Holmes Books

There are many pleasant meetings on the George R. Stewart Trail.

On a walk through beautiful Historic West Carson, I took a breather on the  bench near The Martin Basque Restaurant.  Not long after, a rider on a classic Schwinn came by.  He called out a neighborly greeting. I returned the greeting.  He stopped and we began to talk.   An hour later we were still talking.  It was one of those friendly swappings of stories which enrich lives, and unearth the most unlikely and wonderful connections.

He knew where Atwater Village is, one of the few who do.  His grandmother’s name was Theodosia, an unusual name but also the name of George R. Stewart’s wife.  He’d been a YAK – Youth Conservation Corps member – and we’d worked with the Yaks and similar groups in the old ranger days.  He’d fought fires, like the one described in Stewart’s fine novel FIRE.

And – the highlight – his great-grandfather was Robert Holmes, founder  of the legendary Holmes Bookstores in San Francisco and Oakland.

In Ranger days, when money was tight and our interest in Stewart’s books strong, on payday some of us visited Holmes in San Francisco – at Third and Market – to seek first editions of Stewart’s books.  We found many, and many of those cost a dollar. His Oakland store had more collectible antiquarian books, but it was a long drive and anyway we had no money for rare books. So our collections were founded at Holmes in San Francisco.

The Holmes bookstores finally closed – buildings old, foot traffic low, no internet on which to offer books in those days.  The last one was the Oakland store, which closed in 1994, 101 years after Holmes opened his first store on Mission Street in San Francisco.

As my new friend talked about his family, and Holmes Books, I closed my eyes and saw the stacks – and smelled that wonderful aroma of old books – where my GRS collection began.

If the internet had been strong in those days, Holmes would still be in business –  it is the internet antiquarian book store fronts which are keeping such bookstores in business.

My new friend Lumpy (the name given him by his beloved Brotherhood of the Surf on Southern California beaches we both frequented (but me much earlier, and not surfing)) talked on, about the old Southern California days for a while.

Then we parted, promising to get together again when time permits.

Walking home, I felt the breath of Carl Jung on my neck.  And since the Oakland Holmes Bookstore is supposed to be haunted , Jung’s breath felt perfectly appropriate  Here’s to synchronicity!




Atwater Village

As the George R. Stewart biography heads toward publication, I’m considering another book.   The overall book, at this stage, is about the national parks.  But in order to give a grand overview of parks and rangering, I need to tell the Scott family story.  The first Scotts were rangers, the recently-deceased head of the clan was a ranger, and I’m a ranger.  Writing up nearly a millennium of family, including immigration to Ireland and Boston, service in the Civil War, probable involvement in building the Union Pacific, life in San Francisco from about 1870 through today, family connections to film, oil, and manufacturing,  and my work with the national parks and NASA is going to be a big task.  It should keep me out of trouble for a decade, and by then I’ll be too old to get into trouble.

And what has this to do with Atwater?  One section of the book, or opus, as currently conceived, may focus on Atwater in the early 1940’s.  My parents lived there when I entered life, so it was the first neighborhood I knew.  Dad’s good friend, Bob Broughton and his family lived there as well, and my mother’s sisters in nearby Glendale and Eagle Rock.  So we had many good family memories — and in my case, the first good memories of a place.  For example,  Bob and Dad used to take cousin Larry and I to the old Glendale station to watch the steam trains; afterwards we went to Van De Kamps for hot chocolate and donuts.

But it’s much more than nostalgia.  That nearly mythical time — the golden age of California, of movies, oranges, oil, and autos which has captured the culture of humankind — was also the time when California was inventing the national park, and establishing large, wild city preserves like Griffith Park.  Atwater seems to be one of those places where many new trends meet and interact and give birth to a new age.

The fact that Disney’s California Adventure is going to honor Atwater is quite proper, because the neighborhood is truly an archetype of that golden mythical age.  (And especially proper since Bob Broughton worked for Disney and eventually became a Disney Legend.)

There’s also a George R. Stewart connection.  When the family lived in Pasadena, Stewart’s father bought a house in Hollywood.  He decided to move the house’s furniture to the family home.  Young George and a hired man went to Hollywood, loaded up the furniture, and took it back to Pasadena — in a horse-drawn wagon, on Los Feliz Boulevard, in 1910.  Stewart remembers thinking it must have been one of the last horse-drawn wagons to use that busy road.

When the furniture movers went through early Atwater, they  passed about a block from the place that would become the first home I knew.

It’s a small, circular world.