New Life for the San Francisco Bay Area’s Mothball Fleet on Mare Island

Photos of the Mothball Fleet in Suisun Bay

photo via USS Hassayampa

My friends Max and Josh Hunter at Western Dovetail have an amazing view of one of the most interesting events occurring in the Bay Area for the next several months. Max launched the new Drydock Blog sharing their unique vantage point on this amazing project with the world via a webcam on the second floor of their manufacturing facility on Mare Island.

The Suisuin Bay Naval Reserve Fleet as the Federal Government calls it (they get a little huffy when someone refers to it as the Mothball Fleet) is now being removed one ship at a time after an ecological assessment by DARRP and years of handwringing by various other government agencies, environmental groups and the like. Many of the ships will make their first port in decades after their being towed from their off shore location in the outermost reaches of the Bay Area, Suisun Bay to be exact. Some of the ships will then pull into the massive and still functional drydocks on Mare Island.

There are two other locations in the US where the Feds stored the nations no longer necessary naval warhorses in the years after the end of WWII. One is in Newport News, Virginia and the other, in the Neches River near Beaumont Texas.

At least two major Hollywood movies have used the Suisun Bay fleet as a backdrop/set for action sequences. Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry Callahan sequel Magnum Force has Callahan blowing away a secret cabal of vigilante cops on the ghost ships and a limping, cane wielding James Caan avenges himself against the trecherous Robert Duvall on the ship during a wild finale in Sam Peckinpah’s Killer Elite.

Over the years, many people have dodged security to dock on and explore the fleets ghostly, abandoned ships. The San Francisco Suicide Club canoed out on Christmas Eve 1977 dressed as Pirates, nearly capsizing several of the 8 canoes in this ill advised expediton. The Club returned the following year only using inflatable rafts rather than canoes.

The video below shows the arrival of the SS Solon Turman.

Hats are Back at Paul’s Hat Works in San Francisco

Any fool knows that cool, smart guys wear hats in the rain.


James Cagney as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy

For a hot sunny day, a breezy panama is just the ticket for a steely gentleman.


Sean Connery in Louis Vuitton ad

When I first moved to San Francisco in 1976, as a 17 year old juvenile delinquent, I wanted more than anything to be a San Franciscan. Over the years, as with so many other East Coast and Midwest transplants, I became just that: a San Franciscan. There were several crucial components (in my feverish, young mind at least) that were required for becoming a San Franciscan. One of them was to sport a truly cool brim. A Fedora also known as a snap-brim: a hat that some call the North Beach. I got a good one, and then a second. Eventually I had several.

Around 1979, I discovered a wonderful and soon to be rare type of establishment: an old fashioned hat shop. It was a fine place, a place where you could bring your beaten and soiled brim and have it rejuvenated and polished, cleaned and blocked, ready for another go at City life.

The place was Paul’s Hat Works at Geary and 25th Ave. There was a guy, Michael (Paul was a long gone and hadn’t been Paul anyway – he was Napolean) who would clean and block your hats.

If you had the dough, he would MAKE you as fine a hat as you could acquire ANYWHERE in the world.

Michael had had enough by 2009 and was to retire, planning to auction off the arcane, singular and irreplaceable hat making tools that Paul’s had housed for 90 years. You see, for some indecipherable reason, along about 1962 American men stopped wearing hats. Over the next 30 years, hundred’s of men’s hat shops and factories shut down. There was a surge in sales of cold, flu and pneumonia remedies and sunburn ointment as more and more men took ill due to unnecessary exposure to the elements. What morons.


Agent Smith in the rain, from The Matrix

A year and a half ago, Paul’s was saved from oblivion by four angels. In the eleventh hour Michael sold Paul’s to four women. Smart, attractive and talented women. Hat making women. This was a big deal. There are almost no real men’s hat making shops left anywhere in the world. There are certainly none run by four female beauties.


photo via Paul’s Hat Works

Comparisons to the four ladies of Sex and the City notwithstanding, these women are the real article. And they create beautiful finished hats that Charlotte, Samantha, Miranda and Carrie would definitely want their men to wear. Talented, lovely and well dressed, Abby, Kirsten, Olivia and Wendy turn heads wherever they go, together or separately. They refer to themselves as the 4 Pauls.

