The Bad Peanut of Temescal

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William Carter Spann was the manager of the building I lived in on Shafter with Gloria Ehlers. Bill may be the foremost celebrity of the Bohemian enclave gathering momentum in Temescal, an area in Oakland next to Rockridge. There is a Friday Art Walk and neighborhood fair. I love the Temescal Alley.

The news tonight said President Carter has cancer. His nephew died of exposure. He was a homeless person suffering from AIDS. He called himself ‘The Bad Peanut’. The first time I paid my rent I asked him why he had peanut bags hanging on the wall with the name CARTER.

“My uncle is the Governor of Georgia, and we own peanut farms.”

Bill was not the first rebel of Temescal. Thelma Reid got caught up in a Love Cult. If she lived on 47th. she was in Temescal, where thanks to her, the birth of the Hippies can be traced.

“In 1927, 17-year-old Thelma Reid had just begun her first year of college at UC Berkeley. She was living on 45th street in Oakland’s Rockridge district with her family and did many of the typical things a college coed did—went to class, helped around the house and did her homework. She never expected her studies would spawn one of the biggest scandals in Rockridge history. But then again, it wasn’t ordinary homework.”

Here is the house that was raided by Oakland Cops led by Earl Warren who authored a report of the assassination of President Kennedy. It is right on the cusp of Temsecal and Rockridge at 460 Forest. This is where it all began. Before there were Beats and Hippies in San Francisco, there was the Great White Brotherhood, and their Love Cult. Consider Mel Lyman and Charlie Manson. Then there is that Cornell crowd, Richard Farina and Thomas Pynchon. Let’s no leave out the ‘Last Bohemian’ Jiryl Zorthian and his daughters.


The building we lived in was torn down and replaced with these modern rentals. Carter got fired and moved across the street into a cottage in back of the old house on the left.

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I met Gloria in SF and moved into her apartment on 51st. Street. (right) Michael Harkins has a speaker shop on 51st. (left)

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I lived with Amber in a apartment in the building on the lower right. I caught her in bed with my friend Paul Drake, who played the Bad Peanut, Mick, in Sudden Impact. About twenty Oakland Cops showed up for that Love Scene. There was a big storm that night that blew over a big redwood that was in the driveway and came to rest on the building by Amber’s window who was going to the California College of Arts and Crafts. She took me to her poetry class. She wanted me to meet Michael McClure who I had already met thru Michael Harkins who took me to see his good friends play ‘The Beard’. Harkins was a good friend of Jim Morrison. Oliver Stone wanted my friend’s take.

I was a original Hippie and Amber was showing me off, she not wanting to be seen as a wanna-be and McLure groupie.  Did she know McClure was the wanna-be?  I went and saw him at the first Be In. Ginsberg was on stage. His poem ‘Howl’ was ruled obscene, and when Ferlenghetti published it, he got arrested.

In 1965 I lived on 51st and Miles with Sherry Souza who had Bill Arnold’s baby that Christine came by to see. Sherry was a friend and neighbor of Nancy Hamren  who works at the Kesey Creamery. Nancy got me on the bus with Ken Kesey. She had been Bill’s lover. Two blocks up Miles I lived with my wife, Mary Ann Tharaldsen , who was married to Thomas Pymchon. Harkins lived on Shafter. My friend Bryan MacLean, who was in the rock group ‘Love’, played at our wedding. Mary Ann went to Cornell and was good friends of Richard and Mimi.

This is the scene that Bill Carter considered himself a part of. There is a good chance President Carter funded his nephew’s Bohemian lifestyle that Ronald Reagan and Ed Meese exploited in his rise to the White House. It was Reagan’s promise to right-wing voters to destroy the Pagan Cult of the Hippie Love Generation that led him to defeat Carter.  Reagan was also aided by Radical Iranian Terrorists who took hostages.  The Great Culture Wars, rage on!



Gloria Ehlers and Jon Presco ‘Temescal Pioneers’. 1975

Jon Presco

Copyright 2015

Best Art Murmur Offshoot” in the East Bay Express Readers’ Poll, Temescal First Friday takes place from 6-9 pm every first Friday of the month.

Galleries, cafes, bars, and retailers in Oakland’s Temescal district have teamed up to bring you art, music, food, drinks, and strolling the streets along Telegraph Avenue and in Temescal Alley and Alley 49.

An estimated 10-15,000 people are expected Sunday for the annual Temescal Street Fair on Telegraph Avenue.

