The Crowd

Alex Kershaw described “The Crowd” as a “Bohemian group that often spent its Sunday afternoons picnicking, reading each other’s latest compositions, gossiping about each other’s infidelities and frolicking beneath the cherry boughs in the hills of Piedmont.” The self-proclaimed "The Crowd" gathered at Jack London's on Wednesdays and Sundays at Xavier "Marty" Martinez's house. The "Crowd" usually included George Sterling (poet) and his wife Carrie, Herman "Jim" Whitaker (author), Ambrose Bierce (author), Richard Partington and his wife Blanche, Joseph Noel (journalist and author), Joaquin Miller (poet), Arnold Genthe (photographer) and the hosts, Jack and Marty.

"During the late 1890's and 1900's the Piedmontese had already worked out for themselves that blend of outdoors and bohemia... A loquacious socialism bound the Piedmont Crowd together and their lively debates continued down the Coast" to Carmel-by-the-Sea. [Kevin Starr in the Americans and the California Dream]

While living in Oakland, Jack London began having “interesting people” in on Wednesday nights, and he continued this practice in his Piedmont bungalow. London was a gregarious host and his bungalow became the social center for piedmont’s bohemian crowd. Carrie and George Sterling were always in attendance. Artists and writers discussed philosophy and economics, shared their work, played card games and the piano, sang, dined on Bessie’s food and drank freely. London’s Wednesday evenings included many of the same Sunday afternoon picnic participants.

 

Joseph Noel, journalist, said Jack’s first picnic with the Piedmont Crowd as they called themselves, was a success. George often drove the group with his horse and buggy, and this day they headed to a favorite spot, the old Dingee place in today’s Montclair hills. Under blooming cherry trees, London introduced a drinking game and soon they were all singing raucously, dancing in the sun and devouring baskets of food. Other Sundays ended up at BBQs at Joaquin Miller’s Abbey or picnics on the Piedmont hillside above London’s bungalow. Charmian Kittredge remembers Jack as the ring leader and jokester at the picnics. They were filled with kite flying, wrestling, boxing and fencing – “wild, clean fun… lusty sport and play… and exploits in eating.” Always a jokester, one Sunday London cooked a stew claiming it was rabbit but it actually had rattlesnake in it making the visiting Easterners ill.

Wild Animals I have met 1.jpg
Charmian jack london book 1 piedmont wed

The Book of Jack London
Volume 1 By Charmian London · 1921

elsie marty and herman.jpg

Interview with Xavier's wife, Elsie Martinez:

 

Jack was very fond of Marty (Xavier Martinez), a picturesque figure he enjoyed. George Sterling, Jack and Marty, the three of them, were often together. Before long Sterling was dubbed affectionately, "The Greek", Marty, "The Aztec", and Jack "Wolf". Our rugged individualists - Ambrose Bierce, George Sterling, Jack London- all considered suicide a noble end, solving their problems of disillusionment. Bierce, who lamented the passing of the pioneer age; Sterling, whose Greek hedonism was stifled by the late Victorianism; and London, disgusted with a humanity that would not accept the Marxian panacea for the good of this world, all committed suicide. Marty had ten friends who committed suicide. The newsmen would ask him, since all were friends of his, had not there existed a suicide club. Ambrose Bierce, Joaquin Miller, Charles Warren Stoddard, and from the next generation, Jack London, George Sterling, and Marty continued the development of the personality cult. Rugged individualism, rooted and developed in the pioneer age, faded out in the age of capitalism and two world wars. We are finding life is fitted into tight patterns now with no place for individualism.

Wednesdays, Sundays and basically any day that ends in a "y"

Wednesdays at Jack's

Footloose in Arcadia by Noel:

Sometime later, when there was an unusually large crowd at his Wednesdays evening party, Jack and I went out to talk on the side porch. He was in fine fettle.

When Bessie had the Sterlings in for an evening, or they her, these were quiet affairs that contrasted greatly with the noisy Wednesday night parties Jack called his open house... It was an all-year-round invasion and made the house on the hill suggestive of Grand Central Station during the excursion season. There is no difficulty for a hostess to gain a foothold in the affections of the creative and near-creative, such as came to Piedmont to bask in the light of London's fame.

Footloose in Arcadia - crowd dingee plac

Footloose in Arcadia by Noel

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chairmain book - piedmont2.jpg

The Book of Jack London
Volume 1 By Charmian London · 1921

Sundays at Marty's

XMs house in piedmont - Oakland_Tribune_

Footloose in Arcadia by Noel:

 

One Sunday a member of the W.C.T.U. (Woman's Christian Temperance Union) was of the party. She looked very severe when offered the 110 proof and refused to touch the glass even with her finger tips. Instead, she asked the usual question about the inspiration that had created "Columbus."