The ladies are poised to make Paul’s one of, if not THE premier hat shop(s) anywhere. They make real hats, the kind Bogie and F.D.R. wore. They’ll also clean and block your favorite old brim.

The next time you are in a rainstorm standing next to a brimless, sneezing, shivering, not too bright man, you will feel smart, warm, dry and well dressed if you are sporting a fine hat. Fifty years after they fell out of favor with the thick headed American male, hats are finally coming back.

I am SO excited……

Memorial Gathering for San Francisco Suicide Club Co-Founder David Warren (1935-2009)

David Warren

photo by unknown

Surviving members of the San Francisco Suicide Club are hosting a memorial event for co-founder David T. Warren (AKA: R.J. Mololopozy, Irving Glikk, Flammo LeGrande, etc.,) from 2-7pm on Saturday January 2nd, 2010 at Playland-Not-At-The-Beach in El Cerrito, CA.

David Warren died in a East Bay hospital on January 2, 2009. This is the same day of the month, exactly 32 years after Dave, along with Adrienne Burk, Gary Warne and Nancy Prussia founded The San Francisco Suicide Club. The notion struck them after a terrifying adventure where they clung desperately to a heavy barricade chain atop the seawall under the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point as thirty foot waves crashed down on top of them. Later, over tea and pastries the four friends decided to start a club where they would encourage members to “live each day as though it were their last” by creating events and experiences that would challenge their deep personal fears, expand their knowledge and understanding of their world and those in it AND be hella fun.

Dave was a carnival magician and barker as a young man and retained a lifetime interest in the seedy world of carneys, amusement parks and sardonic magicians. In 1975, two years after the magical and (by the end) seedy amusement park Playland at the Beach was demolished Dave founded Playland Research Corporation. PRC was dedicated to collecting and archiving photos, film, personal interviews of and about the classic attraction out at Ocean Beach that served as a magnet for young and old alike.

His surviving collection was donated to Playland-Not-At-The-Beach a wonderful museum in El Cerritto curated by Richard Tuck.

In 1978, along with Chris De Monterrey, David restored and operated the Giant Camera Obscura below the Cliff House at Ocean Beach. This spectral attraction, one of fewer that half a dozen surviving in the world, was originally envisioned by Leonardo DaVinci and became a popular type of attraction at scenic tourist spots during the Victorian era.

David Warren

photo by unknown

The Suicide Club morphed into The Cacophony Society in the mid 1980’s. Cacophony helped birth The Burning Man by taking the Baker Beach bonfire to the Black Rock Desert in 1990. David lighted the first man in the desert by blowing a 15′ flame onto it.

Goodbye To Tom Kennedy: Art Car Artist, Activist, Teacher & Prankster

guest post by John Law


photo by J. A. Ellingson

We lost one of our very best. Tom Kennedy (1960-2009) drowned at Ocean Beach on Sunday, April 12th at 2PM. Tom was an artist, activist, teacher, prankster – a strong friend, bright spirit and true inspiration to each and every of the thousands of people he touched through his powerful and loving art and his huge and giving heart. I first met Tom at Burning Man 94 when he came out from Texas with his amazing art car “Ripper the Friendly Shark”, forever raising the bar at that event for creativity and originality in personal expression. I was dumbfounded by the whimsical nature, bold concept and execution of the piece. But more importantly, I was floored by Tom’s unmitigated joy at just being there, alive and creating the world around him.

