THE GOLDEN ASS pursuing the Beatniks

image1962 HIGH SCHOOL-Golden Ass and the Beatniks
Lyndia was my very best friend at that time, at Narbonne high school. She was petite and smart mouthed, with a pixie mop of red hair. My family lived in the exclusive Portuguese Bend Club on the shore of the Palos Verdes peninsula, and her family lived in a poor neighborhood in Torrance, but it didn’t matter to us what our parents had, we were in high school and having fun. We would both lie to our parents about where we were, and stay out all night driving around, going to surfer parties in Hermosa and Redondo Beach.

1959 – At that time my mother had showed me an article in a newspaper about Beatniks in San Francisco. “Just look at that!” she said scornfully rapping on the news photo. ‘They’re just not clean. They don’t use any elbow grease, that’s their problem. They don’t work! What bums!” I looked at the photo. And I saw the most wonderful people I had ever seen. The women had long, long hair; everyone was dressed in black, and was sitting on the floor of an artist’s studio, listening to a poet read his work.
Paradise! I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting, but I was only fifteen. My whole fantasy became somehow escaping my neighborhood and family and making my way to San Francisco. Maybe I could hike on the Northern California beach to San Francisco. Maybe I could save up money for bus fare – wear a disguise, get a wig and makeup – look old, anything! But I was a meek child, school and family held on to me for several years.

1962 – Lyndia came up with a mysterious silver roll of pills wrapped in foil, like lifesavers candy. “Pep pills,” she said, “from Tijuana.” We had no idea at the time what these were, but lots of kids used them, and it was fun to stay awake all night. We also occasionally drank wine. We drove down to San Pedro, the small waterfront town, where the back street liquor stores would sell wine to alcoholics, to kids, to anyone. We were cruising a narrow street, lined with dingy shops, mostly closed, when Lyndia started pounding me on the shoulder and hollering, “Look at that sign! It says The Golden Ass! I can’t believe it!” “No,” I said, “they can’t say that!” “Yes they can! Look! Look!” And indeed a small sign on a hinge stood out from a wall, with a little painting of a yellow donkey and arty hand lettering – The Golden Ass. We parked and walked over to the shop and pressed our faces against a grimy window. “It’s a coffeehouse,” we agreed. “Beatniks!” It was the first time either of us had seen such a thing. Suddenly a man with gray hair, in a blue work shirt and jeans popped out. “We’re closed now, but if you’d like to come back tonight we’re open at eight.” He had a most friendly manner and smile that attracted us immediately. Lyndia and I thanked him and we ran away twittering. “Real beatniks, he said we could come! Yeah! Let’s go tonight!”
Lyndia and I arrived at The Golden Ass that evening a little after eight. The coffeehouse was located in a storefront, which was long and narrow from front to back. Little had been done to it. A rough wood floor, aging white plaster wall, a crude wooden stage at the end, a few chairs and tables. That was alL We sat eagerly on benches and were greeted in a friendly manner by several other patrons. Glen rushed over and enthusiastically welcomed us and introduced us around. His name was Glen Bye, and he had three big redheaded sons. Then there was Sylvia, the quiet intense beatnik woman, with the long dark brown hair and black sweater and pants. She was the girlfriend of the oldest Bye brother, who we never got to know very well, as he was older and quite withdrawn. There was an assortment of poets and artists, and Lyndia and I began to go there frequently. The entertainment consisted of performances by the regular patrons, and whoever was passing through town.
Glen was sometimes absent because he was also the founder of a communal farm in Mexico. Lyndia and I were both still in high school, and we were both enrolled in the Modern Dance course instead of Gym for several years. I remember how limber I was then, and had dancers muscles in my legs. I could touch the floor with my elbows, leaning forward. The instructor of the course was Mrs. Richardson, but all the girls called her Teach, and she was the most warm-hearted and adored teacher on campus. She was a stocky older woman, with short, curly white hair, combed back on the sides. She always wore her white gym shirt and shorts and white tennis shoes, but the girls wore black tights and leotards. We worked out hard daily, stretching, leaping, and bounding barefoot around the polished wooden floor of the gym.
In the coffeehouse there were some very strange performances indeed, including one man who pushed needles through his cheeks and arms. Lyndia and I decided to use our modem dance skills to present a dance on stage, and chose the popular jazz piece, Peter Gunn. We worked for weeks on the choreography, included all our best stretches and bends, limited by the tiny stage. But it went over well, and we were much applauded. At the age of seventeen, we were the youngest people there, except for Glen’s youngest redheaded son, probably fifteen. Everybody else was in their twenties or thirties.We brought another friend of ours, an intellectual and plain girl, and surprisingly she got involved with an older artist, who was dour and attractive. I felt uncomfortable about him. Robin seemed too nice and bright for him, but she was lonely and never had a serious boyfriend before. She was surprised that such a romantic character would be interested in her.

