Issue date: December 16, 1998
By MARION SOFTKY
Branches of cactus in psychedelic hues twine and almost spill out of the frame on the wall of the Village Pub. Its spines droop forlornly.
The painting with the whimsical name -- "Don't Forget to Water the Cactus" -- is part of an exhibit of paintings by Santa Cruz artist Jim Mazzeo at the Village Pub in Woodside until the end of December.
The show marks the end of an era. The venerable Village Pub, a Woodside institution for 40 years, will close its doors at the end of this year. A new owner, JMA Properties of Cupertino, has bought the building and will go to the Woodside Planning Commission in January with plans to remodel and expand the building, and to reopen a new "Village Pub," with a different operator, sometime next summer.
Meanwhile, the twisting arms of "Don't Forget to Water the Cactus" evoke a colorful patch of county history, when artists, hippies, school kids, hikers and free spirits converged at the Star Hill Academy for Anything at the old Wickett saw mill west of Skyline.
Linking this odd mix is artist Jim Mazzeo, an ebullient survivor of the hippie era with an earful of wild stories about people most of us have only heard of, and wall-fulls of vivid paintings briefly on display at the Pub.
The opening of Mr. Mazzeo's show at the Pub on December 5 drew an eclectic mix of people from over the hill and out of the past.
Jim Wickett, who ran the Star Hill Academy for Anything at his father's old lumber mill in the 1970s, was there with his wife, electronic-commerce guru Magdalena Yesil, and a handsome son. Jim Wickett is now living in Atherton and is a venture capitalist with Bay Partners in Cupertino. But he still has the ranch, where he raises llamas and emus. He recently sold his yaks.
Rock star Neil Young and his wife, Pegi, are longtime friends and colleagues of Mr. Mazzeo. Mr. Young is also a major collector of his work. "It gives me a good feeling," he says. "It has playfulness and lightness, but underneath it's dead serious."
A highlight of the opening of Mr. Mazzeo's show was the auctioning of his painting "Sacred Cow" to benefit The Bridge School in Hillsborough. He is also donating 10 percent of all sales to The Bridge School.
Opened in 1987, The Bridge School is sponsored in part by the Youngs to help their son, Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy, and other children with severe speech and physical problems, using computer-assisted techniques. About 75 children have graduated, and one is in his first year at San Francisco State University, says director Michael Kimbarow. "In many, many cases these children are academically capable," says Dr. Kimbarow. "We help them realize their full potential and become successful members of the community."
Does this have anything to do with the Y2K problem? someone asks.
"Why 2K?" Mr. Mazzeo shoots back. "Silly computers can do anything in the world but count from 1999 to 2000. Any 2-year-old can do that."
Mr. Mazzeo is better known in the world of rock music as "Sandy Castle," the name he used over the years he managed rock bands and created spectacular light shows to go with the music.
Two years of managing world tours for The Band culminated in a rock concert and film, "The Last Waltz," directed by Martin Scorcese. He also did art and light shows with artist Andy Warhol.
Mr. Mazzeo has loved art ever since he was growing up in a cherry orchard near the Winchester Mystery House and won a prize for art at Campbell High School. Later, for 18 months, he participated in the Living Arts Program of Harvard's Fogg Museum in Boston under Philip Hoffer. There he ran a group called the Laughing Academy.
What Mr. Mazzeo most likes to talk about is his experience in the early 1960s in the Coast Guard in San Francisco. By day he would practice search and rescue on a 95-foot vessel, and the rest of the time he hung out on the San Francisco scene.
He shared a flat with Margo St. James, noted for founding the prostitutes' union called Coyote, and two other call girls. "When the girls had money, they bought gold leaf and put it up in the bathroom," he says.
Mr. Mazzeo also remembers the time Ms. St. James hid beat icon Ken Kesey when he was hiding from federal agents.
About 1968 Mr. Mazzeo and some friends moved to John Wickett's former lumber mill to form an artists' commune. Shortly afterward, Jim Wickett, fresh out of Woodside High School, got the property and built a house around the platform holding the band saw. The house itself was memorable; the bandsaw, painted in psychedelic style, dominated the living room; the bed protruded out of the wall; and a firemen's pole connected two levels.
As Mr. Mazzeo tells it, Kendall Whiting built a seven-room tree house way up a redwood tree, connected to the shop in the old mill by a cable and gondola. The ride down was pretty exciting, he says.
By 1971, Mr. Mazzeo moved down the hill to Neil Young's, but they kept using the Wickett place for projects -- like holding concerts in the sawdust burner, and filming parts of Neil Young's movie, "Journey through the Past."
Mr. Mazzeo gleefully recalls the finale to that movie, when Neil Young played a Steinway concert grand piano inside the sawdust burner lit by an open fire. The sawdust burner, for those who don't know, is a monstrous rusty iron cone, which -- according to Jim Wickett -- has superb acoustics and was occasionally used for concerts.
"I built such a great pyramid-shaped fire that it caught a $50,000 grand piano," Mr. Mazzeo chortles. "The black finish literally bubbled."
Star Hill reunion
At Star Hill, Mr. Mazzeo turned his creative energies to creating a UFO to crash in the film. "I built the first religious space capsule -- 'Cruca-14,'" he says. "We had to crash and burn it."
But the Star Hill Academy was much more than high jinks and hippies. Jim Wickett founded it with Dr. David Schwartz, then head of adolescent mental health for San Mateo County, to educate young people about outdoors and art and living with nature. "We had the goal of changing how young people looked at life," he says. "We wanted to teach kids where their roots are."
Through the 1970s thousands of children came over the hill to take nature hikes, or grind wheat and bake bread, or cast sculptures in a foundry. The program that started out serving troubled kids and kids on probation expanded to include the Nueva Day School, San Mateo public schools, and nature trips led by Olive Mayer of Woodside. "Yellow bus-loads of kids would come up every week," Mr. Wickett recalls.
Now that Mr. Wickett has gone mainstream, the ranch is mostly home to wildlife, llamas and emus.
Why emus? "Emus are incredible, prehistoric birds," says Mr. Wickett. "They are friendly, inquisitive and lay gorgeous emerald-green eggs. You can scramble them and have 15 friends over for a one-egg omelet."
For information on Mr. Mazzeo's paintings, call the artist in Santa Cruz at (831) 479-4058. Mr. Mazzeo is donating 10 percent of all sales to The Bridge School. For information or to donate directly to The Bridge School, call 696-7295.