The event runs from noon-6 p.m, and about 120 booths selling local crafts will be set up along Telegraph, between 45th and 51st Streets.

Two stages will be set up, the main at 51st Street, featuring mostly dance bands, and kids’ entertainers will perform at a second stage at 47th Street. Oakland apparel company Oaklandish will have its own stage, a wrestling ring, at 48th Street.

The “Temescal Flows” mural, painted on the Highway 24 underpass at 52nd Street, between Shattuck and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, will be unveiled as well. Artist Alan Leon is scheduled to talk about the mural on the main stage during the afternoon.

“We’re celebrating all things Temescal,” organizer Karen Hester said.

The street fair was scheduled for June but was called off due to heavy rain. This is the first year it will take place in July.

Recently, I’ve been thinking pretty seriously about moving closer to the middle of Temescal. Right now, I’m technically in Temescal (at least, according to some), but I’m many blocks and a freeway overpass away from 51st and Telegraph and all the great stuff in that area. But there was one reason that had been holding me back – no grocery store! Where I currently live, I can walk to four grocery stores – Whole Foods in Berkeley, Market Hall, Trader Joe’s, and Safeway on College. From 51st, I could still walk to the Safeway on Pleasant Valley, but there’s no way I could do the majority of my shopping there.

But just under a month ago, the Temescal Produce Market opened on Telegraph between 51st and 52nd, and I got a chance to stop in yesterday. It’s certainly not a full-scale grocery store, but they do have nearly all the staples (well, if you’re a vegetarian, and I am). There’s tons of produce, which would be great to augment anything not available at the farmer’s market, but I’m even more excited about their grocery selection, which is mostly organic. The store has a decent bulk foods section, dairy, baking goods (including a huge selection of spices), snacks, frozen food, and plenty more.

I just picked up some half and half because I had done my shopping the day before (but, oddly, Whole Foods was entirely out of organic half and half), but I plan to be back in the future, especially if I move further down Telegraph. For pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders, this is the perfect store to run to if you realize you’re missing an ingredient (or a few) or just don’t have time to trek down to one of the bigger stores.

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by. Here’s some of what you’ll find:

ROSAMUNDE NOW OPEN IN TEMESCAL Rosamunde has been selling sausages and craft beer out of its location in Old Oakland’s Swan’s Marketplace for a few years now. They opened their second East Bay location in Temescal over Memorial Day weekend. This new location, in the former Good Bellie’s café at 4659 Telegraph Ave., is the fifth for the the San Francisco-based restaurant. The Temescal location has the same food menu as at its Old Oakland location, including three varieties of vegan sausages and 14 varieties of beer on tap. Rosamunde Temescal will hold an official grand opening June 11, complete with $1 beer specials and an in-house DJ. Rosamunde Sausage Grill is at 4659 Telegraph Ave. (between 46th and 47th streets), Oakland. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.

Jimmy Carter sent his nephew clothes, helped him find places to stay, paid for his methadone. When Carter was in the Bay Area, he’d track Willie down through a parole officer and arrange a visit. He also reached out to Drew, who lived with his mother. Carter always remembered his birthday.

In December, Jimmy Carter came to San Francisco and found Willie in the hospital, his face cut and bruised. He said he’d been beaten up while walking past a bar.

“He had all the nurses charmed,” Carter recalls. Carter asked if he needed money, and Willie took $20 for cab fare home.

On Dec. 16, after a record nine months of no violations, the California Department of Corrections finally discharged William Carter Spann from parole. He was 50.

Six weeks later, he stood in the predawn chill, trying to turn his jacket into a drink.

Francisco Noyola had gone inside the house for something to eat when he heard screaming outside.

“That man is dead!”

Noyola found a woman standing on the sidewalk, pointing at William through the chain-link fence. “He’s turning blue!”

Noyola’s head was pounding. “He’s just drunk,” he assured her. But when he went over and grabbed William’s wrist, he felt no pulse.

“He could have died on the street, but I didn’t let him lay down,” Noyola would say a few weeks later. “He had his last cigarette, his last drink. At least he died in somebody’s yard.”

The coroner notified Jimmy Carter. Since leaving office, he had negotiated peace in Haiti, brokered fair elections in Nicaragua, fought to eradicate the guinea worm from Africa. But he could not save his nephew from himself.

The autopsy found a toxic level of alcohol but no drugs. Drew’s mother had the body cremated and collected the ashes; even in death, the Bad Peanut did not go back to Plains.