"Whiskey, ma'am," (Joaquin) Miller answered quickly. "It was with whiskey Columbus got his crew to sail on an on, and I did the same. But I couldn't mention it in the poem, ma'am, 'cause they need it in the schools, ma'am."

 

Interview with Xavier's wife, Elsie Martinez:

The life we lived was quiet and interesting, except on weekends when we used to go over to Marty's and keep his place going as we had in the early days. Marty had such a wide variety of interesting people from all over that we kept the Sunday studio parties going, although I lived at Harriet Dean's.

Oakland Tribune - Sun - Jun. 29, 1952

Entertaining - Berkeley_Daily_Gazette_Mo

Berkeley Daily Gazette - Mon - Nov. 12, 1906

San Francisco Call, Volume 101, Number 1

San Francisco Call, Volume 101, Number 129, 8 April 1907

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Gelett Burgess, Porter Garnett, Xavier M

Ken Starr said Marty's friends came over every Sunday for Spaghetti, chili con carne, and red wine.  "Hot arguments on any subject which came into our minds were the order of the day," remembered Arnold Genthe. "And I have a picture in my mind of Jack London sitting at one end of the table, intense and questioning, and Marty at the other, gesticulating with a chicken bone."

martinez party - The_San_Francisco_Call_

The San Francisco Call - Thu - Jan. 2, 1908

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Jack London
self-portrait.jpg
Xavier Martinez
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George Sterling
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Herman Whitaker

Others in the Crowd

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Joaquin Miller

Xavier's wife, Elsie Whitaker Martinez:

My father was very fond of Joaquin Miller. My father and I walked up to Miller's, a mere four miles or so, I guess at least every other week, sometimes every week. Joaquin Miller was very fond of our family. He was a picturesque figure even as an old man; he was in his seventies then.

Jack London, Carleton, my father, and George often went up to Joaquin Miller's place for barbecues. One time Jack London thought it would be fun to have rattlesnake stew. When we were kids and thought nothing of it - rattlesnakes were common in Piedmont in those days and we'd heard it was good meat - we tried it and found it like immature chicken. So he had this big stew and he told everybody it was a rabbit. I think he had put rabbit in it to disguise it. Anyhow, there were some Easterners at the party, and at the end of the party he said to them, "Well, I hope you'll live. This was a rattlesnake stew." Well, of course they were all ill. He loved to play tricks like that.

The Berkeley Daily Gazette on Wed. Feb 19, 1975 said:

JOAQUIN MILLER, the flamboyant, swaggering poet whose Oakland hillside acres became Joaquin Miller Park celebrated "Whitaker Day" each year at the Hights because, as Mrs. Martinez put it, "he was very found of our family" and impressed by its size - "good pioneer style"

Whitaker - Berkeley_Daily_Gazette_Wed__F
joaquin miller - from jack london scrapb
joaquin miller george sterling and charl

From Jack London's scrapbooks

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Xavier Martinez and Joaquin Miller's dau

Xavier Marty Martinez with Joaquin's Daughter

The last one at the party.

The crowd started having growing pains, many of the once grounded Bohemian socialist roots began to rot away when their money trees became soaked in capitalistic tendencies. Infidelity, competition, fear of insignificance and old age became their demise. In 1905, the poet George Sterling moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a coastal hamlet two hours south of San Francisco, to start another artist colony. 

 

But the colony also attracted scandal. Rumors flew that the Bohemians indulged in nudity, free sex (gay and straight), paganism, drinking, and drug use. Their supposedly simple lifestyle was at odds with late-night revelries and frolics on the beach, leading to indolence and despondence among some. The critic Van Wyck Brooks wrote of the colony in 1911: “They gave themselves over to day-dreams while their minds ran down like clocks, as if they had lost the keys to wind them up with, and they turned into beachcombers.” Death was a common topic, with persistent talk of a suicide pact involving vials of cyanide. A disturbing darkness lurked beneath the seaside picnics, abalone roasts, and swims in the surf. In the end, it would overcome many of the colony’s members, including Sterling himself. [Source]

William Keith, John Muir, John Burroughs, Joaquin Miller, Ambrose Bierce, and Jack London had all died within the decade before 1920. George Sterling, known as the “King of Bohemia”, would commit suicide in 1926 in his room at the Bohemian club in San Francisco.  Kevin Starr wrote that "When George Sterling's corpse was discovered in his room at the Bohemian Club... the golden age of San Francisco's bohemia had definitely come to a miserable end."

the society of six - the crowd and like

The Society of Six California Colorists - By Nancy Boas