Fish Car

photo by unknown


photo by J. A. Ellingson


photo by J. A. Ellingson

He went on, often in collaboration, sometimes alone, to create many of the most engaging and whimsical art cars you would find anywhere in the world. Tom was one of the kindest and sweetest men I have known. His big, muscular presence was that of a gentle giant, a protector and a gentleman. Tom’s sense of fairness and justice was as powerful as his creative urges. He was no push over, though. His work as an art provocateur and activist was tough, funny as hell and very “in-your-face” for those he saw as oppressors and forces of evil in the world. Greedy businessmen, slimy politicians and the like were the hapless targets of his art wrath. Along with his wonderful wife and partner Haideen Anderson and a cast of dozens in the political satire group Missile Dick Chicks, Tom stuck it to the high and mighty, often at personal risk. His courage and convictions were never in question. I saw him arrested in NYC for the 04 Republican Convention – an event that cost him greatly. This indignity only fired his passion to confront the injustices he saw and to mock and indict those responsible. Tom was generous, selfless and productive in ways that lesser men could only stand in awe of. He helped an untold number of aspiring artists with his powerful presence, practical fabrication knowledge and unique aesthetic. He did what the very best always do – he gave it away.

Tom Kennedy's Nash Art Car

photo by M2

Missle Dick Chicks 2008

photo by Eddie Codel


photo by Barbara Traub

I spoke with Tom’s room mate Chris de Monterey and was told the basic facts regarding how this tragedy occurred. Tom and his friend Mike Tackaberry were in the surf about waist deep at Ocean Beach (stairway 24 – just south of the Cliff House) and were knocked over by large waves and swept out to sea by a very strong rip-tide. Both strong swimmers, they fought to swim back to shore. Mike turned back to help Tom he saw he needed assistance. He was able to bring Tom to the beach where he attempted CPR. EMT’s arrived and took over, eventually transporting Tom to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. 

Here’s Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream giving a great endorsement of Tom.


A couple of videos of Tom Kennedy on Chuck Cirino’s Weird TV.


“Burning Man 2002 – Tom Kennedy takes a break from dismantling the Whale” — photo by Leo Nash


photo by Belinda


photos by Barbara Fried


photo by Jon Alloway

video by Caution Mike

Tom Kennedy & Sheep

photo by Jen Lum


photo by Ken Duffy

More Coverage:

Daily Kos


Los Angeles Times

San Francisco Chronicle

Houston Chronicle

Chicken John

San Francisco Bay Guardian

San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Examiner

See Previously: Topsy-Turvy Bus Tours US Questioning Budget Priorities

UPDATE 1: Tom’s website has been updated regrading his passing. Plans are being made for a memorials around the country.

UPDATE 2: There are two email addresses for all things related to remembering Tom and submitting stories, images and condolence notes, plus an email specially for helping with the celebrations of his life across the US.

Pat Kennedy, Tom’s mom, is collecting stories and pictures for a work of art she is making in Tom’s memory. If you have something you want to write, or have written, or an image or a condolence note you can email to help on this grand snapshot of the man , that so many have been enhanced by.

If you have anything else from ways you want to help and be part of the upcoming celebrations in Oakland, Portland, Minneapolis, Houston, or New York (or even elsewhere) email to

UPDATE 3: Here are some photos of the Tom Kennedy memorial in San Francisco.

Puzzling Evidence Releases His Video Archives To The World

guest post by John Law

SubGenius Reunion on Puzzling Evidence

Church of the Sub-Genius High Priest (REALLY high!) and KPFA radio personality Doug Wellman or “Puzzling Evidence” as he’s known of to cultists and the power elite, has been posting edited videos from his backlog of tens of thousands of hours of the weirdest and most ridiculous events to take place in the Bay Area and Beyond from the last 25 years.

Doug has been with Subgenius since the halcyon days of the early 80’s. Among his exploits in intensive voyeurism, surreal tourism and enigmatic conspiracies, Doug has, among other notable accomplishments, killed (allegedly) Subgenius Prophet Bob Dobbs, inspired David Byrne to write the song “Puzzling Evidence,” been accused of being a Oakland Police Intelligence officer by a crazed anarchist lawyer and survived a combat tour of Viet Nam as a naval officer.