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16 thoughts on “THE GOLDEN ASS pursuing the Beatniks

    • Hi, Christina, my name is Steve, I grew up in San Pedro in the early 50’s and 60’s an d Graduated from San Pedro High in 1970, my mother Gussie was an artist and she hung out at the Exodus Gallery owned by an artist Connor Everts, and in the evenings she hung out at nearby at the Golden Asse Coffee House. I can’t say much more that I remember about this time, but I have a copy of the book “The Golden Asse” in-scripted from Glen Bye to my mother Gussie in the cover. I have also found one other person named David Rojay who claims to have owned part of the Golden Ass and now lives on the East coast. In his writings “A Red State Hero” which I found online and copied but I cannot find online anymore but is available from Amazon, he claims Woody Guthrie had been there as well as Hunter Thompson and Jack Kerouac as well as Allen Ginsberg, I’m not too sure it’s all true, but it is interesting.

    • I went to the Golden Ass a lot in 1962 in effort to score some grass. I was living in Silverlake and it was a long ride on the Harbor Fwy. Rudi, reputed to sell dope, had a shoe stand down the street from the Golden Ass. We used Golden Ass as basecamp for connecting with Rudi, though he turned out to be a pretty unreliable connection. However The Golden Ass was as close to a beatnik coffee house heaven as I could’ve imagined. Glen the welder and sons Peter and Davey and their older brother (name escapes me), Ed the truck driver and girlfriend Nancy (whose nude portrait hung on the North wall), Ren Wrenpage (resident artist) are the names I remember.

      Early 1963 I ended up going down to their commune in Erendiras, Baha. I returned 6 month later because I was due at Berkeley for Summer ’63. Berkeley didn’t work out and I returned to LA. I continued to see Peter (and his girlfriend Gay) and Davey who were now living with their mother, in Hermosa Beach and would drive up to LA in their mother’s Volvo.

      It was probably 1964 when I last had contact with any of that noteworthy family

      • So cool to hear from you, I think you’re the 4th alumni from Golden Ass I’ve heard from. I only lived a few miles from it, so we could go often. Weird note-someone named Micheal Ren Renpage was in the news for going out into a field in Idaho and shooting 6fieldhands for no reason….but then that may be a fairly common name, maybe someone else. Anyway a friend of mine was dating him. I was glad to hear she married someone else…

      • I heard Renpage shot a cop in N Ca, who knows? He was very talented artist but totally fucked up, lived in Silverlake for a while. I still have one of his ink drawings of high voltage lines. Do you remember the painting on the North wall ca 1963 of a nude Nancy? I wonder if that was the source of the brouhaha. My coffee houses were the Xanadu, later Mother Neptune, by LACC.

      • Oops I keep forgetting to check “notify me” so new comments will come to my email, because I haven’t been going to WordPress very often. So any further comments answer from here.

