Mountain Drive Spirit

Thursday, November 20, 2008
By Barney Brantingham of SB Independent

The last Erica and Treavor Ortiz heard after they fled the Tea Fire, their East Mountain Drive home had crashed, stilts aflame, 60 feet down into a creek. Most other homes in the legendary bohemian enclave burned last week, but is this really the end of an era? True, Mountain Drive, scene of 1960s naked Wine Stomp queen celebrations, hedonist lifestyles, permitless jerry-built homes, and making of the 1966 Rock Hudson movie Seconds has long been overgrown by creeping gentrification. Will the counterculture spirit live on? With Erica and Treavor, I walked the ashes of their home Tuesday. On all sides were other burned-out houses, some next to places the capricious flames had spared.

What’s known as the Mountain Drive Spirit still wafts above the ashes, I’m finding, but what of the future? Will scorched earth give way to combined-lot, multi-million-dollar luxury view homes, or will owners of the quarter-acre lots return for a renaissance of rebuilding, this time with benefit of the building department?

Long gone is the revered patriarch of Mountain Drive, Bobby Hyde, who bought 50 acres up there in the 1940s and sold lots off for a pittance and a promise, helping those with a dream of creating a community of freedom. Certainly a freedom from tiresome bureaucrats with their downtown rules of lot sizes, deeds, and roads. You built your own house out of what was at hand.

Among the Tea Fire losses is the Castle, a ramshackle monument of timbers from the old Ellwood Pier, windy in winter, leaky in rainy weather, and featuring a storied, cantankerous septic system. Regardless of who lived there, it was de rigueur to host the countless celebrations: Bastille Day, Bobby Burns’s birthday complete with pipers, Twelfth Night in costume, Cinco de Mayo, and other wine-soaked bashes. One night I visited then-Castle residents Anne and World War II vet Vernon Johnson and found the place dark and eerily quiet, seemingly restless for the next party.

I covered the first day of the 1964 Coyote Fire, when flames ravaged the tiny community but didn’t kill it. The Wine Stomps and Pot War handicraft sales became famous, luring townsfolk up to loll in the nude around pools and in the hot tubs. Over the years, Mountain Drivers aged and some moved on, and young families moved in, among them house painter Treavor Ortiz, 34, and his jeweler wife, Erica, 29, parents of Cuyler, 3, and Kayla, three months. READ THE ENTIRE SB INDEPENDENT STORY

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