Doug and his fellow Subgenius potentate Dr. Howlin Owl Robins have hosted the Puzzling Evidence Radio Show for twenty years. Joined by Subgenius co-founder Philo Drummond in recent years, this show is now (I believe) the longest running show on the venerable lefty station as well as being the most confusing and the least dogmatic.

Doug was at the 1st and 2nd How Berkeley Can You Be Parade “PETA (People Eatin’ Them Animals” float/performance and recorded the tense exchanges between the Meat People and protestors.

This event (staged three years in a row for the family friendly Berkeley parade) was comprised of various “meat providers” such as Steven King’s Carrie White, Texas Chainsaw Massacres Leatherface , Farmer Vincent from Motel Hell and others. Our very own anti-meat protestors the “Veget-Aryans” were there with bullhorns decrying the offense of edible flesh. Badly burned BBQ and fresh GPC cigarettes were tossed out to the throngs of aging Berkeley hippies and their tie-dye wearing progeny (“…here kid, first smokes free!”) My favorite part was when two 15 year old Berkeley High debutants poked at one of the massive pigheads and, in true bewilderment asked: “How did you make these things???”

Doug shot one of the last large group ascents of the Bay Bridge prior to Homeland Security making it almost impossible to climb bridges post 9-11.

Doug recorded some interesting moments at Burning Man during the apocalyptic 1996 event. Watch for the “official” radio call response to an unsanctioned “protest” of the burn!

Doug was there to record for posterity Dick Cheney’s final hurrah in San Francisco:

If you want to know what young officers recently graduated from their respective academies (Naval, West Point, set) were doing on the tax payers dime as the Viet Nam War wound down in the early 70’s look no further than here.

Some other winners are:

There’s tons of St. Stupid, Ask Dr. Hal, Extra Action and rare Subgenius edits from another time and another place…….

Check them all out on the Puzzling Evidence TV YouTube channel.

photo by Scott Beale

Bronx Flavor, A Video Encyclopedia of Fabulous Food & Culinary Excess

Bronx Flavor

My friend Justin Fornal or Baron Ambrosia as he is known of to the gourmands and gangsters of The Bronx, NY is a walking breathing action figure. When he’s not filming sword battles by space alien pirates on the very top of the towers of some of NYC’s greatest bridge spans or saving damsels in distress, he is cruising The Bronx looking for the very best cuisines at the most obscure eateries. And DAMN he looks good doing it!

Justin’s show Bronx Flavor is unparalleled in my estimation as a uniquely entertaining and edifying video encyclopedia of fabulous food and culinary excess. He started it after becoming annoyed at Zagats foolish dismissal of The Bronx and Queens and their patchwork quilt of fabulous eateries. His TV Network, BronxNet has given him a free hand in creating the show and he really uses it. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The next time I’m in NYC, I’m bypassing Barolo Restaurant in Manhattan and The River Café in Brooklyn (like I would ever eat at a place that has $35 salads!) and heading straight for The Bronx and Deshi Bazaar on White Plains Rd, or maybe World of Taste Seafood & Deli for a killer Pho’.

photo via Bronx Flavor

Benefit For Big Daddy of Cyclecide

guest post by John Law


Kal Spelletich is hosting a benefit at his warehouse this Friday night (January 9th) for Tim “Big Daddy” Anderson. Big Daddy was injured in a motorcycle accident recently, creating new injuries and exacerbating old. Cyclecide stalwart, old old school BRC-DPW, unparalleled DJ, all around gentle giant, gracious friend and SF underground fixture, Big Daddy is one of the people who make San Francisco a great place despite how hard it is to make a living here. Come out for some SEEMEN robotic performance fun, Paul the Plumber bike powered rides, performances by Moses & Spy & much much more.