  1. hi there. I knew dave and pete bye. in fact, at about that time I almost went to mexico with dave and glen. he had the bell’s palsy then. I went to high school with the bye bros. lost track of them when I moved to northern ca. But I did notice a letter to the editor in some newspaper by glen bye. it was about pot. my coffee house was the insomniac in Hermosa. really nice reading this stuff. parallels my life..
    Russell Bidwell

  2. My Parents attended a Thursday night “book club” which I believe was held on Wednesday nights and someone invited this red headed heavy equipment operator from Garden Grove who fancied himself a Freudian Marxist to participate. He became a regular in my family and when he divorced he and a young lady of the time lived with us.
    Glen Bye (latter Glen Wood Bear) decided that Wednesdays was not enough time so he proposed a Coffee House and he rented a Urban Renewal condemned store front on sixth St. in San Pedro and recruited myself and others to help out. Glen and I were close and I at sixteen or so decided he would be my uncle. He taught me to play the mandolin and skin dive and speak a little Spanish. He defiantly was a charmer and I was a sponge. As he was sitting in his new galvanized commercial sink taking a sponge bath about capitalism he said “look for what they say the loudest and that’s the lie” pointing the label on the sink announcing “ guaranteed not to rust” and then to the rust in the corners of the sink. About ecology while we were cutting fire wood up in the Yuba county aria that “fire wood was better than electricity because it heated you twice, once when you cut it and again when you burned it”.
    Kids at San Pedro High would ask me “did I really work at the Golden Ass” ? It was my only claim to fame in high school. One day while getting ready to open the coffee house for the first time an old bar swampier who would come by to show what he had “found” like half used bar of soap “Just as good as new “or “rolls of perfectly good toilet paper no all used” to say there was and old stuffed donkey in the ally. This guy had been one of the “Harmonicats” of “Peg O My Heart” fame but now was a bar swampier. We put the donkey on the stage and sprayed it gold. Glen had been reading Robert Graves translation of the Greek myth “The Golden Ass of Apuleius”. That is what happened as I remember.
    The wonderful thing about that part of Pedro was there were life lesions every time you turned around. For example my dad who read meters in that area for Southern California Gas had an old wino come up to him and ask “Can you spear a dime that all I need for a bottle”, but my dad shrugged him off and went on reading meters. Latter my dad ran into the wino again, he was sitting on the floor in an abandoned store front and the wino seeing my dad says, “You look thirsty would you like a drink, holding up his bagged bottle of wine, I can share”. I loved to take a date on the “people only fairy” that ran after hours when the car fairy stopped. For two dimes you and a date could ley on the softest pile of silk rope in the bow of the fairy undisturbed under the stars as it went back and forth from the bottom of Sixth St. to Terminal Island.
    As the coffee house came to an end I went to Harbor College organized the Young Dems with Professor Harold Garvin and opened up a can of worms with our first event being Dorothy Healy whom my mother knew from organizing of the cannery workers on Terminal Island. But Dorothy was a well-known Communist so that idea was nixed. In place of Dorothy I got an ACLU Lawyer to speak on “Should American Student be Allowed to hear an American Communist speak?” Glen laughed like hell and said let’s move to El Ejido de Erendira in Baja. I had gotten straight Ds at Harbor College so off I went. And that about where you’ll find me today.
    Lewis Wright
    http://www.rancholuis.com

    • Lewis, my Mother Gussie Stein, was a friend of Glen Bye’s and once upon a time I owned Glens Copy of “The Golden Asse” that he gave to my mother and wrote a thankyou in the cover to her for her help, I believe it had something to do with the big bust that happened at the golden ass coffee house I have since gave the book to the San Pedro Historical Society with a little info on it’s history, I think more needs to be written about the Golden ass, I have research some and there is quite a bit of bits and pieces of the history of the place on line but now complete story about the place itself. I think I may have met you before when I worked at the McGovern for President headquarters.

      • Your mother was the force behind the McGovern campaign in San Pedro and in the general election as bad as McGovern did he won in the 15th councilmanic district.

      • I don’t know that my mother was the force behind the McGovern Campaign, but I did sit outside the McGovern Headquarters in San Pedro and signed up voters, not much later a roommate stole my McGovern T-shirt, I wish I still had it. I find the history of the Golden Ass interesting though I was too young to appreciate it, I can remember also hanging with my mother at the exodus gallery and with Connor Everts or at his studio watching him make stone prints.

  3. I just re-met an old friend who used to help out at the G A. he has written a number of novels about San Pedro, Terminal Island and Palos Verdes and other parts of L. A. that is how I stumbled on this sight His name is John Shannon. Try him out.

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