On January 14, 1967, McClure read at the epochal Human Be-In event in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and transcended his Beat label to become an important member of the 1960s Hippie counterculture. Barry Miles famously referred to McClure as “the Prince of the San Francisco Scene”.[3]

McClure would later court controversy as a playwright with his play The Beard. The play tells of a fictional encounter in the blue velvet of eternity between Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow and is a theatrical exploration of his “Meat Politics” theory, in which all human beings are “bags of meat.”

Rockridge is a residential neighborhood and commercial district in Oakland, California. Rockridge is generally defined as the area east of Telegraph Avenue, south of the Berkeley city limits, west of the Oakland hills and north of the intersection of Pleasant Valley Avenue/51st Street and Broadway. It is known for being one of the wealthiest areas of Oakland.[citation needed] Rockridge was listed by Money Magazine in 2002 as one of the “best places to live”.[1],_Oakland,_California

In 1927, 17-year-old Thelma Reid had just begun her first year of college at UC Berkeley. She was living on 45th street in Oakland’s Rockridge district with her family and did many of the typical things a college coed did—went to class, helped around the house and did her homework. She never expected her studies would spawn one of the biggest scandals in Rockridge history. But then again, it wasn’t ordinary homework.

The collection of poems that would eventually set into motion police raids, arrests and a full-blown media circus was assigned to Reid not by any of her UC Berkeley professors, but by a neighbor, Gertrude Wright. Wright’s home, a few blocks away from Reid’s at 468 Forest Street, served as the international headquarters for a mystical society—called the “Great White Brotherhood”—that blended aspects of Eastern religion with notions of Christian love, racial harmony and communing with God through sexual acts. Reid had been attending one of Wright’s “Sacred Schools”—classes where Wright delivered her unconventional teachings and handed out writings advocating “sacred phallic laws” and “mystical marriages” in which both parties had absolute freedom to explore love in all its exotic forms. Reid’s mother discovered the poems in the family’s home, and referred them to the Oakland Police Department.

But it wasn’t until another mother, Margaret Merwin, concerned about her 18-year-old daughter Caroline, who was also attending brotherhood classes, went to the police that then-District Attorney Earl Warren decided to take action. Warren sent OPD officers to 468 Forest Street and what they found there sent a shockwave through the sleepy Rockridge community for months to come.

In Wright’s home, a full-fledged, old-fashioned pagan society had taken root. According to police records, the raid found an “effigy of a woman with a sword piercing her heart, incoherent messages, cards bearing linked names of males and females and other equally weird evidence.” The Rockridge bungalow had become headquarters for the brotherhood that also had branches in San Francisco, San Jose, Portland and Chicago. Members of the Rockridge society included city council members, schoolteachers and businessmen. Cult founder and high priestess Wright was taken into police custody, along with her disciple Irma Gibbs and three others, on charges of encouraging delinquency.

The media went to town. The brotherhood was dubbed a “love cult” by newspapers around the Bay Area, which painted Rockridge as the epicenter of sexual perversion. Articles spawned sensational tales of paganism and decadence. LA Times columnist Harry Carr had this to say about Reid and Merwin:

“The attempt to paint these girls—and their beef-fed sheiks—as innocent, wide-eyed victims of a freak religion is enough to make anybody laugh. Girls of this day and age are wise guys. And any one of them knows that a so-called religious cult that involves being ‘initiated’ in the presence of men with most of their clothes off is merely an excuse for a debauch.”

The only sympathetic voice at the time belonged to Oakland Tribune reporter Nancy Barr Mavity. “Whether the web in which [Wright] is intangled is one of wheels within wheels of enmity on the part of deserters from the order,” wrote Mavity, “Or whether she is the priestess of views not favored in Western society, she remains the romantic lady in a world where a white stucco bungalow easily becomes a temple.”

In May of 1927, one of the arrested society members, Russel Alley, was tried before a jury, and found guilty of contributing to the delinquency of minors. Unconvinced they could receive a fair trial, Wright and Gibbs jumped bail and disappeared across the border to Mexico. For two years there was no sign of either of them, until Wright sent an emissary back to Alameda County to negotiate her return to Oakland in 1929. Local authorities refused her permission to return, and Wright was never heard from again. Whether she was a pagan cult priestess or just a “romantic lady,” in the end she went down in history as a fugitive from justice.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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1 Response to The Bad Peanut of Temescal

  1. Reblogged this on rosamondpress and commented:

    This is the vision I have for the Sawtelle neighborhood.

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