HipSCHP is group devoted to to documenting the history of Hip Santa Cruz, ca 1964-1972 or so. This site is a companion to the physical meetings, archival collections, and individual efforts that have been underway for several years.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Early Catalyst

Some thoughts on the early Catalyst, with help from Patti.....

For several years the early Catalyst was a second home to me. I started working there a couple of months after it opened, lunch time only, and soon took on a split shift for the lunch and night crowd. This wasn’t a job just to get by. At the minimum wage of $2.35 an hour it barely provided that. But it was exactly at the center of where I wanted to be. The Sticky Wicket and Mannie’s were in Aptos; the Barn in Scotts Valley, and none of these places came alive until the sun went down. On Pacific Avenue, the Hip Pocket had folded and Bookshop Santa Cruz was trying to figure out how to get up and running. When Al & Patti DiLudovico opened the Catalyst they breathed life into the downtown, a place that was basically dead. The original Catalyst was one of the hubs of all that went on around here in the 60s. But its success was more than being in the right place at the right time---It was because of Al & Patti’s vision for the place, run by his powerful, larger-than-life energy and tempered by her sweetness and warmth.
The Catalyst started out in the Redwood Room, so called because of the split redwood bark on the walls. This stuff, aesthetic as it may have been, was immediately removed, probably because of the health dept., but also because if you inadvertently brushed up against it your skin would break out in welts. The deli counter was in this room along with a few tables. More seating was in the back, the Fountain Room, with its mirrored walls, tile floor and beautiful fountain set right in the center of the room. Off to the side was a small pub-like bar with an amber glass-paneled ceiling. Out of both love for the place and necessity, Patti & Al were involved with every aspect of the Catalyst, which is how she ended up also being its first bartender.
Except for its name and another fountain, the current Catalyst on Pacific Ave bears no resemblance to the early one. For starters, the original Catalyst wasn’t a club, it was a coffeehouse, in the style of some of the great bohemian spots in Berkeley, Sausalito and San Francisco. Its focus was on high quality deli food, pickles that could sear the skin off your hands, incredible pastries, and coffee and tea from around the world. A 10 oz cup of coffee was twenty five cents, with unlimited free refills. Equally important was the atmosphere---the feeling was Beat, then gradually morphed with the influx of hippies. This ambience was intense, vital and laid back at the same time. For those who couldn’t handle it, there was always the Bubble Bakery up the street with Farmers Bros. coffee.
Much later, the deli counter was moved to the huge Colonial Room. This was the St. George’s former ballroom; for years it had been just a storage space for County Bank records, and its hardwood floors, murals of nymphs dancing among flowers and enormous glass and wood doors that swung open to Front St. were still intact. In fact, the architecture of the St. George was spectacular, and the Catalyst occupied some of its best. A stage was in place for poetry and book readings, folk singers, chamber music and occasional bands. Up till then, performances had usually been pretty spontaneous, with one or two people showing up with a guitar and asking Al if they could play in the Fountain Room.
But with the move to the Colonial Room, table service began and waitresses were brought on. I was now working there most of the day on into the night, just like Al & Patti, but notably without the responsibility. There had never been any question in my mind about where I wanted to work; as far as I was concerned the Catalyst was the center of the universe. With the huge wood and glass doors open onto Front Street, I would stand behind the counter in the late morning, waiting for the unique cast of characters that made up the lunch crowd, knowing I had the best job in the best place in the world.