As some of you might know, Big Daddy was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him w/ a dislocated knee and all 4 ligaments torn. He is unable to work and will be needing surgery in the near future. So we are throwing a benefit show for him this Friday, featuring interactive machines and robots from Kal Spelletich and the Seemen, pedal-powered amusement devices from Pauldaplumber and Cyclecide, RAT-TAC-TOE (tic tac toe w/ rats), with performances by The Amazing Jarico Reesce, and SPY & MOSES! There will also be refreshments and tamales as well as some secret surprises! For those of you who would like to help but can’t be there, a paypal acct. has been set up for donations:

When: Friday, Jan. 9th, 8-12pm
Where: 1043 Marin st. SF, CA 94124

Space will be limited!
Dress warm!

photo by Rick Abruzzo

Escape to Detroit

guest post by John Law

My friend Julia & I just bought a vacation home in Detroit. It’s a small but comfortable three-bedroom house in good condition that sits on a shorefront plot of land along the banks of an actual river. The location is serene, and the price was right — the whole thing cost less than a new Cadillac Escalade. A lot less, actually. But that was only part of the appeal. Just as important to us was the idea that Detroit is poised to become a laboratory for the latest social trend: The Greening of America.

Sure, Detroit may be the scariest place you can think of to live or even visit. Or is it? With the decline of the American auto industry, over seventy percent of the city’s populace fled to the burbs between 1966 and 1990. For those who remained, heroin and crack cocaine savaged the city’s neighborhoods. Yet when everyone else moved away, most of the thugs did too, leaving huge swaths of once-dense urban blocks very nearly depopulated — and quite a bit greener.

The nightmarish view of downtown Detroit and its suburbs is ancient history. The city is currently home to a strong (though small by coast-city standards) art scene. Wayne State University is becoming known for it’s cutting-edge gallery shows, while older artists have contributed much to Detroit’s exceptional public art installations. Detroit is also the epicenter of the Urban Adventure movement, with intrepid explorers coming from as far away as Europe and Australia to clandestinely explore the city’s beautifully decaying factories, mansions, hotels, mental hospitals, and skyscrapers.

Most of all, though, Detroit is already one of the greenest cities in America. I mean green as in green grass! Visit any typical residential block in the heart of Detroit, and what do you see? A handful of occupied houses and a few piles of rubble that once were homes, while the rest of the block has completely reverted back to nature. Rabbits, possum, raccoons, and the occasional deer ramble through this urban landscape as though they own it. We’ve gone canoeing along Detroit’s storied River Rouge canal, and we’ve climbed the abandoned, 37-story {REDACTED}* Building to get an up-close view of a peregrine falcon nest. Detroit’s public transportation system is no worse than that of most other American cities, and it’ll only improve as the renaissance continues. Also – oddly enough, the city has one of the newest and best freeway networks in the country – great biking and roller-skating lanes for when we run out of oil. Homeowners can plant gardens on their spacious lots or those next door as they like.

The price of owning anything in San Francisco, Brooklyn, L.A. or any other “prime” location became prohibitive, even surreal long ago. Even with the recent downturn in the housing market, it is still impossible for most artists, writers or craftsmen to buy in these places. Meanwhile, the industrial engine of the “Rust Belt” continues to freeze up, providing green spaces in cities like Detroit. At the same time, more people are able to work from literally anywhere in various Internet and computer related jobs. Being able to break away from the overcrowding and frenetic pace of life on the coast(s) for long periods and kick back in a relaxed tree shaded waterfront home that we actually own outright is a luxury that, I for one, after thirty years in Frisco never thought I would know. Detroit has plenty of water, green trees, wide-open land and no crucial military targets. Everyone world round thinks it’s a dump. There’s no place to go but up for this town. The icing on the cake is the simple fact that no one will ever waste a Nuke on Detroit.

Ghetto Ice Cream Truck driving through a Detroit neighborhood. [via Urlesque]

A similar article was published in Everywhere Magazine Issue 04.

photos by Julia Solis