I imagined the character it was going to take on.
Construction continued full-bore for a year. Finally, things came together enough to imagine having an open house, to show the place off: to our new local friends; to the workers; to our Bay Area friends who came up for the occasion. It turned out least a couple of hundred people were to come by.
During that year, another very nice happenstance occurred. Pete Clute and his wife, Carol, moved to Jackson, and we renewed and cemented our friendship. (Of course Pete was Turk’s business partner and piano player for all those Earthquake McGoon’s years.) On Fridays and Saturdays, I would head to The Palace Bar and Restaurant, four miles away in Sutter Creek, to sit at the piano and listen to Pete play. I invited Pete and Carol to come to the open house. We had plans for a “garage” blues band to play in the yard. I asked Pete if we could hire him to play during the breaks in the sets. He accepted.
For the open house, we moved our upright grand piano out onto the wrap-around porch, and quite a crowd of invited guests gathered in the yard below. At the blues band’s first intermission, Pete sat down to play. And Connie stood on the porch with a microphone in hand. And without any prior opportunity for rehearsal, she sang, “Was I drunk, was he handsome, and did my ma give me hell.”
Connie was totally focused on the task at hand. She could not be paying attention to the minor commotion below in the yard. As she sang, a few of my buddies brought out the pre-hung Earthquake McGoon’s doors in all their resplendent glory. She finished the song, looked off the porch, and saw the doors down below her. There was no mistaking what they are. We know them very well, indeed. She just had no idea what they were doing in our yard, how they had gotten there, or how long they would stay. And stay, they have.
Even though we had agreed on terms for a gig, at the end of the afternoon Pete would not accept payment. (It was “our gift from him.”) Inspired by seeing the doors, Pete asked me if I remembered the two cherubs (paper mache) up over the bandstand. Well, kinda sorta I did. And he asked, “Do you want ‘em?” Sure!
Subsequently, along the way, we’ve obtained a bunch of other fun McGoon’s memorabilia, the centerpiece of which is “Stella” aka Mother McGoon, but that’s another story.
A fun little aside: Bob Schulz (Turk’s trumpet player since ‘79) knows I have the doors. He has confessed that back at the time when the club closed (1984), he and Linda had plans to go over and steal the doors (at least the etched glass) before the demolition. But they never did. So now he comes over to visit them.