Music and clientele
Category : Laguna Beach Real Estate
Folk and Jazz music emanated from the inside out onto the porch, with singers such as Judy Henske, Steve Gillette (who later wrote songs for the Stone Poneys) and Lee Mallory (later with Sagittarius, Millennium) performing here during the early ’60s. Dave Myers sang folk songs at Café Frankenstein before forming his Del-Fi surf band, Dave Myers & the Surf-Tones. Comedian Lord Buckley performed here. Famous photographer Lewis Baltz was also an early regular.
A legendary Beat era hangout in Laguna Beach, California, Café Frankenstein opened in 1958 under the stewardship of folk singer Doug Myres, writer George Clayton Johnson (of Twilight Zone fame) and artist Burt Shonberg. The building housed a “European” coffee shop, a bookstore and a leather goods and sandal shop.
Shonberg contributed an interior mural and a fabulous stained glass front window featuring the Frankenstein Monster. You can glimpse the window art in color, as seen from inside the club, in the picture here, if you can peel your eyes away from model Barbara Kellogg.
The nude photo session, in fact, brought charges of “lewd and obscene conduct” against the Café’s owners, just one of the many attacks by a very conservative community against the alternative club and its bohemian clientele of beatniks, surfers and folksies. It is said that two of the Café’s regular clients were undercover cops on the lookout for illegal activities and that both men eventually became supporters of the club.
Squaresville opposition to the hep establishment reached its hysterical apex when a local Church group protested against the window art on the grounds that stained glass was an art form exclusive to churches. Shonberg greeted them with a threat to erect a crucified Frankenstein.
Café Frankenstein was sold in 1960 and operated as Club 480 until 1962 when it was demolished, along with the Shonberg art, to make room for a parking lot.
The images here are from a wonderful article on early Pop Surf Culture posted on Dumb Angel. Click through to read the Café Frankenstein story in greater detail along with more pictures, including one of the building itself.
Burt Shonberg painted murals for coffee shops, bars, restaurants and Beat clubs up and down the coast. He contributed covers and illustrations to science fiction magazines. His art was also used on an album by Arthur Lee and Love and a commissioned set of paintings was famously featured in Roger Corman’sFall of the House of Usher (1960).
As tastes changed, a new scene grew up in Newport. O.C.’s first bohemian beatnik coffee house, Café Frankenstein, opened in Laguna Beach in 1958. A café employee, Sid Soffer, started his own place, Sid’s Blue Beet, and in 1959 moved it from Laguna to the peninsula. Everyone from Mississippi bluesman Son House to jazzman Art Pepper (who was busted for heroin outside the club) to future Monkee Peter Tork played at Sid’s.
However, it could easily have been a totally different story. It’s probably easiest to begin by explaining that McGuire stumbled into singing almost accidentally. Born in Oklahoma City in 1935 Barry’s background was decidedly blue collar. He remembers, “My life was kind of a mixed bag of different things. My stepfather was a construction worker so every time he would finish a job we would move to a different town and so I went to about five primary schools. Then when I was 16 years old I quit school and lied about my age and joined the Navy. Then they found out I was only 16 and they told me they appreciated my patriotism but told me I should go home and grow up. When I got out of the Navy I didn’t want to go back to school so I started working in construction, and I worked in commercial fishing for a while. Then I got into pipe fitting and put in overhead fire sprinkler systems for five years. Then one evening I just happened to stumble into a little coffee house in Laguna Beach, California, in a place called The Frankenstein Café. This was before hippies, back in the beatnik generation. It was kind of a Beatnik hangout where they would read poetry and there was a guy over in the corner playing classical guitar singing folk music – English and American folk songs. I just fell in love with it. I couldn’t believe how accessible the songs were and how they just resonated inside of me. I wanted to learn how to do that. So I bought a guitar and first thing I knew I was offered a job to go sing. I couldn’t believe it. It was like going to a party and getting paid for it! So I never auditioned for anything. I didn’t set out to be a singer, I just liked doing it and people liked listening to me.”
One of the Cafe Frankenstein players will be ’60s survivor Barry McGuire.